Covid-19 restrictions as they applied to parishes in Connor Diocese and across the Church of Ireland were officially lifted on Monday April 4.
In a letter to clergy, lay readers and honorary secretaries in Select Vestries, the Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev George Davison, said the decision to ease any remaining restrictions had been taken in conjunction with other bishops in Northern Ireland and church leaders in other denominations. It follows discussions with the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Adviser.
However, Bishop George stressed that each parish should decide at what pace they moved forward, adding, “there is no expectation that all parishes will make the changes at the same time.”
And he warned that Covid-19 remains a reality, and hard work was still needed to limit the spread of the virus and protect the most vulnerable in society.
In his letter, Bishop George states: “It is now just over two years since the first government-enforced lockdown took place to combat the spread of Covid-19 across the UK, a moment which changed life beyond measure for all of us as individuals.
“In the months that followed there were times when we were not able to meet up with family, to attend services of worship in our church buildings, to go into a restaurant, or to do many of the everyday things which we previously had taken for granted.
“The restrictions were put in place, based on medical and scientific guidance at the time, in order to keep everyone safe. Different forms of mitigation were introduced, activities were curtailed, and we all adapted in some way or another to a new way of living and doing things.
“I am extremely grateful to everyone in our parishes for playing their part in caring for the whole community in the most difficult of times and am also acutely aware of the hardship, pain and sorrow that has been endured.”
The letter continued: “The constituent parts of the UK, Ireland and different sectors in society have in recent weeks moved to ease the existing restrictions so that there can be a return to some sort of more normal existence. In Northern Ireland, Covid-19 legal restrictions have now been replaced by formal government guidance.
“Recently, church representatives met with the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Adviser to discuss the way forward in terms of the mitigation, measures, and guidance that have been in place and carefully managed within our churches over the last two years.
“Following discussion, it has been decided that the easing of Covid-19 mitigations and measures in parishes in Northern Ireland can take effect from today, Monday 4th April 2022, with all necessary decisions being taken locally under the guidance and direction of the rector and Select Vestry.
“Every parish will have to decide at what pace they move forward and there is no expectation that all parishes will make the changes at the same time.
“As we move to return to a more ‘normal ’way of parish life we still have to remain vigilant as Covid-19 is very much a reality around us and the number of new infections has remained high in recent weeks. We therefore still need to work hard to limit the spread of Covid-19 and protect particularly the most vulnerable in society.”
Bishop George requested that at all times government advice should continue to be followed with regard to self- isolation related to Covid-19, and anyone showing symptoms of Covid-19, or who is feeling generally unwell, should be encouraged not to attend services, meetings, or activities.
“It is recommended that church buildings and parish halls should continue to be as well ventilated as possible and hand sanitiser should continue to be available,” added.
The Covid-19 guidelines for parishes are now as follows:
Bishop George added that, as per an earlier pastoral letter from the Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin, the use of the common cup at Communion Services had been restored from March 17.
His letter concluded: “A rector and Select Vestry can, of course, continue to require certain additional measures and mitigations within the local parish, dependent on local factors.
“It has been a long, and challenging two years, but this news about the return to a more normal way of living could not come at a better time as we prepare to celebrate ‘new life ’at Easter, the feast of the Resurrection. A time of renewed hope and joy!”