LISTEN: Church leaders express disappointment at places of worship shutting under latest COVID-19 restrictions

St Anne's Cathedral

By Q Radio News

Church leaders across different denominations in Northern Ireland have reacted have expressed their concern and regret  that places of worship will be forced to shut under the latest round of COVID-19 restrictions.

Under the new rules, places of worship will only be allowed to hold marriages and funerals, with only a limited number in the congregation.

Whilst the Presbyterian Church in Ireland says it recognises the need for clear steps to prevent the continued spread of Covid-19, speaking on behalf of the denomination, the Moderator, Rt Rev Dr David Bruce said he was disappointed by the move:

"As we come to terms with the implications of these new regulations, we are acutely mindful of the wide-ranging impact on retail, hospitality, leisure, sports and most other areas of community life, and how this materially affects the livelihoods and well-being of many in our community, including our church members.

"This is a major pastoral concern for us and our congregations. The suspension of public worship in churches for two weeks, introduced as part of this package of measures, is a cause of significant regret and concern to us.”

Dr Bruce continued, “Regarding public worship, we continue to make representations to the Northern Ireland Executive in Belfast, and to the Irish Government in Dublin. We have been reminding legislators of the importance of balancing our essential liberty to worship, with the need for protection of the community and people’s livelihoods, from the devastating effects of this serious pandemic, and will continue to do so.

Rt Rev Dr David Bruce

"We have made the point that face-to face-gatherings for worship are essential for the spiritual well-being of people everywhere, and for the good of society.

“At a meeting with a government minister and officials held this morning, we have received assurances that the two-week period of these restrictions is all that is planned, and we have reinforced the strong view to the Executive that such measures be limited to this period only,” he said.

The Moderator concluded by saying, “For the time being, while public worship may be suspended for these two weeks, the church is not closed. We will worship together using online and other media. We will pray for our people, our governments and our communities during these uncertain times. Our presence as salt and light in our communities will continue as we share the love of Christ and care for those around us.

“The Advent promise that Christ is coming to live among is unchanged, even if our customary celebrations may be curtailed in some measure this year.”

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has expressed similar views with Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland saying:

Archbishop Eamon Martin

"The unexpected news announced late last night that churches across Northern Ireland are to close for two weeks from 27 November has come as a great disappointment, and is contrary to the assurances given to faith groups at a meeting just last week at which we were praised for our attention to safety and public health.

"Our parishes have consistently tried to support the Executive and public health authorities and we will do so again, but we would prefer to do so in mature partnership and dialogue. 

"The Catholic Church always wishes to protect health and life and promote the Common Good and therefore will continue to play its part in making the necessary sacrifices, but we urgently request that the ban on public worship will be for the shortest period possible. 

"I seek urgent clarification on the question of whether churches may open for individual visits and private prayer.  This issue was the subject of debate during the first lockdown and we were confident that it was understood that Churches are places of sanctuary, calm, and spiritual strength during this crisis.

"I cannot understand how a person may still go to an off-licence to buy alcohol but might not be permitted to visit and sit in quiet solitary prayer in a large church.  The right to do this is particularly important for Catholics.

The restrictions will coincide with the beginning of the holy season of Advent, a sacred time of preparation for Christmas.  

"In speaking about “saving Christmas”, I urge the Executive to accept that for many people a “meaningful Christmas” is about more than shopping, eating and drinking.  Spiritual preparation is essential."

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