Christians in Northern Ireland welcomed the news that churches will reopen to the public on June 29.
First Minister Arlene Foster, Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, and senior representatives from faith communities agreed on a set of guidelines to be implemented in preparation for the reopening of church buildings.
I expect that we will be beginning in a cautious way at first, and there will be a need for ongoing patience and careful monitoring of the situation. —All-Ireland Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin
In the guidelines, only six people will be allowed inside the church and 15 others outside. Church goers are advised to go straight to their seats while observing physical distancing, reports Premier Christian News.
Before, Christians can just drop by the church to attend a service, but Ireland’s new guidelines advised the public to register online before attending Mass. According to The Irish News, churches are required to provide enough signages, sanitizing materials, and to temporary store reusable prayer books, hymnals and hymn sheets. Faith leaders should inform their members about the changes in the church.
“Each of our congregations must think carefully and responsibly about the practical preparations necessary to facilitate this long awaited and prayed for return,” reminded Rev Trevor Gribben, general secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
Faith services via social media and other platforms is the norm as the world fights against the deadly Coronavirus. Since March, Christians have joined worship services online, but it is a different experience than physically going to church.
“I commend parishes for reaching out to parishioners in very difficult circumstances during the lockdown, which included the broadcasting of Mass and other prayer opportunities by webcam,” said All-Ireland Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin.
Church leaders lauded the lifting of the ban on religious services. Reopening of places of worship is a welcome development in a time of fear and isolation. Churches are advised to make gradual changes as they accept the public again indoors.
A Church of Ireland spokesperson said “We join with other Churches in welcoming the announcements today, which will allow us to make a start on making our church buildings safe to resume public worship.”
Meanwhile, Archbishop Martin said, “I expect that we will be beginning in a cautious way at first, and there will be a need for ongoing patience and careful monitoring of the situation.”
The approved guidelines are available to help churches prepare for the public. However, Rev Gribben clarified that, “The circumstances of each local church will be different and we are supporting our congregations to make the necessary decisions to enable gatherings to take place safely, by providing detailed guidance in preparation for reopening.”