Indoor gatherings can resume at church premises across Northern Ireland
From Monday in-person indoor gatherings can resume on all church premises in Northern Ireland, according to the Covid pandemic regulations authorised by the Stormont Executive.
The welcome relaxation will include, for instance, Presbyterian kirk session and Church of Ireland select vestry meetings, and parish and congregational gatherings connected with all faith denominations.
Church adult, youth and children’s organisations and meetings will also be able to resume. The lifting of restrictions must, however, be done at the discretion of a church governing body at grassroots level and overseen with implementation of the necessary safety measures.
This means Sunday school activity can resume in the various congregations and youth organisations, like the Boys’ Brigade and Girls’ Brigade, which can also again be proactive in their activities.
In some Presbyterian congregations across Northern Ireland, Sunday school classes have resumed in a confined manner alongside indoor church services which returned at Easter.
Church youth activity in organisations like the BB and GB had closed for more than a year since the start of the pandemic early last year. Now, in the summer months, outdoor pursuits including holiday Bible clubs and normal youth recreational programmes can be rescheduled.
The Rev Trevor Gribbben, Presbyterian Church general secretary, warmly welcomed the easing of restrictions, but he cautioned: “We want to balance the desire of people to reconnect with the need to keep people safe.”
It is being stressed that church activities cannot at present be held in private homes which are covered by different government legislation. This includes home prayer groups, youth fellowships, and organisation committees, which must only be located in church buildings.
The pandemic restrictions which closed churches for long periods have been a very onerous burden on religious life in Northern Ireland, a region acknowledged to have the highest church attendance record anywhere in the United Kingdom. The monetary effect of the 15-month pandemic, down to parish and congregations levels, has still to be reliably estimated, and calculations are expected to be enormous.
Church leaders in the various denominations, however, are confident and prayerful that any financial deficit can be made up by the faithful over the coming months and years.