Moves to restore normality in Northern Ireland churches after Covid pandemic

A Church of Ireland bishop has said that the church is now in a reconstructive phase as it rebuilds from the Covid pandemic challenges of the past few years.
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The Rev Dr Ian Ellis told his diocesan synod in St Macartin's cathedral, Enniskillen that there were good reasons for restricted worship during the pandemic.

He said: "There were safety reasons for holding back from offering our full programme of activities in parish life, but now is the time to fully open the doors of our halls and all our organisations to restart and, hopefully, flourish again.

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"Now is the time to make some noise to tell the community that churches are open, and that we want to welcome people in.”

Slavin Parish ChurchSlavin Parish Church
Slavin Parish Church

The bishop encouraged those involved in parishes to be as creative as they can to reach into parish communities and help parishioners reconnect with church life, saying it will take effort and grace and "leading of the Holy Spirit".

The situation in Clogher Church of Ireland diocese is replicated in parishes and congregations of all denominations across Northern Ireland, as clergy re-focus on getting worshippers back into the pews at the level they were prior to the two-year 2020-21 pandemic.

Service attendance took a significant knock in all churches over the period of the pandemic with the normal stream of revenue affected.

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However, the mood in the various denominations is one of optimism and determination to restore normality, particularly in relation to Sunday worship and Sunday school time, and the mid-week activities such as youth organisation activities and prayer and study groups.

Looking back over his first 18 months as bishop in Clogher, Dr Ellis said a common thread has been rejuvenation.

He said that new members of the diocesan clergy team have been welcomed into the sprawling diocese which takes in churches in counties Fermanagh, Tyrone, and Monaghan in the Irish Republic.

Referring to the current cost of living crisis, the bishop said: “The greatest challenge facing our society in coming months is the increasing fuel bills and food and commodity costs that will have a huge impact on households and businesses.

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"This is especially so for families who are on low incomes, single parents, those coping with disability and the elderly, vulnerable and needy families across these islands with many feeling they have lost control of their lives."

Dr Ellis said rising costs of living may eventually impact parish finances.

He commented: “Churches too will face increased energy costs and perhaps reduced parochial contributions.

"As a diocese during the pandemic, we were able to provide diocesan support grants for all parishes.

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"The first year we gave £2,000 per parish church, the next year £1,000 and we are assessing this year if we can support parishes again although this is likely to be much less than previous two covid grants.

Rev Ellis added: "However, the diocese will respond to parishes as generously as it can.”