Northern Ireland churches put safety first for restart

Rev Mark McConnell of St Patrick’s C of I in Ballymena said It may take a week or two for services to restart

As of Monday church services were allowed to resume in NI but it was far from an all-singing, all-dancing return

For many churches the resumption of worship will take time – it will be a slow and cautious process as churches opt for a safety first approach, the Belfast News Letter reported.

Rev Mark McConnell of St Patrick’s Church of Ireland in Ballymena could not provide a date for when services would restart though he said he was delighted that worship could return in some form.

He said: “It may take a week or two. It’s not rocket science but it’s important that we work out the protocols of how we’ll manage the spaces across our three churches in the town.

“We’re delighted to be able to work towards something in terms of Sunday worship. I suppose the one fear is maybe it will be very different from people’s norm. We’ll not be doing congregational singing or communion as we had done previously.

“We need to communicate to our flock exactly what they’ll be coming to, so that we can manage expectations. We are trying to provide something to feed the soul and not entirely alienate a church-going population who are used to their own way of doing things.

“We will rely on people’s goodwill a lot. People are hungry to go back to church. They realise that it can’t be the same, just as they realise that going to Sainsbury’s isn’t the same as it used to be.”

He added: “Churches would have a fair number of older, faithful congregational members. We know that they will come as soon as the doors are opened. Whether they should is an entirely different question. So we need to make sure we are doing things as safely as we can for the folks that are going to come.”

During lockdown the church harnessed modern technologies to hold Bible study groups, prayer meetings and record an online Sunday service.

Rev McConnell said: “I would say a fair percentage of those things will continue even after lockdown really eases. We’ve found it has opened up new channels of communications for us, people have tuned in who haven’t been to church for years.”

Presbyterian churches are also putting safety first with the majority targeting a resumption of worship from mid-July to early August.

Cregagh Presbyterian Church was among the first to announce it would be holding a service on Sunday, July 12.

Rev Trevor Gribben, general secretary of the PCI said: “We look forward to being able to meet again, with our brothers and sisters in Christ, while ensuring that the required health and safety principles are met.”

He said any decision when to resume services would be a local decision taken by the minister and elders together.

Belfast News Letter
June 30, 2020