As the four main denominations move their worship online at this critical point in the pandemic, Bishop David writes to the diocese.
These past days we have witnessed our nation gripped by fear and at times confusion as political leaders and others seek to deal with a pandemic that continues to put the health and lives of many at risk. We see similar confusion and fear around the world, notably in the pictures coming from the USA over the past 24 hours.
I am struck that the prophetic voices and leadership of people in the scriptures always sought the welfare of the nation, that the people of God’s witness to the truth of God’s glory, honour, power, purity and authority would be upheld, and that God’s ways, God’s laws and word would be obeyed. I find myself looking these days to the writings of the Old Testament prophets such as Nehemiah, Ezra, Haggai, Zechariah and others.
Our task today is also to seek the welfare of the nation, and to be God’s witnesses in the worsening situation we face with Covid–19. This will necessarily affect our ability to meet together for worship and the following statement from the four northern bishops was issued to the media this afternoon:
Following further briefing today by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride and the Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor Ian Young, and in consultation with The Executive Office, as Church Leaders we fully recognise the very serious position that Northern Ireland finds itself in at this time with the extremely high level of transmission of the Covid–19 virus. The escalation of numbers in hospital and intensive care is placing immense pressure on our healthcare staff; the number of deaths; and the very clear warning from health officials that over the next weeks the situation is going to worsen significantly; is of grave concern to us all.
We recognise that clergy and parishioners have together worked steadily to implement protocols which have ensured that public gatherings for worship have been as safe as possible since the re–opening of our buildings in early summer. We also appreciate that the NI Executive has acknowledged over the last 10 months the importance of people being able to gather in person for worship. The ongoing engagement between faith communities and the NI Executive is warmly welcomed and is something which we believe has been, and continues to be, of benefit to wider society.
However, in light of the current serious and worsening situation and in line with clear public health guidance that people should stay at home, we have decided that all public gatherings for worship and all other in person church activities should cease for our particular denomination, until Saturday 6th February 2021, subject to review in late January, with the exception of weddings, funerals, arrangements for recording and/or live–streaming, drive–in services and private prayer (as permitted by regulations). We note and welcome the fact that the same position has been adopted by the Presbyterian Church, Roman Catholic Church, Methodist Church and others in Northern Ireland.
In making this decision for the ‘greater good’ of all within our community we continue to remember in our prayers the sick and bereaved, all who are suffering, those whose lives have been directly impacted by Covid–19, praying too for those in positions of responsibility who are faced with making difficult decisions at this challenging time.
+Andrew Derry and Raphoe
+David Down and Dromore
Closing church buildings and restricting numbers are things I do not take lightly but this decision, while difficult, is I believe, the right decision at this particular time.
Our clergy, along with others who are sharing their expertise, will be working hard to provide online services that enable you to hear teaching from God’s word and to help you encounter the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in life–changing ways. Please continue to engage with online worship and to support your parish in any way that you can.
In these coming weeks let us together make Christ known in the strength and power of the Holy Spirit.
For He is good, for his steadfast love endures forever…
Look upon our lives, O Lord our God,
And make them thine
In the power of thy Holy Spirit;
That we may walk in thy way,
Faithfully believing thy Word
And faithfully doing thy commandments;
Faithfully worshipping thee
And faithfully serving our neighbour;
For the furtherance of thy glorious kingdom;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Yours and His,