Catholic churches in Northern Ireland started to open their doors yesterday. Five churches have so far reopened for private prayer, all in the diocese of Down and Connor, with more to follow in the coming days.
The diocese announced that churches could only reopen after “a full risk assessment” and it requested that all visitors “strictly observe the social distancing regulations and good hygienic practices outlined at Church entrances.”
This comes after the devolved administration in Northern Ireland published plans last week to lift some coronavirus lockdown restrictions on churches during the first phase of the recovery. This included both the possibility of opening churches for private prayer and the option of drive-through church services, provided that sufficient social distancing and cleaning could be maintained.
The plans leave indoor retail outlets and schools closed until the second and third phases of deconfinement, in sharp contrast to the central UK government, which plans to reopen shops and schools before church restrictions begin to be lifted.
On Monday, church leaders in Ireland wrote a letter thanking the Northern Ireland Executive for “the recognition in this recovery plan of the importance of the local church, and public worship, in the lives of many people.”
The message was signed by the Catholic Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, along with the heads of the Anglican Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Methodist Church in Ireland and the Irish Council of Churches.
The leaders said that they “welcome the cautious approach adopted by the Executive”, given public health concerns, and said that they were “currently undertaking risk assessments and putting in place response plans that reflect the unique circumstances of each local context”.