The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, has appealed to parishioners to be patient and understanding as their churches get ready for the resumption of public worship.
There was no set date for the return of services, Bishop Andrew said during his weekly reflection on Facebook Live on Sunday, and when they did return, they would look very different to services before the lockdown. “I would appeal to you to be patient, to be understanding, to be cooperative with all the systems that are put in place, and to be safe in how we go back to church.”
From Monday 29th June, over three months after the coronavirus lockdown forced the closure of places of worship, churches north and south will be permitted to reopen for services. Bishop Andrew welcomed this step towards “a new normal” but said with freedom came responsibility and a need to do things the right way.
“Although in Ireland, at the moment, the virus seems very much under control – which we’re so thankful for – we know the virus is still there,” Bishop Andrew told his online congregation.
“We’ve been given the freedom to meet again [from Monday], but we know that with freedom comes responsibility. At the moment, going back to church places a lot of responsibility on you and on me, on select vestries and on clergy, and on all those who will attend churches because we’ve got to follow all the public health guidelines and we’ve got to follow the guidelines that the Church of Ireland has put together for that.
“I really welcome the opportunity to be back at church but I want you to know that there’s no set date by which this may happen, because select vestries – and clergy in particular – have to make sure that in their parishes it’s right and it’s appropriate and it’s safe to open, and that’ll take time.”
Bishop Forster reminded his audience that worship would look very different for the foreseeable future. “Whenever we go to church, whenever it reopens, it’ll be very different from when we last left church, because we’ll have social distancing, hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, contact tracing; it’ll feel very different but yet we know God will be with us. God will be with us in church as he’s with us at home.”
Bishop Forster plans to be in Dunfanaghy, next weekend, for his first in-church service in almost four months. He asked this afternoon’s online congregation to pray for parishes, as they got to grips with both state and Church guidelines for reopening.
“It’ll be so good to be back together,” the Bishop said. “To be honest, none of us knows when we will be back together ‘normally’, when we can sit in our own pews again, when we can be close to people, when we can do all the things we love to do again; none of us knows when that will be. But God will be with us in this, as he has been, and he will continue to be with us, and continue to equip and help us through this new normal.”
Bishop Forster gave thanks for the relaxation of the safeguards people had been living with in recent months. He also thanked God for ensuring that while the doors of churches had been closed the Church had remained open and alive and serving.