Churches in Ireland have opened their doors again after almost a year of strict lockdown restrictions.
Ireland was the last remaining European country with restrictions preventing people from gathering indoors and hosting in-person services, with those attempting to leave the house to attend a service or mass facing the possibility of criminal charges.
The moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Right Reverend Dr David Bruce, has welcomed the return saying ‘it will be a genuine time of joyful thanksgiving’.
“The permission from the Irish government to resume in-person services of worship from Monday 10 May onwards was long overdue. Together with other churches, PCI has been making the consistent case that the restrictions on public worship should have been removed long before that date,” he said.
Ireland’s restrictions on places of worship were one of the strictest in the world. Since the start of the pandemic, the government has only allowed public worship on 14 Sundays, and only three times during 2021.
“These past long months have been a deeply frustrating and a difficult period for our congregations. While online services have met a real need, and indeed created new opportunities, they have been no substitute for the corporate, in-person gathering for worship of God’s people, which is at the very heart of what it is to be Church,” Rev Bruce continued.
The Irish government announced earlier this month that churches would be able to resume public worship from the 10th May with a maximum of 50 people in attendance. It had faced increasing pressure from church leaders and a legal challenge to the blanket ban on worship is still due to be resolved by the courts.
“In testing days, the Apostle Paul reminded the Christians in Corinth that “we live by faith, not by sight”. This remains true, as we begin to emerge from lock-down, leaving behind the memory of these past difficult months. In faith, we trust God to guide us as we cautiously move forward together. As we continue to engage with government ministers and officials, they can be assured of our prayers,” Dr Bruce said.
Church leaders across the country have signed an open letter urging the Irish government to never impose a blanket ban on public worship again.