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UK News

'There's no race to get back': EA cautious over Northern Ireland 'drive-in' church

by Heather Preston

The Evangelical Alliance says churches will need to be wise as they consider the reopening of their buildings in Northern Ireland.

It comes as NI assembly ministers agreed to ease more lockdown restrictions there as part of the first step towards returning to normal. 

On Monday, Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster confirmed churches will legally be able reopen for personal prayer, as long as they have social distancing measures in place.

Drive-in religious services are also now permitted.

Head of the Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland, David Smyth tells Premier drive-in services are a great solution for some churches, but not for all.

"We've already heard of a Baptist Church off the north coast that's planning a church service this Sunday where the minister is going to be on the back of a potato lorry with a sound system and people will drive in and sit in the car park, in their cars. So that might work very well in the rural part of Northern Ireland.

"But this wouldn't work in the middle of a busy city like Belfast - there will be places where this could work and others where it just won't work," he said. 

The Evangelical Alliance is currently developing a set of guidelines to help churches continue to prioritise the safety and needs of their congregations as lockdown measures begin to ease. Smyth explains that different churches will need to respond in different ways. 

"[Churches to need to ask the question] Just because something is now legally allowed is it wise for us in this local church to do this?

"We'd encourage people to think carefully and wisely about their witness and the wellbeing and common good of the communities that they're in as well."

Smyth encouraged church leaders to plan for the future with patience and flexibility, suggesting that congregations might need to meet in smaller groups, hold more services with cleaning sessions in between or to continue to meet online to ensure "the best for our church families".

"There's no race to get back. And we want to do that when the time is right, when it can be safely maintained. And when it's conducive to our worship and our witness. 

"We know this is tough, we know some aspects may not be sustainable for some but our main message I suppose is to continue to do what you've been doing. Be flexible, be responsive to government guidelines but most importantly to the Holy Spirit."

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