Public worship in Northern Ireland suspended for four weeks

Public gatherings for worship are to be suspended in Northern Ireland until next month.

Public gatherings for worship are to be suspended in Northern Ireland until next month.

The decision was taken by leaders of the Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist churches.

They met chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride and chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young on Thursday to discuss the pandemic.

A Church of Ireland statement said: "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."

Northern Ireland is entering full lockdown again in an effort to stem the rapid rise of coronavirus spread.

On Thursday afternoon the Northern Ireland Executive's Faith Leaders' Forum was convened by Stormont junior ministers, Gordon Lyons and Declan Kearney, to discuss the emergency.

The Rev Trevor Gribben, representing Presbyterians, said: "It is of course regrettable and disappointing that over these next few weeks our congregations will no longer be physically gathering for worship.

"However, because of the alarming rise of Covid-19 infections in the community, this is the right decision to take, both for the safety and protection of people and also to contribute to the overall reduction of inter-person contact in line with the Government's 'stay at home' message."

Private prayer can continue.

Ireland's Catholic primate Archbishop Eamon Martin and other bishops said: "We make this decision reluctantly, conscious that not being able to gather for public worship can cause pain for all the faithful, but in the hope that this limited period of sacrifice will be for the protection of life and health and for the greater good of all.

"We once more ask for prayers for the sick, the bereaved and all those whose livelihoods have been particularly impacted by the pandemic."