The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe has called for patience and understanding as churches begin the process of reopening for public worship. From Monday 29th June, places of worship in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland will be allowed to resume public services after a three-month suspension imposed because of the coronavirus crisis.
Rt Rev Andrew Forster said he welcomed this step towards “a new normal” but he said with freedom came responsibility and a need to do things “the right way”. In doing the right thing during the coronavirus, the Bishop said, we were actually loving our neighbour because we were wanting to make sure our neighbour remained safe and that those around us remained safe. “The way we open our churches, and the safeguards we put in place, are all about loving our neighbour,” the Bishop said.
Bishop Forster used his Sunday afternoon reflection on Facebook Live to share his thoughts on how worship would look when church doors open again.
“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 said. “Right across the world, we’re hearing terrible stories, from countries like Brazil, and Peru and Mexico, and of growing cases in the United States as well, and we need to keep praying for those countries, keep praying for our own country, and keep praying for a vaccine and cure.
“We’ve made really positive steps in coming out of this pandemic, but we know it’s still there, and we need to be cautious and we need to be careful as we move into ‘the new normal’, into the new future.
“From tomorrow, both north and south, churches are allowed to begin the process of reopening and we really welcome that. It’s been such a hard time being away from our normal Sunday worship and being away from the churches that we love. We welcome this step towards a new normality.
“We’ve been given the freedom to meet again, 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. I’d ask you to be patient with that,” Bishop Andrew said, “as we move through to this new system.
“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.
“Over the next while, connecting with church will in some ways be – one of those buzz phrases at the moment – a ‘mixed economy’, so there will be church services that you can attend but there’ll also be online services, and we’ll want to point you in the direction of those because it will take time.
“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.
“It seems amazing to have to talk in those terms,” the Bishop said, “about the resumption of church services but this is a freedom that we have to hold responsibly and to do the right way. To be honest, I can’t wait to be back in church, and I’m sure a lot of you feel exactly the same way, but we need to do this the right way and not just rush things.”
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. He also appealed for patience, understanding and cooperation once worship resumes.
“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.