Religious leaders in N Ireland hopeful for more in-person services

Irish High Cross at the Rock of Cashel in Co. Tipperary, Ireland. Credit: Marie-Lise Van Wassenhove via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

With public religious services resuming in Northern Ireland, leaders have welcomed the return to worship and emphasized the dangers of isolation.

Public Masses resumed in the region March 26, while many ecclesial communities resumed their services April 4.

During Easter Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Belfast Telegraph reported, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh welcomed back a virtual and physical community.

He said the Church was “conscious this year of the victims of the Covid crisis, including those who are finding it more and more difficult to cope with lockdown: the lonely and bereaved; those who are unable to see or embrace loved ones; those for whom the last year has brought increased financial or business worries; those whose relationships have been under great pressure; those who have found their addictions hard to manage.”

Albin Rankin, pastor of Stormont Presbyterian, described the reunion as “hopeful” and said it was a small step toward normalcy. It had been 100 days since the congregation last gathered for an in-person service.

“The last time we were together as a group was on Christmas morning,” he said, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

“It’s been a long time, but the sense of emotional and spiritual healing has really lifted the spirits of everyone.”

“It’s very appropriate that we were able to come together once more for Easter,” he said. “It’s a time of year that signals a new beginning, and we hope and pray that this is a step towards better times ahead.”

For the past few months, Northern Ireland’s Executive Office and the public health authorities had requested churches move their services online. There is no set cap on in-person worship, but it is limited on a case-by-case basis depending on aspects such as the size of the building.

According to the Belfast Telegraph, Rankin expressed hope that the community will gather for more services in the near future. He said the community participated cautiously – wearing masks and forgoing socialization.

“It was lovely to see faces again, an uplifting and hopeful day for the church community and another small step towards all our hopes being fulfilled,” he said.

“It has been a difficult time, but we have managed to survive and even thrive by staying close together through online services, telephone calls and across social media.”

“But nothing beats the feeling of togetherness when you’re together.”

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