Churches in Northern Ireland are set to close following the announcement of a two-week ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown.
The Stormont Executive announced yesterday that strict new measures will be introduced from 27 November, including the closure of non-essential retail, close-contact services, leisure and entertainment services, and places of worship. Garden centres and off-licences will remain open, however.
This means churches will be unable to open for public worship, and will only be permitted to open for weddings, funerals and to record or broadcast “an act of worship”.
The Christian Institute’s Northern Ireland Officer Callum Webster expressed his disappointment at the decision.
He said: “I’m sure that all of us understand the difficult job that politicians have during the current pandemic as they work to save lives and protect public health. As Christians we ought to pray for those ruling over us, but the blanket closure of church services is a cause for concern.
“Public worship is not an activity just like going to the cinema or having a meal in a restaurant. The Bible commands Christians to assemble together to worship God.
He continued: “In churches, many have been careful and they are facing closure while off-licences remain open.
“Garden centres are allowed to continue opening – people will be allowed to browse the pot plants but they will not be allowed to attend public services of worship.”
Dr David Bruce, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, tweeted: “Concerned at the news this evening regarding further restrictions including suspension of public worship”.
The announcement follows news that in Scotland, churches in some council areas have been advised to reduce their number of on-site worshippers to just 20 people.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that eleven council areas would be subject to Tier 4 restrictions from Friday, saying infection rates there remain “stubbornly and worryingly high”.
Around 2.3 million live in the affected areas, where visiting people indoors will be banned, hospitality and close-quarter businesses will be shut, travel between council areas in the same tier will be banned, and guidance says the number of people allowed in a church should be reduced from 50 to 20.
England will be under lockdown restrictions until 2 December.