As you will be aware the Northern Ireland Executive have announced a number of additional easings of restrictions, some of which will take effect from Monday 26th July once confirmed by the Executive on Thursday 22nd July. It should be noted however that some of the changes announced relate to a specific issue moving from ‘regulation’ to ‘guidance’ i.e. certain matters no longer are being required by law, but may indeed continue to be recommended, or even strongly recommended, in government guidance. The matters that relate directly to the life and witness of our congregations include the issues of social distancing and face-coverings.
In light of the easing of restrictions, below are some decisions that the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has taken.
- Social distancing for all non-worship indoor meetings and activities is required to be a minimum of 1 metre from 1st August 2021 onwards.
- Social distancing at all indoor services of worship is required to be a minimum of 1 metre from 1st September 2021 onwards.
That means that social distancing is staying at two metres throughout the rest of the summer for church services of all kinds – Sunday services, weddings and funerals.
In terms of face coverings, the NI Executive is likely to remove the requirement in law to wear face coverings towards the end of July. That said, PCI has decided on the following:
- That in all PCI congregations in Northern Ireland, face-coverings remain a legal mandatory requirement (unless exempted) at all non-worship indoor meetings and activities, apart from ‘business meetings’ (once seated) or when actually consuming food or beverages.
- In light of clear public health guidance, face-coverings remain a requirement (unless exempted) at all indoor services of worship – and again there are exemptions and exceptions.
That means that face coverings remain a requirement for church services of all kinds – Sunday services, weddings and funerals – for the time being.
Writing to ministers, the Clerk of the General Assembly, Rev. Trevor Gribben said:
“Navigating this often confusing period of the easing of restrictions is in many ways even more challenging that previous periods when restrictions were being enhanced. There will no doubt be many individual views and opinions as to what should or should not happen. While everyone is tired of restrictions, and most people just want ‘things to get back to normal’, many of our members will be nervous and some remain especially vulnerable. We all need to keep our responsibility for the safety of our members and visitors to the forefront of our minds, along with our desire to enable and encourage people to join in worship and relate together in our congregations. The PCI requirements set out above for all congregations in Northern Ireland seek to give clarity, strike the right balance at this particular time and, hopefully, will be of some encouragement in regard to social distancing.”
Please continue to pray for leaders within our denomination. The past 18 months has been a challenging time. Much wisdom will be required as churches and denominations continue to unlock. Please pray that the Lord would continue to be with us and keep us safe.