Churches in Ireland are celebrating the ability to gather again after new COVID-19 rules allowed religious groups to bring together up to 50 people.
The updated measures announced by the government came into effect on Monday, May 10 and some evangelical churches did not wait until Sunday to celebrate their first gatherings, as Evangelical Alliance Ireland director Nick Park says in a video message.
Small groups and social distancing limited the experience. “Yes, some things are not the same as fourteen months ago. Numbers are not the same, we are wearing masks, we cannot hug one another, we cannot take coffee together after the service,” Park says.
“And yet, God has done something wonderful in the life of the church in these last months, it has not all been negative. God has enabled His church to increase in prayer. God has enabled His church to be more intentional in the matter of giving, and in our reach, reaching people even beyond the borders of our land.”
Ireland has been one of the countries with the strongest restrictions in Europe. Since the first lockdown in mid-March 2020, worship places had only been able to open for 14 weeks.
With 250,000 cases and nearly 5,000 deaths, the country of 5 million people went through a dangerous second wave of outbreaks in January and February.
With the new rules, the re-opening of church buildings is only permitted for worship services. In addition to the limit to the number of attendants, there are restrictions on congregational singing.
Protests of church leaders
One month ago, evangelical leaders in the Dublin area wrote a letter to the national government denouncing the “criminalizing of gathered church worship.” They asked the authorities “to understand that Christian worship is intrinsically corporate - an act of the gathered church. This lies at the very heart of how Christianity is practised”.
According to the signatories, “private, personal devotion at home does not constitute the church’s worship. Therefore, to criminalize gathered worship is effectively to criminalize the practice of the Christian religion”.
Also, the Roman Catholic Church, Ireland’s largest religious institution, protested in recent weeks against measures that legal experts considered to be disproportionate as well.
This story originally appeared at Evangelical Focus and is republished here with permission.