Dear Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister Stephen Donnelly,
We, the undersigned wish to express our deep dissatisfaction with the ongoing closure of churches for public worship. All over Europe churches are open for public worship, yet in Ireland they continue to remain closed.
At a time when our nation is facing a literal epidemic of mental health issues, as well as unprecedented economic and social challenges, it is essential that churches can remain open for public worship to offer prayer, solace, hope and practical help. We are currently seeing a myriad of issues including loneliness, isolation, domestic violence, marriage breakdown, debt, poverty, addiction, and suicide which unfortunately are being compounded by these ongoing
As ministers of the Gospel, we respect Government and have sought to carefully implement the safety recommendations you have issued, as is our duty. Our duty doesn’t end with man however, we also have a duty before God to declare the help and hope that comes through
Jesus Christ, and to minister to the spiritual and emotional needs of our congregations and communities, needs which have only increased during this challenging season.
We can’t do this effectively if public worship is prohibited by government mandate, as public gathering is a core aspect of the full and free expression of our faith. Online broadcasts are no
substitute for gathering in person, as there are many who either do not have the means or the ability to connect in this manner. But even many of those who do have the means have expressed their frustration with the disconnect they feel while simply looking at a screen. As Christians, we are called to make disciples, not digital consumers. We are called to gather in person for public worship (as churches all over the EU are currently doing), and as Christians have done for the last 2,000 years, in good times and in bad.
We would like to know what evidence exists that churches or other places of worship in Ireland have contributed to the spread of COVID? What evidence is there that the R number is affected by congregations gathering to worship? If so, why are so many European nations, including secular republics like France allowing churches to remain open? Freedom of religion is a right that is enshrined in the Irish Constitution, as well as in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). We believe that these rights have been inadvertently trampled underfoot by the Irish Government during this pandemic.
As you know church leaders have gone to extensive lengths to ensure the safety of their congregants, implementing many measures including mask wearing, hand sanitisers, social distancing, and contact tracing. The Irish people are suffering greatly during this pandemic, and while we appreciate their safety is your paramount concern, the reality is that man does not live by bread alone (Matthew 4:4). COVID presents many challenges, but so does this ongoing isolation, loneliness, and despair. Allow the Churches to reopen so that we can play our part in ministering hope and healing during this dark season in Irish history.
Please note that we are not passive observers, but we are fighting beside you in this battle. Many of our members are frontline workers (doctors, nurses, carers, social workers, etc). We are very aware of the mental and emotional toll that this pandemic has taken on them. Many of them have expressed a great longing to return to public worship.
Look at the countries all over Europe that have chosen to keep churches open and you will find in many instances their people have coped better. We understand and appreciate the measures you have imposed have been well intentioned, but please do not lose sight of the fact that our physical well-being is closely related to our emotional and spiritual well-being.
You don’t turn off a lighthouse in the storm. In these desperate times people need hope. The church has a vital role to play in this pandemic. While public worship may not be important to some, for many it truly is a lifeline.
Please watch this video which gives expression to the deep longing of thousands of believers all over this nation to return to public worship:
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Reopen the churches, so we may continue to serve our nation and offer people the hope contained in the Gospel message, especially in this time when they need it so much. Thank you for considering our urgent request, one which comes from church leaders of so many diverse backgrounds across Ireland and from the many thousands of people they represent.
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