Rt Rev'd Andrew Forster, Bishop of Derry and Raphoe.
Church of Ireland services in the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe have been suspended with immediate effect.
Rt Rev’d Andrew Forster, Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, said the church, like all of society, had a duty to do what they can to ‘protect people’s lives and minimise suffering’.
He said: “I am announcing the suspension of all public acts of worship in the United Dioceses of Derry and Raphoe. This includes Sunday services and regular midweek services.
“Baptisms, weddings and funerals will still be permitted as long as they comply with the guidance of the appropriate public health authority.
The bishop said churches would remain open at service times for those who wish to pray privately and stressed that that pastoral support was still available.
“Our church buildings will be open at service times for those who wish to pray privately.
“Clergy who are well enough will ensure that they are available to parishioners for pastoral support – if necessary by telephone or online.
“We are also investigating options for non-traditional forms of worship, such as radio and online religious services.”
Rev’d Forster also encouraged parishioners to continue to look out for one another and ensure that anyone who is struggling as a result of the crisis receives the support they need.
He said: “In the midst of crisis, we have an opportunity to show what real Christian community is all about.
“Stay in touch with one another. Keep an eye on your neighbours, especially those who are older, those who are more vulnerable and those who are lonely.
“Look after them. Don’t do anything that puts their health at risk. Make sure they’re okay.
“Some in our Church family and in the wider community will be experiencing financial hardship.
“Be generous. Give to charities. Support local foodbanks. Let us show what real community is all about.”
The Bishop expressed his regret at having to take these measures in the face of what he described as a ‘rapidly changing situation’.
He said: “We, at diocesan level, will be in regular communication with parishioners.
“No bishop wants to suspend services – especially not a Church of Ireland bishop on the Feast Day of St Patrick. But it is done for the right reasons and with people’s best interests at heart.”
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