Further to previous formal guidance issued on 17th and 23rd March 2020, in light of the evolving government advice in both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, we today issue the following additional formal advice to all Ministers and Kirk Sessions:
It is now strongly recommended that until further notice:
(a) there should be no public announcement of funeral arrangements;
(b) where at all possible, funeral services should be limited to graveside committals only, appropriate social distancing guidelines and behaviour should strictly apply;
(c) funeral services should not be held in family homes;
(d) if funeral services are held within a church building, appropriate social distancing guidelines and behaviour should strictly apply;
(e) at all funeral services, where ever they are held, there should be a limit of 10 people in total attending (plus one, and only one, officiant) or a lower number if applied locally by statutory authorities; this is a maximum number (at present) but should be kept lower if possible - strictly immediate close family and, if necessary, a close friend.
(f) no gatherings for refreshments in Church Halls should be held, and gatherings in homes should be discouraged;
(g) those who fall within the government’s listed categories of persons who should self-isolate for a period of 12 weeks, should not attend – this includes ministers in these categories, who should not officiate at funeral services.
2. GENERAL USE OF CHURCH PREMISES
Please note the current formal advice issued by the UK Government (and perhaps useful in the south also) is that all Church premises should remain closed except:
(i) Funerals, where the congregation is immediate family (with provision for a carer, if required) or a friend - in the case that no family members are attending. A distance of two metres is to be maintained between every household group, as per Public Health guidelines.
(ii) A minister of religion, to go to their place of worship, including to broadcast an act of worship to people outside the place of worship, whether over the internet or otherwise
(iii) For the purpose of hosting essential voluntary or public service, such as food banks, homeless services, and blood donation sessions
Please note: In the light of point (ii), the numbers attending the actual live-streaming or recording should be kept to the minimum number possible, especially with regard to singers and musicians, and appropriate social distancing guidelines and behaviour should strictly apply.
3. WEDDINGS & BAPTISMS
Until further notice, no weddings should take place under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Baptisms should not take place. If there is a specific exceptional emergency situation with regard to the anticipated death of an infant, ministers should use their own pastoral and theological discretion regarding baptism.
Please be assured that this formal advice will be withdrawn as soon as government guidance permits. As the situation continues to change quickly in both jurisdictions we would ask that ministers continue to keep themselves informed of the latest advice and guidance from the PHA and the HSE as appropriate.
I will be sending you some further e-mails over the next few days, so please check your PCI e-mail account on a regular basis. These future e-mails will deal with a number of matters, including:
- advice on how congregations in Northern Ireland may be able to avail of the UK Government ‘Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme’;
- guidance regarding congregational finances, including assessments (following on from video conference meetings of relevant General Assembly office-bearers);
- a formal notice of a ‘Virtual Special General Assembly Meeting’, authorised by the General Council.
Finally, can I thank you for your patience as guidance continues to be drafted and updated in an ever-evolving situation. Thank you for your ongoing work in these challenging days - be assured of my personal prayers.
Yours in Christ,
Rev Trevor D Gribben
Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary
Presbyterian Church in Ireland
2-10 Fisherwick Place
Belfast BT1 6DW
Telephone : (028) 9041 7208