Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle welcomed worshippers for “phased return” on Sunday morning.
The pastor of a north Belfast church has told of “dirty” threats being received, following the church’s decision to restart services on Sunday.
Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle welcomed worshippers back through their doors for what was described as a “phased return” on Sunday morning.
Last Tuesday the church announced online that they were taking the decision to allow people to attend their 11am morning service “taking into account the available data” around the virus.
In a statement posted on their website and social media, they also advised people to “abide by the safeguards”, including that there was to be no hugging, hand shaking, that a two metre distance was to be enforced and that masks must be worn at all times.
Before Sunday’s first service, Senior Pastor David Purse told those attending and those watching the service online, that he had been subject to threats contained in a letter.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph on Monday afternoon, Pastor Purse explained it was “not nice” to receive a letter at his personal address.
“It was just a dirty stinking wee letter telling people that we were disgusting. You get that. It is not going to stop us doing what we do,” he said.
“It is not nice when someone sends a letter like that. There is this scroll and you can’t even make half of it out - saying we were low, didn’t care and were a disgrace.
“The police came in yesterday morning. The police observed. One of the church stewards went out to them.
“They advised they had received a complaint. So the police were invited in. I spoke to the police personally.
“They told me it was just a complaint and they were obliged to look into it. The police officer complimented us on how well we are organised for those coming to church.
Directing a message on Sunday specifically to “reporters watching”, he went on to say he hoped they “see we do everything well”.
He also mocked those responsible for the letter and told the audience in attendance not to “worry about it” and that it was “good to be here”.
While places of worship are allowed to remain open as part of Northern Ireland’s coronavirus restrictions, a voluntary arrangement was agreed between the four largest denominational churches.
Pastor Purse said the concern over his congregation’s mental well-being also played a part in the decision to reopen.
“We weighed that into our decision making when our oversight met a few weeks ago. We didn’t do yesterday flippantly, it was done with much thought, consideration and care,” he added.
Former health minister Jim Wells said it was “entirely legal” for churches to open within the rules if they wished.
“The churches were never prevented from meeting as a result of the regulations,” he told BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show.
"They voluntarily stopped services, that was the four main churches.
“They said they would keep an eye on the statistics and the vaccine and make a decision later on - in this case ten weeks later.
“There was never much evidence to start with that church services caused much impact [on the spread of the virus].
“A large proportion of the congregation are likely vaccinated in most cases, they have decided to go back. That is entirely legal.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for the PSNI said: “Police attended the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle on Sunday morning and no breaches of the Regulations were noted.”