The leader of the Church of Ireland has said some of its members had endured a "hellish" lockdown, as people succumbed to coronavirus, while others suffered isolation and boredom.
Speaking as churches across the island of Ireland flung open their doors to worshippers again today, Archbishop of Armagh John McDowell said it was appropriate that it was happening on St Peter's Day.
"It could hardly be more fitting that it is St Peter's Day on which we symbolically receive the keys of our churches to enter them again, over the days and weeks to come, as the people of God; to worship his holy name and to gather together as the household of faith. For this we give thanks to God," he said.
"During the months of lockdown, some of you will have had hellish experiences as you have suffered the death of someone very close to you, or have endured the desolating tedium and stress of isolation.
"For these very reasons, you may welcome the freedom to worship but be worried or apprehensive about returning. When you are ready, the churches will be ready to welcome you also."
During lockdown churches became creative in their use of webcams and social media to hold services.
Churches have been open for private prayer since May, and have introduced myriad safety measures and social distancing.
He said a return to worship together would mean "always thinking of others" and making "the necessary preparations to make church safe".
"That is the impulse of the law of love and solidarity which is our vocation. We are responsible for each other," he said.
"Each of us will begin to emerge from lockdown changed in some ways. It is much too soon to say where that will leave us and lead us as a church. But whatever our experiences have been, I hope we can turn our faces in confidence and thankfulness towards God and then turn to face our parishes, our communities and our world in the unshaken promises of the Gospel against which nothing can prevail, and perhaps at sometime today join as parishes, as families or as individuals, in these well-known and memorable words:
“Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and lovingkindness to us, and to all men. We bless thee for our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life: but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful, and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips but in our lives; by giving up ourselves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Spirit be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.”
Elsewhere, the Catholic Bishop of Clogher, Larry Duffy, welcomed the return to public worship after a "challenging and stressful" few months.
"These last few months have forced us to celebrate in empty churches, and many of our priests were also cocooning and unable to celebrate publicly," he said.
"These months have been difficult for the faithful who have had to endure lockdown and lack of access to the Sacraments. These times have been especially difficult for families who have lost loved ones and who could not celebrate funeral liturgies in the normal way."
He also urged caution.
"Let us not rush back into trying to have things as they were. Our ways of gathering, our ways of interacting with each other will be different now. We all need to observe social distancing and hygiene regulations. We must all look out for each other, stay safe," he said.