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Coronavirus: Churches suspend services and Belfast cremations limited

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Rev William Henry

Rev William Henry

Freddie Parkinson

Rev William Henry

The Presbyterian and Methodist churches have suspended services across Northern Ireland because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Both organisations said they were forced to move because of the changing situation and on advice from health authorities.

They also advised that for funerals and weddings numbers attending are kept to a minimum.

Meanwhile, Belfast City Council activated its emergency plan at Roselawn Cemetery.

All cremation services are limited to a maximum of 30 people and funeral directors advised that hymn books have been removed from the crematorium chapel and that they should instead advise families to print hymns on an order of service.

A council spokeswoman said: "Staff will no longer connect families’ mobile phones to the music system and only background music will be provided. These temporary health protection measures are effective from today."

The Methodist and Presbyterian churches encouraged members to seek out "creative" means of worship.

The Rev Sam McGuffin, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland and the Church's General Secretary, the Rev. Dr Heather Morris, said in a statement: "It is with great sadness that we have suspended gatherings for worship in the Methodist Church across Ireland.

"Congregations are encouraged to seek creative ways to worship, even if not able to be in one place and to continue to serve those who are most vulnerable in their communities.

"We continue to pray for all effected by the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) particularly for those who are ill and grieving the loss of loved ones, our front-line health care workers, leaders in government and the health service and for business at this time."

The Presbyterian Church Moderator William Henry advised funerals should be private if possible with no public announcement made of arrangements.

"These are deeply uncertain times, with almost every day bringing challenging news and announcements," he said.

"As the Covid-19 pandemic continues daily to grow in severity, we sense fear is also growing. However, God remains sovereign over all things and continues to be at work in the world, often working out His purposes both in us and through us.

"We continue therefore to pray that all would know and feel God’s love and close presence at this time and that the Church, scattered throughout our communities, would continue to be salt and light pointing people to the Lord Jesus Christ – the hope of world."

The moves comes after the the Church of Ireland suspended all services and parish activities until further notice to tackle the coronavirus.

The traditional Church of Ireland St Patrick's Day morning sevice in Northern Ireland went ahead yesterday, with the Communion at Saul in Downpatrick taking place in the open air.

In a statement, the church advised that "all Sunday and midweek services should be suspended".

It too said that the numbers of people attending funerals and weddings should also be kept "as low as possible", with the suggestion that funeral services should be held in private "with no public announcement of the funeral arrangements".

While some meetings will still take place among senior "select vestry", the advice given by the Church of Ireland states that those who display any symptoms of the virus - such as a high temperature or a new continuous cough - should not attend, and instead should self-isolate.

Those in vulnerable groups have also been advised by the church not to attend any such meetings.

In an effort to keep church schedules as normal as possible, the statement also advises that "creative" electronic means of communication and worship should be encouraged in coming weeks.

Belfast Telegraph