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Coronavirus: Northern Ireland churches urge congregations to 'pray virtually' on Palm Sunday

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Rev Dr Heather Morris

Rev Dr Heather Morris

Rev Dr Heather Morris

Churches in Northern Ireland have encouraged their congregations to "pray virtually" on Palm Sunday as the region continues to battle coronavirus.

Church services have been suspended in a bid to halt the spread of the virus, though they can host funerals where the numbers attending are very small and mourners observe social-distancing.

Rev Heather Morris, general secretary of the Methodist Church in Ireland, told the BBC she did not think churches themselves needed to be opened for Palm Sunday, one of the most important days of the Christian calendar.

“We are asking people to pray virtually – a building being open is not necessary for us to pray,“ she said.

She said that tough times like these lead to even those who are not normally devoutly religious to "ask questions of God".

She added the church would to whatever it could to help communities, including delivering prescriptions and foods to those self-isolating.

Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland said in "anxious and fearful" times people turn to God and each other.

The leader of the Royal Black Institution also appealed to its members to pray this weekend to protect healthcare professionals, researchers and other key workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I have appealed to Sir Knights to take time this Sunday at 7pm to pray for the Lord to bring comfort in these dark days,” said Rev Anderson.

“Please do so in your own homes, and we will raise a prayer that will be heard in Heaven itself.”

Meanwhile First Minister Arlene Foster confirmed that she discussed the closure of churches with Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown.

Mr McKeown had called for churches to be allowed to reopen as places of private prayer during the coronavirus pandemic.

He cited the examples of off licenses being allowed to remain open despite the lockdown.

Mrs Foster telephoned Bishop McKeown on Wednesday to discuss his concerns.

She said she wanted to "reach out" to him.

"I didn't want people to feel constrained from God," the DUP leader said, but that the churches had to close as part of social-distancing to stop the spread of coronavirus.

"I did want to reach out to Donal, we will be keeping this matter under review because freedom of religion is a very important piece in a democratic society and therefore people should be free to do that.

"I do join with the church leaders in supporting the call to pray this Sunday, I think that's an important thing to do and to bring the community together and I hope people will recognise that is a call to bring us all together at this very difficult time."

Bishop McKeown told the Irish News he "appreciated the conversation".

Belfast Telegraph