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Pastor Mark McClurg reveals fears he had infected church goers amid calls for places of worship to reopen

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Mark with staff at the hospital

Mark with staff at the hospital

Mark with staff at the hospital

A pastor who was admitted to ICU with coronavirus has said he prayed he had not infected his congregation amid discussions on whether churches should reopen.

Pastor Mark McClurg said he had been in Newtownards Elim Church on March 15, just one day before he was admitted to hospital.

"For the week that I was in ICU. I was so worried - I was praying for our church in case some of the older or more vulnerable would get coronavirus," he said.

It's after Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots said he believed churches should be open and that it was a "very important issue for people".

Pastor McClurg said he would like to see churches to be reopened but only if it was safe, and said it needs to be discussed.

"I'm not pushing for this - but what would it look like? A church is a major part of our life. It's not just about spiritual health, it's about mental health," he said, speaking to the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme.

"I just think it needs to be considered what needs to be in place, what measures.

"I would even have it once every three weeks for people to come. If it would hurt or harm anyone, I don't want it.

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Persevere message: Edwin Poots

Persevere message: Edwin Poots

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Persevere message: Edwin Poots

Earlier on Thursday, Stormont minister Edwin Poots told BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show that it was time to have a conversation with the public about ending the lockdown after "draconian measures" to halt the spread of coronavirus "worked well".

He said it was important to avoid a second wave of the coronavirus and said this could be achieved through a "graduated response" to keep the public on board and reassure them that they would not be "trapped in their own homes for months and months".

After a recent decision to reopen cemeteries and forest parks, Mr Poots said further steps such as opening churches were possible to move towards a "little bit more of normality" - as long as churches could ensure social distancing.

"If individuals want to take that time out where they can come in and pray and if it helps them, it helps them," he said.

"For some people it is important to them that they do it in that way.

He acknowledged that people could worship at home, but said it was not yet the time to allow a "Sunday sermon" and said no church would want to do anything that would harm their congregation.

"If a small number of people want to go to a church building to offer their prayers, on an individual or family basis, I believe things like that can be accommodated," he said.

"The message is stay at home, it's not stay at home forever, at some point that will have to change."

Belfast Telegraph