Belfast Telegraph

Religious protest ahead of Northern Ireland's first Sunday home international

Members of the Free Presbyterian Church have staged a protest ahead of Northern Ireland's first home international match on a Sunday.

The congregation of Tyndale Free Presbyterian Church held a service outside their church, which is near the Windsor Park venue, ahead of this evening's Northern Ireland's Euro 2016 qualifier against Finland.

Demonstrators carried placards saying, "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy".

Hardline Christians came out against the match earlier in the week with the Evangelical Protestant Society saying it was “deeply saddened” by the decision to hold a match on the “Lord’s Day”.

“It marks another watershed moment in modern Ulster’s increasing rejection of the Lord’s day.

“Far too many sporting and social events are now organised on Sundays with, it seems, scant regard for the rights of evangelicals who, because of their faith, are unable to be involved,” said Wallace Thompson, secretary of the society.

He added: “We fully accept that we are out of step with the majority of public opinion on this matter, and we suspect that many who claim to be Protestants will be present at Windsor Park on Sunday.”

The Orange Order also described the playing of the match on as Sunday as the “desecration of the Lord’s day”.

At a meeting in Co Armagh yesterday, the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland passed a unanimous resolution “expressing their disappointment” with the scheduling of the game.

The Orange Order said in a statement: “We believe that this is, yet again, a further desecration of the Lord’s Day. The playing of any kind of sport on the Lord’s Day is a breach of the fourth commandment.

“The playing of sport on a Sunday discriminates against those sportsmen and women who have conscientious scruples on this matter. Furthermore, the staging of such matches and games discriminates against those supporters who also have objections against sport on the Lord's Day.”

They added: “While we applaud every worthy effort to promote Northern Ireland and its interests, both at home and abroad, we deplore anything that is contrary to God’s Word.”  

The Euro 2016 qualifier in Belfast isn’t the first time the side has played on a Sunday.

Michael O’Neill’s men played Hungary away in the same tournament last September.

The match is being played as part of Uefa’s Week of Football programme for the Euro 2016 qualifiers, with matches being played from Thursday to Tuesday.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill said last week: “We appreciate and understand people’s religious beliefs but the game must be played on a Sunday as that date was decreed when the fixture was made by Uefa.

“We hope for a victory on the night and for the usual wonderful support from all Northern Ireland fans.”

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