Response to Escalation of Coronavirus Crisis – COVID-19 and the Local Church
An Evangelical Response to, and Guidelines Concerning, the Escalation in Ireland of the Coronavirus Crisis / by Nick Park (Executive Director, EAI)
Updated Wednesday 1st April 2020
EAI has no power or authority to issue orders or instructions to churches or ministries. We exist to connect, equip and represent Evangelicals. The following advice and opinion is offered in love and humility and from our desire to serve the Body of Christ in Ireland.
On 27 March, the government announced new restrictions which will have a massive effect on most churches until after Easter, and probably beyond. People are to stay at home with very narrow exceptions. Gardai have the power to stop and arrest those who don’t abide by these restrictions. There are to be no public or private gatherings of any size whatsoever.
Up to this point, many of our congregations had either been pre-recording, or posting live online, services conducted by a small team from their church buildings to air on Sunday mornings and at other times. It is our understanding that this is no longer possible under the new restrictions.
The government’s instructions to temporarily cancel church services does not constitute an infringement on the freedom of religion. The State has a God-given mandate to protect its citizens. We recognise that they have the right to impose fire regulations in order to safeguard life and limb – and the current situation would appear to be an extension of that principle. EAI would urge Evangelical churches not just to adhere to the letter of the law, but to follow the Jesus pattern by ensuring that our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. Our care for the elderly and vulnerable in our society should mean that we take more, not less, care than others to practise social distancing.
We have received a few comments and queries as to whether the reference to ‘religious personnel’ in the government’s list of essential service providers might be interpreted so as to permit small groups to meet to film worship services in church buildings. EAI has received the following opinion from Cormac O’Ceallaigh Solicitors:
These guidelines mention ‘religious personnel,’ but my take on that is that a minister (as opposed to the congregation) can continue in their official functions and duties (e.g. do a funeral) but I am satisfied it DOES NOT include conducting a religious service with a congregation present irrespective of its size.
A further serious issue churches need to consider is that if they defy the HSE & Government guidelines and a member of the congregation contacts Covid19 from another member of the congregation, the church could be sued in a personal injury type of case AND it is probable that their insurance policy may not cover such a claim – or the insurer would decline indemnity, or seek to void the policy on the basis that the church wilfully ignored the HSE/Government guidelines.
The following article in the Irish Times demonstrates the dangers involved, even where people have acted in good faith and within the letter of the law. It would be horrible to read a similar article about an Irish church.
Let’s continue to pray for one another. So many churches have launched new prayer initiatives, including a number that are operating 24/7 prayer. We believe that this unprecedented outpouring of intercessory prayer will bless Christ’s Church and this nation.
One of us shall put a thousand to flight. Two of us shall put ten thousand to flight. Together, we shall see something great happen in Ireland.
EAI will continue to provide updates, advice and encouragement, and to share tips and ideas, to help churches and individual believers during this time of national crisis. We will also be cooperating with a number of churches and ministries to promote prayer initiatives. Please do visit our website https://www.evangelical.ie or social media channels regularly to avail of these resources.