A group of 70 pastors attached to evangelical Christian denominations in Ireland have written to the Government warning of "severe" consequences if their churches are not opened up.
The letter, which has been sent to Taoiseach Micheál Martin and all TDs, says the continuing closure of places of worship is “counterproductive during a season when people desperately need the hope and community that so many find in church life and public worship”.
Pointing out that churches in the State are the only ones in Europe to remain closed, the pastors said the closures are "unwarranted" given the steps these churches have taken to ensure the safety of their congregations amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The letter warned of “severe, unintended consequences [from the closures], particularly with regards to . . . [the] mental health” of people who attend these churches.
“Unfortunately on a wider scale in the local communities in which we serve, we are seeing domestic violence, self-harm, and even suicide. As we enter the darker winter season, we believe that these issues will only grow worse,” the pastors state.
“If ever there was a time that churches in Ireland needed to be open it is now. When people are losing their jobs, fearful about the future and struggling to make ends meet, they need the comfort, hope and solace that is found in the community of faith.”
Pastor John Ahern of the All Nations Church in Dublin said he is aware of seven suicides in the last week among friends and acquaintances.
He said the “obsessive focus on simply Covid numbers is not dealing with the collateral damage we are seeing with society in terms of our mental health”.
He said the churches represented by the pastors represent more than 70 nationalities in Ireland, and include Iranian, Chinese, Romanian, Russian and Indian churches, along with congregations from parts of Africa.
Many of the congregates are immigrants who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic.
“In many instances, church is their only social outlet and, for many non-nationals, their only family in this nation. It is not like they have anybody else who cares about them,” he said.
“I have dear friends with children who have lost their income, some on the brink of bankruptcy, and yet we have politicians who continue to be paid no matter what happens.
“I believe that churches need to be open to offer comfort and solace to those who need it. I think right now, we all need the hope and good news that is found in the Gospel of Christ and the gathering of God’s people.”
Pastor Ahern said the social aspect of churchgoing is vital to immigrants in Ireland, and that going online is no substitute.
“It is very easy to come out with dismissive lines to go online. It is not the same. We broadcast online, but it is no substitute to doing what Christians have done for the last 2,000 years, which is to meet and worship.”