DUP Leader & First Minister Arlene Foster said,
Faith is hugely important to me but also many across Northern Ireland. As a regular church goer, I miss corporate worship and in particular the congregational singing.
Whilst in this lockdown, there has never been a legal ruling by Ministers to close congregational worship, the main denominations have agreed to voluntarily move their services online. That spirit of responsibility has been a positive mark of the faith sector throughout this pandemic even when the churches were open with many congregations using one way systems and rotas to ensure reduced numbers and proper distancing.
Within the Northern Ireland Executive, I have been pressing fellow Ministers for congregations to be able to return to their buildings in time for Easter. The Easter weekend is such a special time for Christians where we remember Christ’s death but then the eternal hope of the resurrection.
Not all Ministers are in that space yet and it will depend on the reinfection rate, hospital admissions and death rates continuing to fall and the vaccination rate continuing to increase. All those markers are moving in the right direction.
Finally, I have felt the benefit of prayer throughout this pandemic. At the darkest moments, a thoughtful praying servant of God would email me, text me or phone me to give encouragement. The right words at the right time.
I have suggested to the Deputy First Minister, who was in agreement, that one day over the Easter weekend should be dedicated to prayer and reflection. Possibly Easter Sunday. We will work through and finalise the finer details with Executive colleagues, engaging with church leaders.
Days of prayer have been a mark of societies all over the world for generations, and I know many denominations have been holding their own dedicated times of prayer over this pandemic, but this would be the Northern Ireland Executive dedicating a day to prayer for the whole country. It would be the first time that the local devolved administration has ever taken this step but I believe it would be fitting and appropriate, given all the human losses but also the scientific triumphs of the last twelve months, for those of us with faith to take time to pray and those without faith to take time to reflect.