Estonian churches will be able to reopen to the public when other restrictions are also relaxed, Minister of Population Riina Solman (Isamaa) said, according to daily Postimees.
Solman recommended everyone commenting on Archbishop of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELK) Urmas Viilma's call for the sounding of church bells to reread his proposal.
"I think people are overdoing it when it comes to looking for confrontation and conflict," she said.
The minister noted that she interpreted the call by the Estonian Council of Churches (EKN) as a declaration that churches and congregations are ready to start holding public religious services again. The EKN has also submitted a proposal to the government whereby it would undertake the obligation to use all the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as adhere to the 2+2 rule.
"The emergency situation in Estonia will remain in force through May 17, and public events must be postponed until at least the end of June," she noted. "Meanwhile, religious services have not been prohibited; it has simply been requested that they be held in a different format during the crisis."
Public gatherings of people, as which public religious services in a church qualify, have been prohibited to prevent infection, Solman said, adding that for this reason, the EKN in cooperation with the minister have made it possible for the public to attend services via TV or internet on the weekends.
Solman said that she does not interpret Viilma's call as rebellion.
"What I can see from the perspective of population minister is a peaceful call to take note of the need of Christian people to meet with their congregation," she said.
The sounding of bells reminds all Christians of the joy of meeting one another, and that they will soon be able to do so again, she continued.
"For this reason, I deem it important that churches and congregations should be able to return to ordinary operations by Mother's Day, or definitely no later than at the end of the emergency situation," Solman added.
Viilma, the head of the EELK, issued a call on Saturday for ministers of religion and congregations to sound church bells this week in order to urge the government to enable the reopening of churches and holding of religious services.
He noted that with restrictions being relaxed in many other fields, he has made specific proposals together with other Estonian church leaders to the prime minister regarding the resumption of services and provision of sacraments; however, the government has yet to deliver a clear signal in this regard.
The archbishop has instructed ministers of religion and congregations to sound church bells for five to ten minutes at noon and 3 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday this week, accompanied by a reading of Scriptures and a prayer, if possible.
Editor: Aili Vahtla