PLACES of worship are the bedrock of communities across the country.
They are the places people turn to in times of difficulty. And the resilience, patience, and innovation shown by faith and religious communities during this period has been inspirational and motivational to us all.
Throughout the pandemic, we have seen their vital role in supporting and providing essential services to vulnerable people.
As Communities Secretary, it’s my priority to ensure we can open places of worship again, and last month I was pleased we were able to reopen places of worship for individual prayer.
Today [4 July] I’m delighted that we are able to make further changes to the lockdown measures, by opening up places of worship for all prayers and services.
This will mean, from today — with social distancing measures in place — people will be able to visit churches, mosques, synagogues, gurdwaras, temples, and other places of worship.
Whilst religious services may not be the same as before, today’s announcement will make a difference to people who have had to put many aspects of their lives on hold and can now go ahead with communal worship, weddings, and other religious ceremonies.
We recognise the importance for people to get the spiritual and mental-health benefits they need from places of worship, but it’s important that people continue to remain alert and continue to follow social-distancing guidance.
The situation in Leicester is a stark reminder that we must all remain alert and vigilant to ensure we can continue to control the virus.
Whilst there will be no cap on attendees for communal worship in places of worship, weddings, funerals, and other life-cycle ceremonies should have no more than 30 people in attendance, with social distancing in place.
This is vital to ensure that people can begin to visit and make use of places of worship safely.
Today’s milestone is only possible thanks to the sacrifices that people have made throughout this emergency, right across the country.
The Government has been working closely with the Places of Worship Taskforce, and last week we set out guidance developed with faith leaders on how faith leaders and venue managers should prepare their buildings to open safely for visitors from 4 July.
The guidance continues to recommend the thorough cleaning of shared spaces, hand-cleansing at entry and exit, and asking worshippers to bring their own religious objects, such as prayer mats or religious texts instead of sharing or using communal ones.
And we will continue to work with the Taskforce to ensure that, once the scientific advice allows, we can recommend further easing of restrictions on places of worship.
This year, people have had to mark Easter, Passover, Ramadan, and Vaisakhi without friends and family in the traditional way.
We recognise the toll this has had on people, and we would like to thank all religious communities for the enormous patience and forbearance they have demonstrated.
Although ceremonies and services may look a little different to minimise the risk of exposure to infection, congregations will now be able to meet and practise their faiths and beliefs alongside their community.
At a time where the need is greater now more than ever before, this is an important moment to celebrate.