THE Government’s ban on social gatherings of more than six people, which comes into force on Monday, will not apply to public worship in churches.
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It was widely reported on Wednesday morning that the law would be changed to reduce the maximum number of people who can gather from 30 to six, to address a rise in coronavirus cases. The limit will not apply to schools, workplaces, weddings or funerals.
The Archbishop of Canterbury wrote on Twitter on Wednesday morning: “After contact with Government we hear that there is no change to guidance on places of worship. Worship is the work of God — not a social gathering — and gives the strength to love and serve.”
In another message on Twitter, Archbishop Welby wrote: “The increase in COVID cases is very concerning. We must follow the guidance and take all the necessary measures to keep people safe.
“And let’s keep praying for everyone who is affected — those who are ill, or whose families are ill, those who are anxious, or struggling with cancelled plans and isolation. We give grateful thanks to God for the NHS and all those who work tirelessly to keep us safe.”
Speaking at a press conference in Downing Street on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Johnson confirmed: “In England, from Monday, we’re introducing the rule of six. You must not meet socially in groups of more than six and, if you do, you’re breaking the law.”
He listed some places that were exempt, however, including places of worship, in which more than six people are still permitted to gather. “Within those venues, however, there must not be individual groups larger than six, and groups must not mix socially together or form larger groups. . .
“Covid-secure weddings and funerals can go ahead, up to a limit of 30 people.”
Mr Johnson said that he did not wish to impose more stringent measures on social gatherings, “but as your Prime Minister, I must do what is necessary to stop the spread of the virus and to save lives. And, of course, we will keep the rule of six under constant review and only keep it in place as long as it’s necessary.”
The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, who chairs the Church of England’s Recovery Group, said on Wednesday: “I welcome confirmation from the Prime Minister that places of worship can still hold more than six people in total, despite the new restrictions on gatherings, and the reassurance that public worship can continue.
“We will continue to work with the Government on specific areas relating to our churches and church-based activities.”
The Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, wrote in a pastoral message on Wednesday: “Having looked at the latest government guidance we are confident that we can carry on with the arrangements that we have established for Sunday worship over the last few weeks and we encourage you to do so.
“We are convinced that the procedures we have established are safe and ensuring community of worship is important and valuable for us all. The only difference is that people must not sit in groups of more than six, but on our recent experience that is rarely happening anyway — if at all.”
Churches were allowed to reopen for public worship from 4 July, with incumbents or the PCC responsible for determining how many people could safely attend (News, 3 July). There is no prescribed number who can attend ordinary worship, though a maximum of 30 people are permitted to attend weddings, funerals, and other “life-cycle” services, regardless of the size of the building. This includes baptisms, unless they take place during routine communal worship (News, 26 June).
The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, announced on Tuesday that tighter restrictions had been introduced in Bolton with immediate effect. All hospitality venues would be allowed to serve only takeaway items, and all venues are required to close from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Hancock said: “The rise in cases in Bolton is partly due to socialising by people in their twenties and thirties. We know this from contact tracing. And through our contact tracing system, we’ve identified a number of pubs at which the virus has spread significantly. . .
“We will introduce, urgently, further measures that put the current guidance that people cannot socialise outside their household into law. I want us to learn the lesson from Spain, America, and France, not have to learn the lesson all over again ourselves through more hospitalisations and deaths, and take this action locally in Bolton.”