FUNERALS will be allowed take place in churches again from next Monday, 15 June, the House of Bishops announced on Tuesday.
The announcement comes in the wake of a decision to open churches for individual private prayer. It was prompted by the continued reduction in death rates linked to Covid-19 and the pastoral needs of the bereaved.
A C of E statement said that the move was in line with guidance from Public Health England. Draft guidance about how to prepare churches to receive people safely was published last week.
Diocesan bishops will decide with their senior team how to apply the new guidance which, the statement emphasises, is “permissive and not prescriptive”. It states: “If a building could not open because staff were ill or shielding, or could not be easily cleaned, for example, it would be a local decision by those with authority over the building as to whether the permission were used or not.
“The funeral may take place at a local crematorium or cemetery if the decision is taken not to open the church as is the case now.”
The new easing of restrictions will be welcomed by many who have criticised the closing of churches (News, 5 June).
The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, who chairs the Church of England’s Recovery Group, said on Tuesday afternoon that she was “only too aware that those who have lost loved ones have suffered most of all” during the pandemic. “I know that the grieving process has been even more difficult because of the limitations on funerals themselves.
“There are now least some signs of hope of an improvement with a fall both in the number of new infections and the death rate, but there will still, sadly, have to be significant limitations on how we mark funerals for some time to come.
“Nevertheless, the House of Bishops has agreed that, in light of the changing circumstances, it is time to review our advice so that it will soon be possible for funeral services to be conducted inside church buildings following Government guidelines.
“At the same time we are actively planning for a wider phased reopening of places of worship when it is safe and practical to do so and look forward to the time when we can meet and worship together again in out buildings which mean so much to so many.”
The House of Bishops also discussed when churches might reopen for public worship and, in particular, the eucharist. Nothing is expected to change at least until 4 July. There has been no further word on weddings.