INDIVIDUALS will be allowed to pray privately in churches and other places of worship in England from 15 June, the Government has announced.
The Communities Secretary, Robert Jenrick, wrote on Twitter on Saturday evening: “Pleased to announce that from 15 June, places of worship will be able to open for individual prayer. Thank you to all the faith leaders who are working with me to ensure this is done safely. I know that for millions across the country this news has been long awaited.”
In a video message, Mr Jenrick said: “During the pandemic, we’ve all found our own sources of comfort to help us weather the great uncertainty that we’ve been living through. And for millions of people, that source has been their faith. As Communities Secretary, I want to thank everyone for their patience and forbearance, not least being unable to visit places of worship during Easter, Passover, Vaisahki, and Ramadan.
“House of worship are places of solace, of dignity, of provision, and play an absolutely central role in our society. That’s why the Prime Minister and I established a task force bringing together our faith leaders to plan the safe and phased reopening of places of worship. And today I’m able to announce the first step in a broader reopening of places of worship.”
A press release issued by the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government, on Sunday, said: “Individual prayer will be permitted from 15 June, but communally led prayer, worship or devotion such as services, evensong, informal prayer meetings, Mass, Jummah or Kirtan will not be possible at this stage.”
It continued: “Under the existing regulations, funerals are allowed in places of worship where it is possible to do so safely. Other gatherings and services such as baptisms, weddings, supplementary schools, meetings and classes are not permitted. Also places of worship may open for ministers of religion to film or record a service for broadcast, for the hosting of essential voluntary activities such as homeless services, for registered early years and childcare providers and for blood donation sessions. Buildings should also remain closed to tourists.”
The plans have been drawn up in consultation with the places-of-worship task force, which met for the first time on 15 May (News, 22 May).
Mr Jenrick said last week that the opening of places for individual and private prayer would then be “a springboard, hopefully, conditional on the rate of infection, obviously, to small weddings and then, in time, to services” (News, 5 June).
Northern Ireland has reopened churches for private prayer, but Scotland and Wales have not yet done so.
The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, who chairs the House of Bishops recovery group, said in a statement: “We welcome the Government’s announcement today that church buildings can open up for supervised individual prayer from June 15. This is the start of the journey for church buildings to open up safely in line with Government advice, and we look forward to their detailed guidance on enabling this first step to happen.
“Advice has already been circulated to all our dioceses to enable local churches to plan ahead for opening up for individual prayer. Our advice recognises that a particular local church may or may not be able to open at the same time as others and collaborative working between local churches is encouraged. A simple risk-assessment template has been provided.
“Throughout this crisis churches have been serving their communities in a range of practical ways, but this announcement recognises that the buildings themselves are important sacred spaces for people. We also remember all at this time who mourn the loss of a loved one who died during the crisis, and recognise that this is a fragile time in the prevention of the spread of this virus.
“We look forward to when it is safe for our church buildings once again to become meeting places for worship, prayer and all they do to serve and bless their communities.”
The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, wrote on Twitter on Sunday morning: “Good news about the Govenrment allowing places of worship to open. Great care will need to be taken to ensure that they can do so safely — and those that cannot will have to remain closed for the present.”
Dr Inge was among bishops who questioned why “non-essential” shops and other buildings had been permitted to open, but not churches. He said last week: “The risk to a person sitting quietly to pray in a church which is properly cleaned and supervised is surely not greater than a trip to the supermarket?”