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Synod invited to challenge lockdown ban on public worship

06 November 2020

Armistice Day gatherings not included in government exemptions but national anthem is

Dean and Chapter of Westminster

The Garden of Remembrance outside Westminster Abbey, which was opened by the Duchess of Cornwall on Wednesday

The Garden of Remembrance outside Westminster Abbey, which was opened by the Duchess of Cornwall on Wednesday

A MOTION before the General Synod later this month urges the Government to immediately “review the decision to curtail public worship during lockdown”.

The agenda for the November sessions of the General Synod (23-25 November) was published on Friday, after Parliamentary approval was given for the Synod to meet virtually (News, 2 October). The presidential address, to be given on the first day jointly by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, will include a “celebration of the role of churches in building mental and spiritual resilience to face the crisis”, and an affirmation of “the role of worship and the sacraments as the source of Christian service and discipleship”.

After a “screen break”, Synod members will be invited to debate a motion calling “upon Her Majesty’s Government immediately to review the decision to curtail public worship during lockdown”.

This follows intense criticism of the announcement last weekend that collective worship would be banned during the second lockdown, which began on Thursday. Faith leaders have repeatedly argued that the ban has no scientific justification (News, 3 November).

Further confusion has arisen over the singing of the national anthem. New regulations released on Friday concerning Remembrance Day state: “Limited communal singing, involving the national anthem and one additional song, is permitted outside for Remembrance Sunday, if additional mitigations are put in place.”

The mitigations include ensuring that the singing is only outdoors, and for two minutes or less. Congregational singing continues to be banned in all ordinary services, out of fear that an aerosol effect can spread the coronavirus.

The Vicar of St Nicholas and St Barnabas, Kenilworth, the Revd Stella Bailey, said that the rules should not be changed for the purposes of “nationalism” while singing was still banned elsewhere.

”Until now, we have been worshipping under an explicit ban on congregational singing for both indoor and outdoor services. It has not been allowed for funerals or weddings, even if part of the funeral service was held outside. Yet suddenly for this event they are making an exception.

“If we were following the science before, why has the science suddenly changed to help the political optics of the Government? Allowing ‘God Save the Queen’ has an undertone of bending the rules for nationalism,” she said on Friday.

The matter has been taken up by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Richard Bickle, its chair of trustees, said: “To change the rules around communal church singing simply for Remembrance Sunday does little to respect or remember the brutal human cost of war.

“It politicises a moment in the nation’s calendar that should be used to remember all those who have died in conflict. Instead, it will make even more painful the individual restrictions people currently live under.”

Gatherings on Armistice Day itself, 11 November, appear to be illegal, even outside. The Government guidance that exempts outdoor gatherings on Sunday (News, 6 November) makes no mention of gatherings next Wednesday, except for an invitation-only service in Westminster Abbey around the tomb of the Unknown Warrior.

The event, televised on BBC One from 10.30 a.m., will be led by the Dean of Westminster Abbey, the Very Revd Dr David Hoyle, and will include an address from Archbishop Welby.

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