LEADING members of faith groups met government representatives for the first time on Friday, as the work of the places-of-worship task force began. The virtual meeting was described as “productive” by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick.
The task force was set up in response to the Prime Minister’s announcement on 10 May that places of worship could reopen as early as 4 July, subject to further scientific advice (News, 15 May).
Mr Jenrick acknowledged that “significant spiritual moments”, such as Easter, Passover, Ramadan, and Vaisakhi had been celebrated at home without the traditional gatherings of families, friends, and congregations.
“I realise how challenging being separated from their communities has been for people of faith,” he said. “We will now work together with all faith communities to understand how we can open places of worship as a priority, while continuing to prioritise safety.”
The task force agreed that reopening would be phased, and would happen when the evidence showed that it was safe to do so. Crucially, faith organisations will be able to reopen at a slower pace if they wish, confirming the widely expressed view among church leaders that there can be no one-size-fits-all resumption of normal services.
The Faith Minister, Lord Greenhalgh, said: “Places of worship serve an important role in supporting and providing spiritual leadership for this country’s diverse communities, and in bringing communities and the generations together; but this also makes them places that are currently particularly vulnerable to the spread of the pandemic.
“We realise that practical issues, such as the size of both physical buildings and congregation, are significant, but we are determined to find a way to safely reopen places of worship as soon as possible, ensuring people are not put at risk.”
Lord Greenhalgh has also met faith and community leaders individually, and will continue to do so in the weeks ahead.
The independent network Faith Action, which, since 2012 has served as the secretariat for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society, has been given £125,000 to research and report views from around the country on restarting worship.