CHURCHES may reopen for public worship and for weddings from 4 July, provided that physical distancing is observed, the Prime Minister has announced.
‘It’s a joy that we can be together again’
Downing Street said on Tuesday that “further changes to lockdown measures” would come into effect on 4 July in England, “to enable people to see more of their friends and family, help businesses get back on their feet and get people back in their jobs”. Together with pubs, restaurants, and hairdressers, places of worship will be allowed to resume public worship reopen on that date.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said: “I am delighted that places of worship will be able to reopen for prayer and services, including weddings with a maximum of 30 people, all subject to social distancing.”
A message posted on the Church of England Twitter account said: “We understand that the reference to a maximum of 30 people applies only to weddings and not all services, where numbers will depend on the size of the building and the specific circumstances. The Government will be publishing guidance on places of worship in due course.”
Guidance for parishes on the Church of England website will be updated to reflect the detail of the government guidance, once it is published, Church House said.
Churches were allowed to reopen for individual private prayer from 13 June, but not for public worship (News, 12 June).
The Archbishop of Canterbury wrote on social media on Tuesday: “It’s wonderful that we will soon be able to gather again for worship in our churches. . .
“Over the coming weeks I’ll be praying for clergy and congregations, especially those who for whom returning to church will not be straightforward, and for all those who we are called to love and serve.”
He continued: “As we prepare to gather together again, we do so knowing that many will be returning bearing new burdens of grief and anxiety. Others will be filled with hope and excitement.
“But we do not gather just by ourselves. We are gathered in the embrace of God who holds our griefs, fears and hopes, and who walks with us into this new and uncertain future, lighting our path along the way.
“So please pray, not just for our return to our beloved buildings — with all the safety precautions that we must get right — but also for our return to each other.”
Canon Janet Nicholls, of Chelmsford Cathedral, with hand-santiser
The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, who leads the Church of England’s Recovery Group, said on Tuesday: “The last three months have been an extraordinary time — the first period without public worship and the sacraments in England in more than 800 years. There will be real joy as we begin to come together again — if even at a physical distance.”
The Bishop said, however, that many people would be “understandably cautious at this news. We will not be returning to normality overnight — this is the next step on a journey. We’ve been planning carefully, making detailed advice available for parishes to enable them to prepare to hold services when it is safe and practical to do so. It is important to say that the change in Government guidance is permissive, not prescriptive.”
She continued: “Not all church buildings will be ready to hold regular services from July 4, but we are providing whatever support we can to enable them. There will still be restrictions and we must all still do everything we can to limit the spread of the virus to protect each other, especially the most vulnerable. The online services and dial-in worship offerings we have become used to will continue.”
The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, said on Tuesday: “It will take some while for our churches to work through the practical implications of the reopening of our buildings for public worship. So this will happen over a period of time, not in a sudden rush.
“The Church has been open throughout the difficult last three months. We have been heavily engaged in serving the communities in which we are set including through foodbanks, supporting the shielded, conducting funerals, our schools serving the children of key workers, and a range of other ways.
“There has been a great deal of public prayer and worship available online, and via the phone. As we begin to return to worship in our church buildings, we will want to ensure we are offering the warmest of welcomes, but doing so seeking to ensure the health and safety of all who choose to attend.
“I trust that the slow and careful reopening of our church buildings for individual prayer, and then for public worship will be part of this message of hope for us all.”
Truro Cathedral will open for public worship on Sunday 5 July, and then offer the daily eucharist and morning and evening prayer, “bookending” the daily opening hours of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Dean, the Very Revd Roger Bush, said: “Holy communion will be administered following strict guidelines, with a queuing system and with the person administering communion masked.
“It is a great relief to be able to offer worship again. The experience of the last week, since the cathedral has been open, has been humbling; people have come in — not all regulars by any means — have lit candles, sat and prayed, and occasionally talked about their experiences. The need for places of solace and spiritual encouragement has never been greater in my experience.”
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, said that the announcement was “welcome news for all religions in England. This time of our ‘eucharistic fast’ has made our hearts grow in longing for that moment when we can come together and receive again the body and blood of Christ in the eucharist. That moment is now very near, and for that we thank God.”
On Sunday, the choir of Peel Cathedral, on the Isle of Man, are to resume singing in their cathedral, with social spacing
He was one of many senior clerics who expressed delight at the relaxation. The Dean of Ripon, the Very Revd John Dobson, said: “It is clearly the case that there is a significant need both amongst regular worshippers and the wider community to cross the thresholds of our churches and cathedrals both for private prayer and public worship. At Ripon Cathedral, we are very keen to respond to the heightened awareness that many now have of God’s presence and activity in their lives.”
The Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd James Newcome, warned, however, that people should remain cautious. “Church buildings that do reopen . . . should only do so if all the necessary social-distancing and hygiene measures are adopted. Those churches which feel this cannot be done safely should not feel pressured to open.”
Church leaders in Devon urged churches not to “close the virtual door” by halting the online services that a growing number of people had been attending.
The lockdown and two-metre rule continue in the rest of the UK; in Wales, the restriction on travelling more than five miles is expected to be lifted soon.