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MPs and retired bishops add their voices to church-opening plea

23 November 2020

GEOFF CRAWFORD/CHURCH TIMES

The former Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Lord Chartres, in 2017

The former Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Lord Chartres, in 2017

A GROUP of 70 cross-party MPs and peers, including the former Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Lord Chartres, have urged the Prime Minister to guarantee that churches will be open “as soon as possible”, or certainly by Christmas.

Later today, the Prime Minister is due to announce a harsher tier system for when the lockdown ends on 2 December. More areas are to be placed in higher tiers, with more exacting restrictions. By way of mitigation, rapid testing — currently being trialled in Liverpool — is expected to be introduced; and it has been reported that shops, restaurants, and gyms in all areas are to open under a new Covid-19 winter plan.

No indication has yet been given as to when places of worship are to reopen for public worship.

An open letter was sent to Mr Johnson on Saturday in the name of the Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh, who is a Roman Catholic. Besides Lord Chartres, signatories include more than 70 MPs and peers, among them the Rt Revd Lord Harries, a former Bishop of Oxford.

The letter says: “This year’s plans have been disrupted by a virus that has already brought so much pain and frustration to people’s lives. Something that would bring enormous comfort and joy to millions of Christians in this country is the certainty of being able to go to church this Christmas.”

The letter echoes the arguments by religious leaders at the start of this second lockdown: that churches had proved that they were capable of introducing social distancing and following Government guidance, and that there was no evidence of places of worship contributing to the spread of the virus (News, 6 November).

It continues: “We all want to see the rates of coronavirus infections brought down. But it’s essential that measures to control the virus are based on evidence and respect people’s fundamental freedoms, including the right to worship in accordance with their beliefs.

“Whatever replaces the current restrictions in England from 3 December — whether that is new national measures or a local approach — we must never again stop people from attending religious services. You have previously said you want to see churches opened for services again soon. We hope you will provide a guarantee that all people across England — regardless of where they live — will be able to go to church this Christmas.

“The Christmas message of hope is needed more than ever in a year that has brought dark days for so many people.”

 

The full text of the letter

Dear Prime Minister

Re: Open churches by Christmas 

At this time of year, people would usually be making plans for Christmas.

This year’s plans have been disrupted by a virus that has already brought so much pain and frustration to people’s lives.

Something that would bring enormous comfort and joy to millions of Christians in this country is the certainty of being able to go to church this Christmas.

The current national measures in England — which ban religious services — are due to expire on 2 December. As the Government considers its next steps in the fight against this virus, we ask that churches across England are allowed to open for services as soon as possible, and at least in time for Christmas.

Churches have shown they are capable of introducing social distancing and following Government guidance. As you know, your Chief Medical Officer has said there is no evidence of places of worship contributing to the spread of the virus.

Closing places of worship has caused hardship to people across the country. These most recent restrictions fall during the festival of Diwali and the First Sunday of Advent — occasions which would usually be marked by religious services.

We all want to see the rates of coronavirus infections brought down. But it’s essential that measures to control the virus are based on evidence and respect people’s fundamental freedoms, including the right to worship in accordance with their beliefs.

Whatever replaces the current restrictions in England from 3 December — whether that is new national measures or a local approach — we must never again stop people from attending religious services.

You have previously said you want to see churches opened for services again soon. We hope you will provide a guarantee that all people across England — regardless of where they live — will be able to go to church this Christmas.

The Christmas message of hope is needed more than ever in a year that has brought dark days for so many people. 

Yours 

Rt Hon Sir Edward Leigh MP

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