THE Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, has urged the clergy in his diocese to write to their MPs, saying that it was a matter of “considerable alarm” that collective worship would be restricted from Thursday under the new lockdown restrictions (News, 1 November).
In a letter sent to all clergy in the diocese of Southwark on Monday, Bishop Chessun acknowledges that the Government’s policy was being led by a need to “prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed as the rate of coronavirus infection increases”.
Under the new rules, churches will be allowed to host services such as foodbanks and nurseries and be open for private prayer, and to record and broadcast online services. Bishop Chessun encouraged clergy, however, to write to their MPs about the rules on group worship, emphasising “the impact they will have on mental health and well-being”.
“The Church is not a branch of the leisure or hospitality industries with a tap that can be turned on and off by politicians at will. The right to freedom of religion is enshrined in Magna Carta and it is of the very essence of our common life that the liberties and freedoms of the people of this land extend to public worship,” he said.
He added that it was important to “avoid a blame culture” and not to “blame Government or other state agencies for what has been a global health pandemic which has engulfed so many nations. This has made abundantly clear to us all that our lives are interdependent, and we need to work together for the common good and public health.”
Other bishops expressed disappointment at the new requirements for churches. The Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Rt Revd Martin Seeley, said on Monday: “I deeply regret that the Government is proposing to close churches and other places of worship for public worship, at a time when we need public prayer for this crisis. Churches are there for this, to be places of prayer at challenging times such as this, and we have shown and proved we can hold worship safely.
“We will, of course, however, continue to pray in our homes through this national lockdown, and offer worship online, too, to support all our communities who are struggling with this awful pandemic.”
The president and vice-president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols and the Most Revd Malcolm McMahon, also called on Roman Catholic congregations at the weekend to raise the matter with their MPs, who were “in a position to require the Government to publish the data that drives the decision to cease public worship under these restrictions”.