CHURCHES in England are to close for public worship from Thursday, after the Prime Minister announced another month-long national lockdown to curb the rapid rise in coronavirus infections in the country, in response to pressure from scientific advisers.
In a national press conference on Saturday evening, Mr Johnson said that, from Thursday, pubs, restaurants, gyms, and non-essential shops would close, but schools, colleges and universities could stay open. The new national restrictions are due to last until 2 December. MPs are expected to vote on the proposals on Wednesday.
Mr Johnson said: “Now is the time to take action because there is no alternative. From Thursday until the start of December, you must stay at home. You may only leave home for specific reasons, including:
“For education; for work, say if you cannot work from home; for exercise and recreation outdoors, with your household or on your own with one person from another household; for medical reasons, appointments and to escape injury or harm; to shop for food and essentials; and to provide care for vulnerable people, or as a volunteer.”
It was later confirmed that places of worship were included in the planned closures, except for individual prayer, to broadcast acts of worship, and to provide formal childcare or other essential services such as blood donation or food banks. Funerals can continue in places of worship, limited to a maximum of 30 people. Weddings and civil partnership ceremonies will not be allowed to take place, however, except in exceptional circumstances.
Christmas would “look very different”, Mr Johnson said, but he hoped that, by locking the nation down now, families would be able to be together.
The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, who chairs of the Church of England’s Recovery Group, said in a statement on Saturday: “We have heard with others the announcement from the Prime Minister this evening of a second national ‘lockdown’ in England and how this will affect the life of our communities and public worship. We will study the detailed regulations and continue to liaise with Government departments to offer clarity to churches.
“This is a time of real uncertainty for everyone and the Church will continue to be central to the life of our communities in bringing light and hope.”
Speaking at the national Church of England service on Sunday, broadcast online from St Paul’s Cathedral, Bishop Mullally said that there was always hope among devastation. “We gather at a time of great uncertainty and challenge as the people of our world struggle to overcome a devastating pandemic that has cut short earthly lives, destroyed livelihoods, and separated us from the people and activities we enjoy. But we are not without hope.
“Through word, prayer, song, and symbol, we are reminded that God’s love for us can never be destroyed. God is with us in our pain and fear and will lead us to a yet more glorious day.”
The prayers were read by the Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Revd Dr David Ison, who gave thanks for the lives of all those who had died and for the bereaved, those caring for the sick, and key workers.
In her sermon, the chaplain at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and the London Fire Brigade, Canon Mia Hilborn, said that she had witnessed many “extraordinary” acts of compassion and kindness.
“Firefighters have been expanding their skills by supporting paramedics and still fighting fires and keeping London safe. Doctors, nurses, therapists, chaplains, being utterly extraordinary, supported by teams of workers who give their all, and who are continuing to give their all because we are still very much in the midst of the Covid pandemic.”
She continued: “The hope we have in our hearts as Christians is eternal. So this day we remember with love and respect those who have gone before us, giving honour to their names and respect for their lives by our continuing to live with hope. Hope that is in Christ will not be disappointed.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury wrote on Twitter on Saturday evening: “This is harder than the first wave — let’s be calm, compassionate and courageous. May the peace of Jesus Christ, who lived through and always knows our troubles, guard and keep us all. And may God guide our leaders in these tough decisions.”
The Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, wrote on Twitter: “A second lockdown is going to be hard. But God is present with us in hard times. The prayer and service of the Church goes on. Let us join together to support each other and pray that we may know God’s presence and share it with others.”