A GROUP of 36 Conservative MPs have urged the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to allow clerics and Readers to enter their churches to conduct funerals, while observing social distancing.
More than 28,800 people in the UK have died after contracting the virus. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) reports that the mortality rate is now decreasing: the latest figures show that 354 fewer deaths were registered in the week ending 24 April compared with the previous week.
The advice from the Archbishops — that funerals should be conducted only at gravesides and in crematorium chapels, owing to the difficulty involved in cleaning church buildings — is unchanged (News, 3 and 24 April).
In a letter addressed to the Archbishops and Bishops on Tuesday, seen by the BBC, MPs, including the former Cabinet ministers Liam Fox and Theresa Villiers, wrote: “The wishes of the deceased and bereaved are not being fulfilled with a proper committal in the church of their wish.”
The letter, organised by the West Dorset MP Chris Loder, continues: “The grief of bereavement is being translated to trauma in many cases, especially where it is resulting in the tragedy of direct cremation. The Government guidance is clear: funerals, with proper measures in place, are permitted and indeed encouraged.”
The Church of England’s chief medical adviser, the Revd Dr Brendan McCarthy, responded: “The House of Bishops has been meeting frequently, and advice is reviewed regularly and updated as circumstances allow. The Church of England has consistently stated that it will always ensure that, where requested, a priest is present to conduct a funeral service, either at a crematorium or at the churchyard.
“Any suggestion that the Church of England is responsible for ‘direct cremation’ could not be further from the truth — that is against both government guidance and the Church’s commitment to provide pastoral care for all. The advice not to conduct funeral services in church buildings — and it is advice, not instruction — was given because of concerns about parishes having capacity to conduct funerals safely, including being able to deep-clean church buildings between services.”
On Tuesday evening, the House of Bishops decided that the guidance banning clergy from entering their churches may be modified by individual dioceses. Church advisers are still puzzling out how to ensure that churches can be made safe after people have been in them. It is for this reason that there appears to be no movement on the return of funeral services to churches.