Places of worship, including churches, have been closed since March 24. Worshippers have been unable to celebrate key religious festivals like Easter, Ramadan, the Hindu/Sikh festival of Vaksakshi, and the Jewish festivals of Passover and Shavuot, as normal. As Britain slowly adjusts to its ‘new normal’, and the coronavirus lockdown continues to be eased, many have been eager to learn when churches and the places of worship will be able to welcome worshippers once more.
When will churches open?
Churches have been able to open for private prayer since Friday, June 13. People are able to of inside religious buildings providing social distancing is maintained.
However, weddings, group services and other religious ceremonies will not be allowed to return just yet.
Originally, churches fell under the Government’s third phase of lifting lockdown, and were due to reopen no earlier than July 4.
A Number 10 spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister recognises how important it is, at this unprecedented time, for people to have the space to reflect and pray, to connect with their faith, and be able to mourn for their loved ones.
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“The PM is so grateful to people of all faiths and none, who have followed the social distancing guidelines, and in doing so, protected their communities.
“We plan to open up places of worship for individual prayer in a safe, COVID-secure way that does not risk further transmission.”
A Government minister has confirmed that collective worship will not take place in England before phase three of the exit strategy has kicked off.
Faith Minister Lord Stephen Greenhalgh said that communal prayer could be back on July 4 at the earliest.
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Lord Greenhalgh said: “We need to recognise that some form of collective or public worship is happening pretty much everywhere else apart from the United Kingdom.
“I think we just need to be ready by July 4, in terms of having the guidance ready to go.”
He said the Government understands how religious groups differ in terms of the importance of collective prayer, with discussions with faith leaders being “very difficult” because of all the measures that must be considered.
Lord Greenlagh said that weddings and funerals were more likely to take precedence over the reintroduction of collective services.
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He added: “Our proposals were to look at easements before public worship or corporate worship.
“We were thinking about small wedding services rather than celebrations, post-cremation and burial rituals such as stone-setting, as well as individual prayer in the first instance, before moving to opening up for collective worship.”
Lord Greenhalgh said that difference in size between places of worship would also be likely to impact the effectiveness of social distancing measures that could allow services to take place.
He explained: “We’ve got cathedrals and very small places, and therefore the actual decision about when a place is safe is down not to the Government but the places of worship themselves.”
A statement from the Church of England reads: “This has been an incredibly difficult time for the whole country, especially for those who have been ill, who have suffered financial hardship, the loss of livelihoods and indeed, for many, those they love.
“We know that is not over and the Church has a task ahead to bring consolation and hope.
“Churches and cathedrals have risen to the recent challenges, finding new ways of meeting for worship, of serving our neighbours, and of reaching new people with the love of God.
“The challenge before us now is to take the next steps carefully and safely, without forgetting all that we’ve discovered about God and ourselves on the way.”
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