Religious leaders not consulted over provisions for second national lockdown

Justin Welby, Stephen Cottrell and Sarah Mullally have written to the Government to emphasise the ‘critical role’ that Churches play in the community.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

Senior clergy members say they were not consulted over provisions for a second national lockdown and will write to the Government to question why “certain exemptions”  – such as access to the sacraments – have not been made.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and the Bishop of London say they will also emphasise the “critical role” that churches play in the community.

It comes amid concerns that the closure of places of worship could lead to an increase in social isolation and impact on personal wellbeing.

The Bishop of Shrewsbury Mark Davies added that evidence was needed to support the measures and that worship should never be “dismissed as something non-essential”.

In a letter written to the clergy of the Church of England (CoE), Justin Welby, Stephen Cottrell and Sarah Mullally praised the “energy, hard work and creativity” of members which had allowed worship to continue during the pandemic.

“We are grateful that the new guidelines being introduced on Thursday not only allow churches to remain open for private prayer but also enable online worship to be broadcast from the church building,” they said.

“We were cautious about these issues during the first lockdown – perhaps overly so – but in this second lockdown we want to encourage church buildings to remain open for private prayer wherever possible.”

According to new Government guidance, places of worship will be closed from Thursday, unless they are being used for funerals, individual prayer, formal childcare or other essential voluntary and public services such as support groups.

Exemptions will also be made to churches that are broadcasting acts of worship.

Weddings and civil partnership ceremonies are not permitted except in exceptional circumstances.

The bishops said that more resources and training would be given to church leaders to enable them to conduct services online.

But they added that the use of sacraments – such as receiving communion – was an integral part of physical services and should not be viewed as an “optional extra” by the Government.

“Worship online still means that the people of God do not have access to the sacraments which are so central to our life in Christ,” they said.

“This is a huge loss and since we were not consulted about the lockdown provisions, we fully intend to speak with Government about why certain exemptions are made and not others, emphasising the critical role that churches play in every community.

“The sacramental life of the church cannot be seen as an optional extra.

“Nor can we separate out our worship from our service, it is always both and not either or.

“Nevertheless, we will of course abide by the law and ask you to do the same.

“We must do all that we can to keep our communities safe and to enable the NHS to manage this crisis.”

Pressure group, The Christian Institute, said that the restrictions on churches went against people’s “fundamental right to worship.”

Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, said: “Churches have complied rigorously with Covid rules and protected their congregations, yet they are being forced to close.

“Where is the evidence to justify this restriction on the fundamental right to worship? It will do immense damage to many people’s wellbeing and to their trust in Government.

“If politicians think public worship is dispensable, who knows when they will allow churches to reopen again?”

Rt Rev Mark Davies added: “No evidence has been offered to justify why the Government seeks to ban public worship that invariably takes place amid some of the most stringent Covid safety measures in the whole of society.”

“The Prime Minister made no reference in his statement to public worship so we were astonished to find in national guidance that the Government was seeking the authority of Parliament to close all places of worship.

“It is a momentous act for any political authority to seek to ban public worship across a nation.”

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