Bishops looking forward to reopening churches for socially-distanced private prayer
Leading bishops in the region have spoken ahead of the reopening of churches for private prayer as authorities look to make change to keep worshippers safe.
Places of worship will be allowed to reopen for individual prayer from Monday, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick announced last week.
The ruling around individual prayer means a single person or household can enter a place of worship to pray on their own, but not as part of a group, led prayer or communal act.
They also must ensure they are socially distanced from other individuals and households.
The announcement excludes services, evensong, informal prayer meetings, mass, Jummah and Kirtan, as well as baptisms and weddings.
Dr John Inge, Bishop of Worcester and Rev. Michael Ipgrave, Bishop of Lichfield, have both welcomed the decision by the government, but also voiced a note of caution going forward.
Bishop Inge said that while it was good news, he said not all churches could or should open at present as there were many not able to make the necessary safety arrangements.
He said: "I see this as good news which establishes an important principle in that if the public is ready to re-engage in retail therapy then people of faith ought to be allowed to enter places of worship.
"That having been said, it is vital to be clear that not all churches can or should open at present as there are many which cannot yet safely do so and no-one should feel bounced or pushed into this.
"As bishops and archdeacons, we are here to support in the decision churches reach after careful consideration and consultation."
Bishop Ipgrave said the decision was another step on the journey towards a full re-opening of buildings.
He said: "I welcome the Government’s announcement that church buildings can open for individual prayer from next Monday.
"This is another step on the journey towards the full reopening of church buildings as lockdown begins to ease.
"While some church buildings may open for individual prayer, not all will re-open immediately, as individual ministers and churches will want to take into account local circumstances in deciding the best way to respond.
"The work of local churches has continued outside of their buildings in new and innovative ways during lockdown, including online; this will continue in the coming days and weeks."
Meanwhile, Wolverhampton Council officials have spoken about the next steps for places of worship.
John Denley, the council's director of public health, said the limited reopening was very welcome news for the community.
He said: "We will be contacting faith leaders over the coming days to support them to prepare for the changes they can make from next week.
"This will incorporate things like ensuring shared spaces are thoroughly cleaned and making sure hand sanitising is available when worshippers arrive and leave.
"It will also mean asking them to bring their own items such as a prayer mat or religious texts, instead of using communal ones."
Councillor Jasbir Jaspal, Wolverhampton Council's cabinet member for public health and wellbeing, praised faith leaders in the city for their hard work around lockdown measures.
She said: "Faith leaders in Wolverhampton have worked extremely hard and have been instrumental in ensuring that lockdown measures are strictly adhered to in order to protect lives and we thank them for this.
"Their continued support with the difficult decisions which have had to be taken over recent months has meant that, collectively, we have been able to restrict the spread of coronavirus in Wolverhampton.
"Ultimately places of worship have discretion over when they consider it safe to reopen next week and we hope that as many of them as possible are able to do so.
"In the meantime it remains essential that we all continue to follow Government advice on preventing the spread of coronavirus through regular handwashing, social distancing and self-isolating where necessary."