12 May 2020, The Tablet

Bishops prepare to resume public services

Bishops prepare to resume public services

Westminster Cathedral on Mothering Sunday.

The Bishops’ Conference has said it is optimistic that churches could open for private prayer soon after the government announced the formation of a taskforce aimed at reopening places of worship.

Churches, along with pubs and leisure facilities, were included in stage three of the government’s schedule for reopening, published this week, which would mean that the earliest they could reopen would be 4 July.

But in that plan the Government also announced the formation of a taskforce that will work with faith groups and other stakeholders to develop ways to make their places of worship safe and secure.

The Bishops’ Conference hopes that its engagement with this taskforce, and the detailed plans that it has already submitted to the government detailing the possible reopening of churches for private prayer in line with public health guidance, could mean that churches could reopen sooner than July.

This would be the first step towards resuming public worship, it said. "The government's position, established today, includes these steps aimed at opening churches as soon as possible: the establishment of a task force for places of worship, to work closely with 'stakeholders' in ensuring that premises are Covid-19 secure; and heeding the experience of other countries in which churches are already open for worship.

"In dialogue with the government, the Catholic Church will continue its engagement in this process and has already submitted a detailed plan, in full accordance with public health guidelines, for churches to be opened for private prayer.

"The Church is ready to play its full part in the task force, understanding that this includes the possible earlier use of churches for private prayer, as a first safe step towards their use for public worship."

The statement was critical of the government’s treatment of places of worship in the document, where they were classed with hospitality and leisure facilities like cinemas.

"The timing and the manner of the opening of churches touches profound sensitivities and spiritual needs. The government's document and statements fail to recognise this,” the statement reads.

The Bishops’ Conference’s plan has been prepared with input from public health experts, and in ongoing consultation with the wider church, which will be ongoing.

The plan looks forward to the opening of churches for private prayer, in line with regulations around social distancing and mindful of public health concerns, as well as the risk of the infection rate rising again once lockdown restrictions are eased.

  Loading ...
Get Instant Access
Subscribe to The Tablet for just £7.99

Subscribe today to take advantage of our introductory offers and enjoy 30 days' access for just £7.99