The earliest possible date for communal worship to begin again for churches and other places of worship is July 4 in the final phases of the easement of the lockdown, the faith minister, Lord Greenhalgh said today.
“This is the earliest date it can happen”, he said. “It is not definitively the date. We have to be ready but it is at the discretion of individual places of worship whether they think it can be safe”.
During a briefing organised by the Religion Media Centre, Lord Greenhalgh, who took up his post of faith minister within the Department for Communities and Local Government just a few days before lockdown on March 22, and is co-chair of the faith task force, said that “dialogue between faith communities and the Government “has to be broad and deep”.
And he praised the Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols’ intervention on making private prayer possible in churches which will open their doors again on June 15.
“Easement would not have happened without Cardinal Nichols’ lobbying,” he said. “I have to pay tribute to him.”
He continued: “The final decision is down to the Prime Minister. At first we looked to private prayer and post-cremation rituals but we can look again.”
He said that there had been joint representation by Cabinet Ministers Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick to look at opening up places of worship for small weddings.
Lord Greenhalgh, who described himself as a practising Roman Catholic, said that he “still likes meeting people” and had sympathy for those struggling with online alternatives to worship. “I am sick and tired of blanket Zoom meetings” he said.
He also said that he recognised the financial struggle that many places of worship were enduring because of lockdown when their incomes had dried up.
“There is the importance of putting arms around business but also of supporting faith”, he said. “We are looking for opportunities to do that”.