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Faith leaders have urged caution after the government announced that places of worship in England could remain open despite heavy restrictions imposed in the latest coronavirus lockdown.
The Church of England said some people “may feel that it is currently better not to attend in person” and that clergy who had concerns or were shielding should “take particular care and stay at home”.
A statement from Sarah Mullally, the bishop of London, who is leading the C of E’s response to the pandemic, added: “We will continue to follow the guidance and ensure that churches remain as safe as possible.”
But some clergy expressed anxiety over the exemption in the face of the virus’s spread.
Alice Smith, the vicar of St John the Evangelist in Brownswood Park, north London, tweeted: “There’s a part of me that wishes we had been closed so as not to be going to bed with what feels like an impossible decision. Not in the least helped by being told by the Twittersphere either outcome is wrong, foolish or dangerous. Hey ho.”
Smith told the Guardian the “benefits of public worship are huge – especially as most of my congregation have poor access to technology”. But, she added, although she thought her church building was Covid-secure, “I’m conscious that a lot of people come to it for our soup kitchen and food bank.”
She said: “I honestly don’t know what is the best thing to do. I would have been disappointed if the government had told us to close, but at least it would have been cut and dried.”
Harun Khan, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said some mosques in England had voluntarily suspended communal activities in recent weeks “out of precaution” and many Muslims had taken individual decisions regarding the risks of going their mosque to pray.
Mosques should take “tremendous care in choosing to remain open to the public”, and should provide online services and prayers for individuals staying at home, he added.
Qari Asim, the chair of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, said: “Voluntary closure of mosques should be considered by those mosques where risk assessments suggest that remaining open will pose a serious risk to the wellbeing of worshippers. Preservation of life is an important Islamic principle … None should feel pressured to attend a mosque during this pandemic.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews said synagogues must be “meticulous” in following Covid guidelines.
Last month, one in three United Synagogue communities said they were closing amid concerns over the virus spreading in congregations. In response to the new lockdown announcement, Steven Wilson, chief executive of the United Synagogue, said: “We will continue to support shuls [synagogues] who have chosen to close, and those now thinking of closing.”
However, the most senior Catholic in England and Wales was unequivocal in his response to the exemption for places of worship. “I am glad no measures have been introduced to obstruct or curtail this essential source of energy for the common good,” tweeted Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster and the most senior Catholic in England and Wales.
During the November lockdown, Nichols urged the government to reverse its decision to ban communal worship, saying there was no evidence it would help combat the virus.
In Scotland, places of worship were ordered to close under new restrictions that came into force on Tuesday. In Wales and Northern Ireland, they can remain open but must enforce social distancing measures.
Funerals and weddings with restricted numbers are still permitted across the UK but receptions and wakes are banned.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Faith leaders in England urge caution over Covid lockdown exemption | Anglicanism