The Bishop of Lewes has sent a message to all Church of England parishes across East Sussex ordering them to close their doors in a bid to help slow the spread of Covid-19.
Rev William Hazlewood issued the edit after being approached by the Head of Environmental Health for Rother and Wealden districts, Richard Parker-Harding.
In the message, reported by the Telegraph, Bishop Hazlewood said: "I know that decisions to close church buildings always go against the grain of who we are as the household of faith."
The action was agreed in conjunction with the Bishop of Chichester, Rt Rev Dr Martin Warner.
Under the current lockdown, churches are permitted to stay open for Covid-secure worship services, although congregants are not allowed to mix with those outside of their household or support bubble. In Scotland, a blanket ban has been imposed on places of worship, with the exception of small-scale funerals and civil partnership ceremonies.
Churchwarden at St Thomas a Becket church in Lewes Trevor Butler, added:
“I know many who visit our ancient and historic sanctuary for peace and healing will be devastated. Every day we welcome dozens of people and have seen a noticeable upturn in visitor numbers during these dark days of coronavirus.
“We have many precautions in place to create a Covid-secure venue in line with government advice, including a daily cleaning regime using special cleaners and a hand sanitizing station.
“We have had at least two people in the last fortnight who are struggling with mental problems that are leading them to suicidal thoughts. One man left us to go for a life or death meeting with his doctor so we know we are providing a valuable service. Our only hope is that Covid case numbers fall soon so that we can open our doors again.”
The bishop noted that church officials "will continue to closely monitor the situation and will offer further guidance on when we will be able to encourage reopening".
Funerals will continue to take place at the closed churches.