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Durham Cathedral to enforce covid passports for Advent carol service

by Heather Preston

Visitors attending a Christmas carol event at Durham Cathedral this weekend will be required to provide proof of either a covid vaccination or a negative covid test.

The Advent Procession with Carols takes place on the 27th and 28th November and is expected to be attended by nearly 1,000 guests.

Upon entry to the cathedral, all visitors over the age of 18 must be prepared to show their NHS covid pass as proof of vaccination, a negative PCR or lateral flow test taken up to 48 hours before the event, or a positive PCR test from within the last six months.

The measures have caused controversy amongst some believers who have called the restrictions discriminatory, unwelcoming and a violation of the right to worship freely.

One commentator wrote: "One’s vaccination status should not become an entry ticket for the right to attend a collective act of public worship, not least because some are unable to be vaccinated for health reasons."

Speaking to Premier, Vice Dean, Rev Canon Michael Hampel explained that the decision to restrict these particular services was due to capacity.

"The Church of England has asked each local church to work out its own risk assessment in terms of covid security. Our risk assessment meant that we can only manage 300 people maximum in the building at any one time without proof of covid security.

"At the great services at Advent and Christmas we want a lot more than 300 people to be able to worship with us, so we decided that by using proof of covid negativity we'd be able to increase the number from 300 at our big services to 975. That was of course a much more attractive option in relation to getting more people into these wonderful services we offer at Durham Cathedral."

"In the case of the big carol services, that can sometimes be as many as 1,500 people packed shoulder to shoulder into small spaces - that's just unsustainable at the moment in relation to COVID," he added.

Canon Hampel went on to ensure that these restrictions were only in place for large scale events while a number of smaller worship services would remain open to the public without covid restrictions.

"There are many other services in December, which will have no checks on them at all, because we don't expect any more than about 300 to any of those.

"If somebody wasn't able to come to one of the big carol services, because they weren't able to prove covid negativity, they can come back the very next day, they can come to morning prayer, they can come to the Eucharist, they can come to Evensong, they can come to some of the smaller Christmas services that we're staging.

"They're not being denied access to worship, they're simply being asked to ensure that at the very big packed services, we can be certain that everybody is safe."

The Church of England's guidance on Covid 19 restrictions states: "As a body we now need to move forward without legal restrictions and as churches decide how best to manage the risk to ourselves and others, recognising we are many members within one body that are called to be responsible to and for one another, respecting the more vulnerable whose suffering is our suffering.

"Church leaders are navigating their local situations, conscious of their environment, their community and the vulnerable within it.

"The circumstances in each parish will inform local decision-making and the aim of this guidance is to help with and support that process."

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