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UK News

England lockdown: Church leaders welcome continued public worship but urge caution

by Tola Mbakwe

Church leaders have welcomed permission for communal worship under England's new lockdown, but some have urged people to take "tremendous care" and advised those shielding to stay at home.

According to Government guidance issued on Monday night, places of worship can remain open for individual prayer and communal worship.

But rules say people should only meet their household or support bubble and not mingle with others outside these groups.

Weddings and civil partnership ceremonies are permitted only in exceptional circumstances, such as where one partner is seriously ill, and with strict limits on attendance - up to six people.

A maximum of 30 people can attend a funeral while wakes and other ceremonial events can continue in a group of up to six.

Right Rev Dame Sarah Mullally, the Bishop of London, who chairs the Church of England's Covid Recovery Group, said the new measures "underline the severity of the situation for the country".

She said: "The Government has chosen not to suspend public worship in England at this time and we will continue to follow the guidance and ensure that churches remain as safe as possible.

"The Government guidance on the safe use of places of worship makes clear that those attending a place of worship must not mingle with anyone outside their household or support bubble.

"However, some may feel that it is currently better not to attend in person, and there will be parishes which decide to offer only digital services for the time being.

"Clergy who have concerns, and others who are shielding, should take particular care and stay at home.

"I would urge everyone in our churches to pray for those on the front line in our public services - the NHS and those working in social care, for schools and many others on whom we depend; and for parents and carers of children at this anxious and stressful time.

"There is hope. The vaccination programme is underway and, as Christians, we have a deeper hope in God that comforts us beyond fear itself. As we have been remembering this Christmas Season, even in the midst of our darkest fears, that hope brings light."

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, said: "The regular practice of our faith in God is a well-established source of both personal resilience and dedicated service to those in need. Such resilience and enduring service are vital in these difficult circumstances.

"I am glad that no measures have been introduced that would obstruct or curtail this essential source of energy for the common good.

"Catholic parishes will continue to serve the needs of their local community. In one parish, for example, the provision of food for the needy has increased by 400% since March last year."

Graham Nicholls, director of Affinty, which is a network of churches, said: “We are so thankful that the Government has given the freedom to churches to remain open for public worship.

"We believe that this is because the Government recognises that Christian churches provide vital spiritual support to their congregations and beyond and they have contributed much to the well-being of society during this crisis as they have actively worked to support their communities

"Churches have been carefully organising their meetings in accordance with government guidance.

"We would urge church leaders to continue make to the most of these opportunities where appropriate and safe to do so, but to be scrupulously careful in keeping all the hygiene and social distancing protocols before during and after our meetings.

"The rollout out of vaccine also appears to be offering hope of a return to some form of normality in a few months. This is something to also give thanks and patiently wait for. However, we need to make sure that at the same time, our hope is neither in science or politics but is our Saviour Jesus, whose birth we have just been celebrating."

Listen to Premier's interview with Graham Nicholls here: 

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