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Former Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir Ali suggests relaxing the rules for churches over Easter

by Cara Bentley

Rt Rev Michael Nazir Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester, has asked why having churches open is "any more dangerous than shopping in a supermarket or travelling on the London Underground?"

The Anglican clergyman argues in a letter in The Telegraph that people's spiritual needs are linked to their physical health and that "being unable to work doesn't just hit the pocket, it injures the soul". He added, therefore Easter parades should be allowed to go ahead (with social distancing rules applied) and small groups of Christians should be allowed to gather in open spaces, keeping two metres apart. 

Nazir Ali told Premier Christian News: "It's quite nuanced - I'm not saying that safe distancing should not be observed, but why discriminate against churches?  I'm not suggesting anything remotely of the kind that's going on in Tesco or Sainsbury's or Asda. So, why is it any more irresponsible? Or do we not think that the spiritual is as important as the physical?"

He has called on church leaders who closed their buildings to "undo this mistake."

He wrote: "Going to church is not the same as going to a pub or a football match. Provided that safe distancing is possible and is maintained, this is exactly the time when people will feel the need to go in and be quiet and, perchance, to pray for themselves or a loved one or even the situation as a whole. Why is this any more dangerous than shopping in a supermarket or travelling on the London Underground?"

He continued: "If we can't gather in our churches, could small groups, keeping a safe distance, be allowed to congregate in parks, large churchyards and other open spaces? Again, safety measures could be specified, but such rejoicing in the new life brought by the risen Christ could herald a turning point in the battle against this pandemic and set the tone for the rest of the spring.

"All of this may sound radical to some, but these proposals are designed to alert us to spiritual resources to fight the pandemic, and to turn us towards the one who holds the whole world in his hands."

The former bishop added that his Easter weekend plans involve singing 'When I survey the wondrous cross' outside his gate and that "If neighbours want to come out and join my horrible singing well that'll probably improve it."

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