We praise God that the UK and Welsh governments have given faith groups the freedom to decide whether or not to hold in-person meetings for public worship during this new lockdown.
It was a blessing and a joy that some churches, including my own at Christ Church Haywards Heath, were able to hold services yesterday.
We totally understand and respect the fact that some churches have chosen not to use this freedom to meet as they have considered the implications for their congregation and community. But we believe it is right and good to make the most of these opportunities where it is appropriate and safe to do so, while at the same time being scrupulously careful in observing all hygiene and social-distancing protocols before, during and after services.
The precautions taken by churches – the pre-screening of attendees, and their limited contact in time and proximity, the hygiene, and the responsible behaviour of all involved – indicate that our congregations do not represent a significant risk compared to, for example, a weekly visit to the shops. We are not at all being reckless by remaining open.
Our congregations do not represent a significant risk compared to, for example, a weekly visit to the shops
However, some voices are calling for places of worship to be closed as part of the national lockdown. But no-one has shown any evidence to suggest that churches present a risk of spreading infection.
The benefits to society from functioning churches must also be taken into account, especially at a time when many other avenues of care provision have been closed off.
No-one has shown any evidence to suggest that churches present a risk of spreading infection
Clearly, the least risky option for churches would be to go back to online meetings only. But we judge that at the present time it is appropriate spiritual leadership to give church members the opportunity (if they wish), to enjoy one of the great privileges of being part of a local fellowship.
To close our meetings while the authorities say that we are free to meet would send a very odd signal about our priorities; it would also deprive a significant proportion of our congregations who are eager to meet, and leaves open the question about how long we remain closed and on what basis – especially as the lockdown could easily extend to Easter.
To close our meetings while the authorities say that we are free to meet would send a very odd signal about our priorities
We do not have a strong lobbying voice and the government knows that any protests about churches being closed by law again would be easy enough to deal with. So it is a remarkable providence that churches in England and Wales are allowed to stay open for worship and an answer to many prayers, including those in our church. Let's use the freedom we've been given to meet in person. It brings us many benefits, and witnesses to the importance we place on the gathering.
Graham Nicholls is Director of Affinity
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