Thank you for contacting me about re-opening churches and other places of worship.
Faith is central to the lives of millions of people, including me, across the UK. I have been assured that the closure of places of worship was not taken lightly but the outbreak of the virus required a number of difficult decisions to be made to safeguard public health. What we need now is to see sensible discussions taking place about opening up access during this pandemic where it can be. I have been heartened that many churches have been outreaching with virtual services and that some people who don’t normally go to church have been attending in this way.
The Prime Minister has set out a three-point plan to ease the social distancing restrictions which have been imposed since the end of March. Steps one and two of the strategy set out a phased return to more normal life with partial schools re-opening and some people returning to work. The re-opening of places of worship is expected to take place in stage three which will occur no earlier than 4 July.
At every stage of this process, I am told the Government will consider the continuing risks to public health. If the rate of infection increases and it is not safe to proceed on to the next stage, the lifting of restrictions may be delayed. Having raised this with Ministers on your behalf, I understand the Government has had and will continue to have conversations with faith and community leaders and convene a task force in order to explore how places of worship can open safely for some practices, such as private prayer.
I am encouraged by a £125,000 funding package for Faith Action to ensure that all community groups and places of worship have their views represented in the taskforce’s meetings with community and religious leaders.
While the closure of places of worship may prevent us from practising our faith with members of our community, we can continue to live out our faith at home through prayer and in our everyday actions. Though it is not the same as attending in person, as I said earlier I know online services have proved a comfort to many in our area.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me and please keep safe.
With best wishes