Some of you will be interested in what has been going on behind the scenes, as Christian and other faith leaders have worked with government on the question of whether and how places of worship can re-open while the Covid-19 pandemic continues.
During 'lockdown 1' (from 23 March 2020) places of worship were required to close, until 4 July, when they were allowed to re-open as the first wave waned.
As 'lockdown 2' (November 2020) came into focus, faith leaders from across a wide spectrum lobbied government to allow places of worship to remain open. In a joint letter they argued that
- Public worship is Covid-19 secure ("there is no scientific rationale for suspension of public worship where it is compliant with the guidance that faith leaders have worked jointly with government to establish")
- Public worship is essential to sustain the public service of faith communities
- Public worship is necessary for social cohesion and connectedness
- Public worship is important for the mental health of our nation
- Public worship is an essential sign of hope
Prominent leaders spoke up this perspective, for example Ian Paul, well-known evangelical blogger, academic theologian, minister at St Nic's Nottingham and member of CofE General Synod, seen here on Sky News.
Amid discussion often dominated by larger denominations with a sacramental approach (loosely: special times, special words, special places) to public worship, John Stevens (national leader, Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, FIEC - and former lawyer) and Danny Webster of Evangelical Alliance are representing the perspective of churches with an emphasis on the congregation, a participatory approach to worship and small groups as core elements of ecclesiology (theology of church).
An email here, to John Stevens from the Minister for Faith, Lord Stephen Greenhalgh (Communities Engagement Team at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government), shows something of the constructive yet challenging tone of dialogue between 'roundtable' groups of faith leaders and government.
In commenting on the Tier 4 rules, Webster writes: "This new approach [freedom to remain open in Tier 4] is an important recognition [by government] of the importance of churches gathering in person to worship, to the spiritual, mental and emotional welfare of their congregation, and as a witness of hope to society. The closure of places of worship in November was met with widespread frustration, not least following the extensive measures put in place to ensure they can operate safely."
As a church in a small network of churches (Salt & Light) we are very grateful to those who are labouring, on our behalf, to work with government in finding the right way forward for our kind of church in these challenging times, enabling us to safely meet for worship, in order to sustain us in playing our part in public service, social cohesion, mental health and offering hope.
The Covid Working Group meets every 2-3 weeks to discuss and review the legislation and data, and decide how to continue community life safely.
For more on our Coronavirus response in general, please visit our Coronavirus page which is updated regularly.