Yesterday, I wrote to the Prime Minister thanking the government for allowing churches to continue to meet in England during this latest lockdown but also to request further relaxations, as what currently is permissible falls well short of ‘normal’ church life. A similar letter was written to the Faiths Minister and here is what I said
Dear Lord Greenhalgh,
I am the Director of Affinity, a network of about 1,200 churches and Christian agencies across the UK. You can read more about us on our website and social media pages.
We continue to pray for you and the government to make wise decisions. We trust you are also able to reflect on our frailty and the need for a hope that stretches beyond this life.
Affinity members have been seeking to reinforce the government’s laws and guidance for reducing the risk of infection. We have also been working in our communities to help and support the vulnerable during this time and provide information about vaccination.
We praise God and are thankful to your government that in England and Wales faith groups have the freedom during the latest lockdown to decide whether to hold in-person meetings for public worship. Thank you for your work in the faith task group and listening to the comments and concerns of church leaders. Like many others, my own church, Christ Church Haywards Heath, has been carefully organising our meetings in accordance with government guidance. We are also glad to note that there is no evidence that churches have been a route of infection transmission since opening up last summer.
But whilst we are glad to be able to meet in person at all, the restrictions are greatly limiting “normal” church life. This is not just about being able to meet but how people meet. Curtailing the numbers who can gather, rules on mask wearing, social distancing, and the banning of congregational singing and face-to-face conversations, removes any opportunity for mutual encouragement by personal interaction.
Most churches have also been able to meet online in various ways and we are grateful for the means to enable us to do so. However, we are concerned about when and how churches will be allowed to meet publicly again in an unrestricted way.
We were glad to hear in the Prime Minister’s statement on 22nd February that the majority of social distancing measures are likely to be lifted by 21 June.
Please can you confirm that at this point, all current restrictions for church gatherings will be lifted?
But in addition, we would ask that the government consider easing some or all of the restrictions for churches much earlier and especially that congregational singing be permitted immediately, as it is such an important part of church life. It does seem unreasonable that crowds of 10,000 are going to be allowed from 17th May and yet small gatherings of churches will still be severely restricted.
Finally, we confirm that we are ready to work with the government on any ideas for community testing and vaccination programmes that might speed up this process.
Graham Nicholls, Director of Affinity