To open or not to open?

The third national lockdown began on Tuesday 5 January 2021. On this occasion, places of worship are allowed to remain open, as long as strict Covid-19 regulations are followed. Birmingham’s Churches are responding to the question ‘to open or not to open’ in different ways.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, writes, ‘The regular practice of our faith in God is a well-established source of both personal resilience and dedicated service to those in need. Such resilience and enduring service are vital in these difficult circumstances. I am glad that no measures have been introduced that would obstruct or curtail this essential source of energy for the common good. Catholic parishes will continue to serve the needs of their local community.’ A list of Catholic churches that are open for public worship in the Archdiocese of Birmingham can be found HERE. A list of parishes that are live-streaming services can be found HERE.

The Baptist Union of Great Britain is strongly encouraging its churches not to open their buildings for in-person meetings. In an online statement, the Baptist Union recognises that ‘Government guidelines allow churches to remain open, but, given the significant increase in numbers of Covid-19 infections and pressure on the NHS, we advise churches to stand with the wider community in making every effort to limit the spread of the virus. We still support churches as they open their buildings to provide vital services to the local community, such as food banks. We know that geographical contexts differ across both England and Wales and we are aware that the decision lies with the local church. Nonetheless we are mindful of the pressure church leaders are under and the greater risk taken by all those involved in hosting open buildings for whom we have a duty of care.’ Read the full statement HERE.

In a similar way, the Methodist Church is asking its congregations not to meet in person. Chair of the Birmingham District, Revd Ian Howarth, writes, ‘I am aware that only Church Councils or the Connexion as a whole can make the decision to close churches for communal worship. However, given the spread of the virus and the Government announcement yesterday, in consultation with deputy and assistant Chairs, our strong advice is that for the duration of the lockdown we close churches for public worship. I am conscious of the immense amount of work people have done with risk assessments to make churches as safe as they can be, but all the advice is that we should not be encouraging people to meet together at the moment, and given the age of many in our congregations, including those in leadership positions, I am sure at the moment it is best to suspend worship.’ Read the text of Ian’s pastoral letter HERE.

The Church of England is leaving it to local priests and people to decide if to open the church doors for public worship. Dame Sarah Mullally, Bishop of London, said, ‘At a time like this, the Church is here to offer comfort and spiritual support to everyone. We have a duty to care for each other, but particularly those who are vulnerable or who may be most at risk. The Government has chosen not to suspend public worship in England at this time and we will continue to follow the guidance and ensure that churches remain as safe as possible. The Government guidance on the safe use of places of worship makes clear that those attending a place of worship must not mingle with anyone outside their household or support bubble.’ Read Dame Sarah’s statement HERE.

The United Reformed Church advises that, ‘even when permitted in law during a time of National Lockdown and at the appropriate level 4 of restrictions, our churches should close for public worship. This recommendation also permits the minimum number reasonably possible to meet in the church building to allow recording/broadcasting by internet or telephone an act of worship, provided that they continue to follow the regulations to maintain a Covid-secure building and as long as it doesn’t conflict with any legal restrictions against this when the law takes precedence over our advice. If, despite this advice, an Elders’ Meeting (or equivalent) decides that they should continue to offer in-person worship within the relevant legislation, they must review their Risk Assessment and rigorously apply it in order to maximise the protection afforded to those who will attend. A failure to do this may result in a breach of health and safety law.’ Read the full text HERE.

The Salvation Army’s Birmingham Citadel has chosen not to open its doors during the national Covid-19 lockdown, in order to protect its worshippers from transmissions of the disease – and to avoid asking people to travel when they are advised not to do so. The citadel has recently installed cameras and equipment to allow it to livestream its services. The livestreaming facility will continue in future, even when the congregation is once again allowed to meet in person.

In terms of attending communal worship and life-events, Government guidance is as follows:
You can leave home to attend or visit a place of worship for communal worship, a funeral or event related to a death, a burial ground or a remembrance garden, or to attend a wedding ceremony.
You should follow the guidance on the safe use of places of worship and must not mingle with anyone outside of your household or support bubble when attending a place of worship.
Weddings, funerals and religious, belief-based or commemorative events linked to someone’s death are all subject to limits on the numbers that can attend, and weddings and civil ceremonies may only take place in exceptional circumstances.
Read the Government guidance on visiting places of worship via THIS LINK.

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