Christian leaders urge Government to allow re-opening of churches

(Photo: Unsplash/Angela Baker)

Church leaders are urging the Government to re-think plans to keep places of worship closed until July. 

The Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, has written to MPs within his diocese to ask that they lobby for church buildings to re-open again. 

The open letter calls for an "urgent review of the continued closure of our church buildings to individuals who seek solace in such places".

The bishop said he had received an increasing number of emails and communication from people frustrated about the perceived low priority given by the Government to the re-opening of places of worship. 

While car showrooms, garden centres and markets have re-opened, churches have been told they need to stay closed until July 4 at the earliest. 

The Government's timeline has been met with strong criticism from Christian leaders, including the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols.

In his letter, Dr Warner insisted that churches could re-open safely and that there was a need for them to do so in order to offer a place for prayer and stillness.

"At a time when tensions run high, I believe that there is a deep thirst for access to churches and cathedrals as places of prayer for people of committed faith, or for anyone who is in search of space in which to find peace," he said. 

He continued: "We urgently need places and experience that build hope, trust and endurance.

"The capacity of the Christian Church to engender those virtues through prayer and stillness in its buildings should not be underestimated." 

This week, the Catholic Archbishop of Southwark wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging him to re-open places of worship. 

In his letter, he said it was a matter of religious freedom and equality. 

"As restrictions have been lifted, there is growing frustration that churches remain closed for private, individual, visits of prayer," he said.

"This comes when restrictions on access to other 'non- essential' facilities are being relaxed. For Catholics, access to church buildings is spiritually essential, something recognised by other Governments internationally.

"Respectfully, I believe that it is now time for churches to be allowed to open for individual visits for private prayer. Supervision and hygiene regimes can be put in place akin to those in supermarkets and any churches that cannot implement these would remain closed." 

In his homily for Pentecost Sunday, Cardinal Nichols questioned why car showrooms and non-essential shops were being given the go ahead to open but not churches.

"We are told that these openings, which are to be carefully managed, are based on the need to encourage key activities to start up again. Why are churches excluded from this decision?" he said.

"The importance of faith to so many people is clear. The role of faith in our society has been made even clearer in these last weeks: as a motivation for the selfless care of the sick and dying; as providing crucial comfort in bereavement; as a source of immense and effective provision for those in sharp and pressing need; as underpinning a vision of the dignity of every person, a dignity that has to be at the heart of the rebuilding of our society.

"The opening of our churches, even if just for individual prayer, helps to nurture this vital contribution to our common good."