Bishop of London urges caution ahead of 'freedom day'

(Photo: Unsplash/François Genon)

Churches need to be "cautious" amid stubbornly high coronavirus rates and concerns over long Covid, the Bishop of London has said. 

Bishop Sarah Mullally appealed to churches and individuals to be mindful of others, especially the vulnerable, ahead of most restrictions being lifted on Monday. 

The bishop, who chairs the Church of England's Recovery Group, also expressed thanks for the vaccination programme, which has seen more than 81 million doses administered across the UK.

"The relaxation of restrictions on Monday is only possible because of the vaccination programme which has reduced the percentage of those with Covid who become seriously ill or die," she said.

"We are indebted to all who have developed and administered the vaccines and we encourage anyone who has not yet done so to take advantage of the protection they offer.

"Many will welcome the possibilities now before us, not least increased numbers at life events and a long awaited return of congregational and amateur choir singing.

"However, this is a difficult point in the course of the pandemic. Despite vaccination rates, cases are up, hospital admissions are up and long covid remains an ongoing concern. Therefore our approach needs to be cautious and careful.

"Taking personal responsibility means responsibility for our neighbour, not just for ourselves, and taking precautions to protect those more vulnerable than we consider ourselves to be."

The bishop said the response of individual churches should reflect the local context, but also urged respect for decisions made about the most appropriate way forward.

"Local church leaders know their communities and their own circumstances, and we will support them making local decisions to keep themselves and their community safe," she said. 

"We would ask everyone to support those making local decisions and respect risk assessments, which are in place to protect everyone as we enter the next phase."

In updated guidance, the Church of England encourages churches to "continue to take all steps necessary to limit the transmission of the virus".

The guidance also acknowledges a "mixed-mode approach" to worship for the timebeing, with some churches open for in-person worship, and many continuing to stream online.