Government defends church singing ban

(Photo: Unsplash/Tom Ramalho)

The Bishop of London has said she will continue to press the Government on lifting the ban on congregational singing in churches. 

The Rt Rev Sarah Mullally made the comments after the Prime Minister confirmed this week that Covid-19 restrictions were being extended for another four weeks.

Although places of worship are open, congregational singing is still not permitted, a rule the government continued to defend this week. 

Bishop Mullally, who is head of the CofE's Covid Recovery Group and formerly England's Chief Nursing Officer, said she wants the singing ban appraised.

"Thankfully church buildings remain open for public worship and prayer," she said.

"While we look forward to restrictions on worship being lifted in the near future, I will continue to press for ongoing appraisal of choral and congregational singing." 

Elsewhere in her statement, the bishop said that while the delay to lifting restrictions would be "a blow to many people", she could understand why the decision had been taken. 

"I am hugely thankful for the success and speed of the vaccination programme which has undoubtedly saved many lives - but we do have to take the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant very seriously and do all we can to protect each other as Christians called to love our neighbour," she said.

"I know from those on the front line that the pressures on the NHS are extreme and understand that a delay of a few more weeks in lifting restrictions could make a big difference in helping us all to get ahead in the 'race' against this virus which has caused so much death and misery." 

Speaking in the Lords this week, the Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines, said that the "prolonging of inconsistencies" in Covid-19 restrictions was "a serious impediment to public adherence to the rules".

"You do not have to look very far to see where the discipline broke down a long time ago," he said.

"For example - this is not special pleading; it is just at the forefront of my mind - you can sing in a pub but not in a church. This is what brings the rules into disrepute, and therefore people do not agree with them."

He also quizzed the government on an acceptable Covid death rate.

"We have learned to live with acceptable death rates from flu and other seasonal diseases," he said.

"Will the government do some work on what might be an acceptable death rate from Covid in future and be up-front with the country as to what that might be? I think we can take it."

Answering on behalf of the government, Lord Bethell said that the "frustration" around church singing had been heard "loud and clear", the ongoing restrictions were necessary.

"It is enormously frustrating to those who have a passion for singing," he said.

"But I would be pretending to be other than I am if I did not level with the right reverend Prelate and say that this is an airborne, aerosol disease. It is breathed into buildings at huge risk to those inside, and there is a direct correlation between infection rates, that aerosol and that kind of singing.

"The decision has been made with huge regret and not without a huge amount of scientific analysis, and those who have made their case have been heard loud and clear - but we have to fight this virus and prevent people getting sick."

Commenting further, health minister Lord Bethell rejected the bishop's view that discipline has broken down. 

"Quite the opposite: I am astounded by the British public and their adherence to voluntary guidelines and arrangements," he said. 

"I pay tribute to the British public, and I do not think that the right reverend Prelate does any favours when he suggests that discipline has broken down.

"Lastly, I really do not accept the concept of an acceptable death rate. That is not how we play the health system in this country.

"We are here to save lives; that is our priority. There is a balance between the economy, freedom and lives, but as a Health Minister my starting point is to save lives."