Churches in England open again for individual prayer

(Photo: Unsplash/Kyler Nixon)

Churches in England are again opening their doors to the public for individual prayer after the Government eased lockdown restrictions for places of worship on Saturday. 

The latest guidance from the Government, released on Friday, permits individuals or members of the same household to enter into a church to pray on their own, while social distancing 2m apart from others. 

For the timebeing, led prayer and communal prayer are not permitted. 

The changes apply only to England, with churches in Wales and Scotland remaining closed even for individual prayer. 

Collective worship is still not permitted in any part of the UK, with the Government saying that larger church gatherings are expected to resume "no earlier than 4 July, subject to further scientific advice".

The latest guidance advises churches to remove books and communal resources like service sheets, and provide single-use alternatives only as long as they can be taken home by the worshipper. 

It goes on to say that "activities such as singing and/or playing instruments should be avoided".  The exception to this advice is organists, who are allowed to use buildings again for practice "with appropriate social distancing". 

"The Government is continuing to work on scientific and medical advice around how such activities can best be managed safely and further guidance will follow on this shortly," the guidance reads. 

Responding to the changes, the Church of England and Royal School of Church Music have called on the Government to be "proactive" in ensuring the playing of music can resume in church buildings as soon as it is safe to do so. 

The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, said: "We know that for church musicians this remains a difficult time, and many are anxious to know the date it will be possible to sing and play together again.

"The most recent guidance now allows for organ practice, providing the usual precautions on social distancing are observed, which will be of encouragement, yet before permitting choirs to resume the Government is awaiting the latest scientific and medical advice.

"We are encouraging the Government to be alert to the consequences of our choirs' continued silence - and to take a proactive approach to allowing singing to return to our churches and cathedrals as soon as it is possible to do so safely. This way we can safeguard our choral tradition which many believe to be the finest in the world.

"We look forward to a time where worship and music can once again be combined, in all their different expressions, as they have for centuries, turning our hearts to God."

Royal School of Church Music Director, Hugh Morris added: "This news will be of great encouragement to organists.

"We know from the work we have been doing to support church musicians up and down the land that they are longing to express themselves in music making; and we endorse the encouragement to the Government to be alert to the importance of allowing a safe return of choirs and singing to all our churches.

"The ministry of music is such a vital part of the life of the church, and choral music is a rich part of the tapestry of worship."