First, a panic, but Welby insists: new Covid restrictions will not shut the churches

Image credit: Wesley's chapel

By Andrew Brown

The government’s announcement that social gatherings would be limited to six people caused a momentary panic among religious groups this morning. But the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, tweeted at 10am that the government had told him there would be a continuing exemption for acts of worship.

“After contact with Government we hear that there is no change to guidance on places of worship. Worship is the work of God – not a social gathering – and gives the strength to love and serve.”

Religious and non religious leaders contacted by the Religion Media Centre stressed that they had not seen the final text of the regulations, but it appears that their activities will not be noticeably affected next week when the new restrictions come into operation.

Richy Thompson of Humanists UK said that the exemptions in the present regulations allowed most life events to proceed: weddings, naming ceremonies, and funerals will all, he believes, be allowed to continue with more than six people present.

Zainab Gulamali of the Muslim Council of Britain, said:  ”We are very grateful to the Archbishop of Canterbury for being able to clarify the position.“

She added that “A lot of the earlier worries about mosques as centres of infection were scaremongering. Many mosques were stopping people from entering without masks even before the government made it compulsory.”

Stories circulated last month about the ways in which the pandemic was sharpening racial and religious divides in the north of England. One prominent Muslim, Zulfi Karim, the deputy lieutenant of West Yorkshire, and president of the Bradford Council of Mosques, told the Guardian in August that white communities are were starting to see Covid-19 as a “brown problem”.

Ms Gulamali said: “I think it’s important to highlight that there isn’t any section of society that’s immune to the virus.”

Meanwhile, t.mainstream churches put out reports that absence from church during lockdown did not harm churches as much as they had feared. The organisation Catholic Voices published research suggesting that only about a quarter of practising Catholics thought it wrong to close the churches in the early stages of the lockdown.

The survey also suggested that if financial difficulties force the closure of churches, as is certain in the Church of England, this will meet considerable resistance from Catholic congregations.

Two thirds of those surveyed agreed with the statement that “forced closure of churches has focused us on proper priorities”. But only three per cent – hardly more than a sampling error – thought that the lockdown had shown them that church buildings were an unnecessary burden and half of them disagreed that online worship would be the way forward for the next generation.

Background

Latest government guidelines 9 September

Church Times report on Archbishop Justin Welby’s comment

A short statement from the Church of England

Catholic Voices survey at this link

Twitter reaction:

Archbishop of Canterbury @JustinWelby

After contact with Government we hear that there is no change to guidance on places of worship. Worship is the work of God – not a social gathering – and gives the strength to love and serve.

Among the 1000 replies:

@CharlotteLeslie – Worship in a church together IS a social gathering. Christ was v.up for social gatherings. But not, I suspect, in midst of pandemic

@elisled2 – With respect – this is both daft and dangerous. It doesn’t matter how you define ‘worship.’ The fact is that many people gathering together inside a building increases their risk of catching Covid-19.

Kirtle@ladygreenkirtle People commenting on this clearly haven’t been in a church recently. It’s all masks and two metre distancing. No singing allowed. No chatting inside the building. It’s not much of a social occasion. One of the safest things you can do outside your house at the moment, probably!

Contacts:

Zainab Gulamali, public affairs director Muslim Council of Britain: media@mcb.org.uk

Richy Thompson, campaigns manager Humanists UK:

Church of England Media office:  020-7898-1326

Catholic Voices brenden.thompson@catholicvoices.org.uk