Bishop of Rochester welcomes protective security funding for places of worship

17.10 RochesterOn 7th May 2019 Baroness Williams of Trafford repeated a Statement by the Home Secretary on protective security funding for places of worship. The Bishop of Rochester, Rt Revd James Langstaff, responded to the statement: 

The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, I too am very grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement from the other place. From these Benches, I welcome it and echo some of the things that have already been said by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, not least about the wider context, although I recognise that this Statement has a limited focus.

The Minister has already observed the tragic events in Christchurch, Sri Lanka and San Diego. It seems to me that one of the learnings from those events is the impossibility of predicting where, or even when, a dreadful event might occur. With that in mind, I am particularly grateful for the broadening of the eligibility criteria in relation to potential grants from the fund, whereby it is now not necessary for places of worship to have experienced an incident of hate crime in order to make an application. That is an important loosening around the unpredictability of where things might occur.

Speaking specifically for the Church of England, we have hitherto been pleased to assist, through our Cathedral and Church Buildings division, with some of the practicalities of administering the scheme by sitting on the advisory panel that assesses the applications. Clearly, we would be willing to continue doing that and, as one of the better resourced faith communities, to make a contribution. I hope that the Minister will confirm that that participation, not only from the Church of England but from other religious communities, will still be welcomed in helping the process to work.

There are a couple of things on which I would welcome further comment from the Minister. One has already been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser —that is, the balance between ensuring security and maintaining welcome and openness. Clearly, that is a daily concern for our cathedrals and other nationally significant places of worship of different faith traditions, but it is also relevant for what one might call the humbler, local ones. Reference has already been made to the role of volunteers in making sure that buildings remain open. It seems that continued engagement is needed on how to get the balance right between, on the one hand, openness and accessibility and, on the other, the security of both buildings and persons.

I have a final observation and question on the security of persons. I am conscious that some religious leaders in the public eye—I am not thinking particularly of people like me—might be at greater risk precisely when they are not within their place of worship. I am thinking particularly of those who have perhaps had a high public profile over some issue or over something that they have said. It is when they are at home, with their family or in other settings that the risks might be greater. Is consideration being given to support in terms of security in the homes of the public religious leaders of faith communities?

Baroness Williams of Trafford:  I thank the right reverend Prelate for those questions. Starting with his last question first, the real benefit of the consultation is that people—including, I am sure, the right reverend Prelate himself—can point out some of the wider risks that we have not perhaps considered in deliberating on the security of not just places of worship but the people who worship there and those who lead people in worship.

He mentioned the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, which I neglected to deal with—that is, the balance between security and being welcome and open. People go to places of worship for such a wide range of reasons. We all know the role that the Church has played throughout history through the various operations it facilitates for people who are hungry, homeless, need refuge for the night or just an ear to listen, which is one of the most important things the clergy does. It is always so sad when a church or other place of worship is closed for security reasons. The right reverend Prelate has made a very good point. I know that he is not making a pitch but an offer from the Church of England, and I thank him for the help that it has given with the administration of funding so far.


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