Church Commissioner Written Answers: Church closures, status of churches and clergy

On 5th May 2020 the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Andrew Selous MP, answered two written questions from Alexander Stafford MP about church building closures and status of clergy during coronavirus restrictions:

Alexander Stafford (Rother Valley): 42227 To ask the right hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, when churches will be re-opened for worshippers.

Andrew Selous: It is essential that when church buildings reopen for public worship or private prayer by members of the public, that it is done safely. In the meantime, churches across the country are holding virtual services and offering support to the vulnerable and elderly. Where they are unable to do this locally national resources are available such as the national church service on a Sunday and the Daily Hope phone line.

The Church is adapting and rising to the challenge of supporting their community physically and spiritually during this medical emergency. The Church is regularly reviewing the medical advice and is in regular conversation with the Government. What is needed is a wide range of detailed protocols and practices to be established to ensure that church buildings and services do not represent risks for renewed transmission of the virus.

The Church of England is currently preparing for the reopening of church buildings, but it must be recognised that not all churches and clergy may be able to satisfy all the necessary criteria, especially in the early stages of the recovery phase. This has been the experience in other jurisdictions such as Germany where the Government has advised that churches can be reopened for public worship.

Alexander Stafford (Rother Valley): 42228 To ask the right hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, for what reasons churches and other places of worship were not listed as essential services in the covid-19 lockdown guidance.

Andrew Selous: Following the address to the nation made by the Prime Minister on the 23rd March, the Church of England took the difficult decision that it would ask this clergy to close their parish churches to the public due to the unprecedented high risk of transmission of the covid-19 virus. While  church buildings and halls were shut, congregations have continued, where possible, to live out their vocation and mission to serve the needs of their local communities during the lockdown period.

The Government listed the clergy as key workers during the medical emergency, and it has enabled them to continue to meet the needs of their communities right across the country, serving as chaplains, officiating at funerals, administering last rites, operating food banks and other essential community services.

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