Bishop of Winchester asks Government for evidence to support lockdown suspension of public worship

On 3rd November 2020 the House of Lords heard the repeat of a statement made by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, announcing a second lockdown in England to tackle coronavirus. The Bishop of Winchester responded to the news that public worship would not be allowed to continue during the lockdown period:

The Lord Bishop of Winchester [V]: My Lords, the situation facing the country is gravely concerning and we all have a collective responsibility to avoid over- whelming the NHS with the spread of the virus. Churches and faith communities continue to play a crucial role in supporting their local communities. The social and economic support of churches has been estimated at more than £12 billion a year. In my diocese, many churches have offered emergency food and essential supplies to those in desperate need as part of the love your neighbour initiative. It is pleasing, therefore, that the Government have recognised the significance of this contribution by permitting places of worship to continue to offer such essential services during lockdown. I also welcome the provision for private prayer, broadcast and the continuation of funerals.

However the most reverend Primates the Archbishops and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London said in their letter to clergy this weekend:

“The sacramental life of the church cannot be seen as an optional extra.”

Access to the sacraments and communal worship are essential to sustain us with much needed hope at this time and to strengthen our commitment to social action.

Yet more is needed: people need to be married and not just buried.

I am glad to say that we are not exactly in the place where we were in March. Many clergy have worked hard to ensure that places of worship are safe places to be. Today our Archbishops, the Cardinal, the Chief Rabbi and other faith leaders have written to the Prime Minister to say that the ​continuation of public worship is essential.

Will the Minister commit to review the blanket ban? If not, will she publish the evidence used to justify this decision?

Lastly, given the lack of consultation with faith communities before this announcement, can the Minister provide assurances that the Government will consult the churches and other faiths in advance of future decisions such as these?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con): Of course we recognise that religious practice is of fundamental importance to millions of people across the country. That is why we are enabling individual prayer in places of worship for those who practise that way.

We absolutely understand that, for people of faith who take part in communal worship, it will be extremely disappointing news that it cannot continue for the next month, and, of course, it will be difficult for those whose festivals fall during this time.

We entirely understand the issue, but we are committed to ensuring that we work collectively to bring the R rate down so that in December we can, we hope, start to get back to normality once we have suppressed the virus, which is what we are all intending to do.

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