Today, the Bishop of Winchester spoke in the House of Lords in response to the Government Statement on new coronavirus measures. Bishop Tim highlighted the concerns raised in the joint letter to the Prime Minister from the Archbishops, the Cardinal, the Chief Rabbi and other faith leaders:
My Lords, the situation facing the country is gravely concerning and we all have collective responsibility to avoid overwhelming 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 to be over £12 billion a year. In my own 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 such essential services during lockdown. I also welcome the provision for private prayer, for broadcast and the continuation of funerals.
However, the Archbishops and 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 is essential to sustain us with much needed hope at this time, strengthening our commitment to social action. Yet more is needed, people need to be married, not just buried. I am glad to say we are not exactly where we were in March. Many clergy have worked hard to ensure places of worship are safe spaces to be in. Today the 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 Noble Baroness, 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 with the churches and other faiths in advance of future decisions such as these?