The Bishop of Winchester Coronavirus Regulations House of Lords Debate Speech

The Bishop of Winchester Coronavirus Regulations House of Lords Debate Speech

Bishop Tim spoke in the House of Lords debate on new Coronavirus Regulations on Wednesday 5 November. Bishop Tim highlighted the words of the Archbishops in their letter to the nation calling for a calm, courageous and compassionate response and raised concerns about the impact of suspending public worship on mental and spiritual wellbeing:

“My Lords, I am grateful to Her Majesty’s Government for seeking to ensure that the appropriate measures are in place to protect the most vulnerable and restrict the spread of this virus. Yet, it is important that we do not prolong such stringent lockdown measures because of the way that they impact on the mental, physical and, indeed, spiritual well-being of the population. However, I will not be supporting the fatal Motion.

I recognise the exceptional nature of these times, and welcome that the regulations will enable places of worship to remain open for private prayer and broadcasting acts of worship. Creating such broadcast acts of worship often requires a team of people, both amateurs and professionals. I would welcome more clarity from the Minister on the number of people allowed to do this.

Clergy across the country have worked hard to ensure that our church buildings are Covid-secure for public worship, education settings, food banks and other essential services. In most places, by distancing and limiting congregation sizes, communal worship can safely take place without the need for an outright ban. Religious worship is not a leisure activity: the freedom to worship and to assemble for this purpose is a right that we enjoy in this country and strongly advocate for in other countries. The law will be adhered to, but I hope that the Prime Minister and the Government have understood from the united response of faith leaders yesterday that legal and safe acts of public worship are not things to be switched on and off by government regulation. Many have already asked this, but I will reiterate: can the Minister commit to providing the scientific evidence to justify such a suspension? The impact of this suspension will be felt publicly.

On Remembrance Sunday, a day in the year that is hugely significant for so many veterans and their families and for the whole country, our commemoration services will now be severely limited. Furthermore, over the next few weeks, important religious festivals for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and the Jewish community will be disrupted by the lack of access to communal worship. I regret this. Faith groups serve the needs of their local communities, and clergy and healthcare chaplains provide significant support for the mental, social and spiritual well-being of the nation.

Public worship is essential for spiritual and mental well-being, and a source of strength to many. It is not an optional extra for the Christian faith: our weekly worship services are part of a whole way of life. The importance of this must not go unrecognised. It is in drawing on their Christian faith and in the hope that Christmas brings that the Archbishops say in their letter to the nation today that it would help the whole nation if we adopted a “calm, courageous and compassionate” response to this trial.”