The current position and role of our churches in this phase of the pandemic – 8th January 2021
We are aware that questions are being asked as to why churches remain open during this National Lockdown. We are also aware that many local authorities are calling for places of worship to close. We wish to respond to these concerns.
Churches are allowed to open for prayer and communal worship at this time according to the provision of the most recent national legislation and Government guidance. This decision is based on two factors: the recognition that our churches are safe, and that the service they offer is essential.
The safety of our churches has been affirmed by Public Health England in its current advice to the Government. This is publicly recognised to be the result of the great efforts made by many people in the implementation of procedures mandated by PHE and thereby establishing the necessary conditions within churches for their safe use.
Our churches are making a significant contribution to the personal resilience and inner strength of people which is much needed at this time. Many are hubs from which essential support is offered especially to those most in need, extending well beyond the faith communities which use them. This includes the regular provision of food; the care of the homeless; and being a place of peace and reflection (which is safe) for many whose living conditions are very limited. This will become more appreciated as the programme of vaccination increases. The vital link between prayer and action is important to maintain this service.
At this phase of the pandemic, which is causing alarm and fear, our churches will exercise their role with increased diligence to ensure continuing safety and service.
Our clergy will ensure that all are aware that there is no duty or responsibility to come to church and communicate to all there is no obligation to attend Mass on Sunday. They will review, in each local area, the provision offered by the church in order to ensure that the highest standards of safety are maintained. This will include a review of the role of stewards, the provision of additional social distancing within the church, a review of cleansing routines, and consideration of the personal circumstances of the priest(s) and people. On this basis there will be a local evaluation and decision about the possible reduction in the times of opening and the frequency of communal worship.
In conclusion we recognise the higher levels of fear and anxiety which the new strain of the virus has prompted and we have a very proper awareness of the care which must be exercised by everyone, under the guidance of PHE health professionals.
We recognise, too, that isolation is having a profound detrimental effect on people and that the role of churches in easing that isolation in ways which are safe and supportive has been recognised as a positive and beneficial contribution to the common good.
We pray for the dedicated work of the NHS and continue to provide spiritual support to staff and patients through the network of chaplains working both in the hospitals and the community.
Bishop John Sherrington
Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster
3rd National Lockdown – Message from Bishop John Sherrington
I hope you are well at this time as we approach the Feast of the Epiphany.
I am sure that you have heard the PM’s statement this evening and noticed that he did not mention Places of Worship. I attach the Guidance entitled National Lockdown: Stay at Home. This guidance, which will become legislation, permits the opening of places of worship for communal worship and well as for funerals (maximum 30 people) and weddings (maximum 6 people only in emergencies). Guidance is provided about other activities (attached). More information may become available.
I know that some of you have been asked to self-isolate, that others have the virus, and that there is an anxiety among many people about the safety of older vulnerable people. We have worked hard to ensure that churches are COVID-19 secure and have achieved this through the hard work of cleaning, stewarding and organisation by priests and laity. For this reason, there is no prohibition on churches opening and the government permits communal worship to continue. They have recognised that we are essential for the well-being of many people.
Every Church has its own challenges to provide a safe environment for the priest and the people. The removal of the Sunday obligation has meant that nobody should feel guilty if they do not attend Mass and we need to reinforce this message, as well as ensure the safety of all who attend, especially the more vulnerable, which can include the priest. In particular circumstances in a parish, it may be necessary to reduce the number of public Masses or reduce other communal prayers, or even for a time only celebrate streamed or private Masses, and this is your local decision.
Please ask people to pray at home for the end of the spread of the virus and the distribution of the vaccine. Please also pray for those clergy who have tested positive at this time.
With every good wish
Be assured of my prayers at the beginning of a new year. We ask the intercession of St. Joseph, the protector of the Holy Family and the Church.
Bishop John Sherrington
Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster
London will move into England’s highest tier of Covid restrictions from 00:01 GMT on Wednesday 16th December.
You can attend places of worship for a service. However, you must not mingle with anyone outside of your household or support bubble.
You should follow the national guidance on the safe use of places of worship.
Government Covid-19 Winter Plan – Worship RESUMED from 2nd of December
From the Government Covid-19 Winter plan:
This COVID-19 Winter Plan ensures the current national restrictions can be lifted on 2 December. This is only possible because everyone’s efforts during the current restrictions in England have slowed the spread of the virus and eased the pressure on the NHS. On 2 December, across all of England, regardless of tier:
a. The stay at home requirement will end, with domestic and international travel being permitted again subject to guidance in each tier.
b. Shops, personal care, gyms and the wider leisure sector will reopen.
c. Collective worship, weddings and outdoor sports can resume, subject to social distancing.
d. People will no longer be limited to seeing only one other person in outdoor public spaces – the rule of 6 will now apply as it did in the previous set of tiers.
Coronavirus Guidance Update – Churches opened for private worship ONLY from 5th of November
A letter from the Cardinal for the weekend of 7/8th November 2020
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,
As we enter this second ‘lockdown’ and loss of communal celebration of Mass, I wish to add these few words.
This is a time for us to show our strength. And by that I do not mean strength in defiance. I mean strength in mutual support; strength in service; strength in perseverance and hope. I mean, then, the strength of our faith in action.
The first act of faith is the praise of God. It is deep and constant prayer. This must be at the root of our lives, as individuals, as families, as households. I urge you, then, to stay faithful to daily patterns of prayer. Pray privately; pray together at home; come to church to pray; pray without ceasing. I thank God that our churches remain open to be places of peace and prayer, and the live streaming of the Mass, celebrated every day in our churches, is a great help. But that too must be rooted in our own life of prayer.
Only by receiving the living water from the Lord will we pass through this arid time. Indeed, if we stay close to the Lord, we will be changed for the better by this time of crisis.
The second act of faith is humble service. This is the road we are to follow: service of each other; outreach to the lonely; nourishment for the hungry; compassion for the sick, the isolated, the dying, especially those facing death alone, and those who mourn. Let’s do it.
These are the strengths we have, the strengths we must contribute to our society’s way of life. Only in this day-to-day practice can we shape a different future, a better future, one that is more compassionate, more just, more charitable. This is the future which must come out of this crisis. We cannot just wait to ‘get back to normal’. This is a time to rebuild a better family, a better household, a better neighbourhood, a better world.
May God bless and sustain us all in the weeks ahead.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols – Archbishop of Westminster
Covid-19 Guidance – November 2020
On 4 November 2020, Parliament passed into law The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 4) Regulations 2020.
These are in force from 5 November to 2 December 2020. As well as the Regulations, the Government has updated its Guidance for the safe use of places of worship to reflect current circumstances.
The Regulations preclude gatherings for communal worship, including the celebration of Mass, baptisms and most weddings.
However, it is important to stress that this does not represent a return to the previous lockdown earlier in the year. In the current Regulations, places of worship are permitted to remain open for certain purposes, and to attend a place of worship is listed as a reasonable excuse to leave home.
The purposes for which a place of worship may remain open are listed in Paragraph 18(8) of the Regulations. Most notably, the Regulations allow places of worship to remain open for “individual prayer” which is defined as “prayer by individuals which does not form part of communal worship.” It is important that a generous provision is made to open our churches for substantial amounts of time. Priests are encouraged to maintain a presence in their open churches, making themselves available to
talk with those who attend for individual prayer.
Churches may be used for Mass and other services to be streamed, without a congregation present. Musicians and singers may participate in online services, as long as they usually form part of the service that is being broadcast and are essential to its delivery.
Churches are permitted to continue to be open to offer support and charitable outreach, including the provision of food banks or other support for the homeless or the vulnerable. It is so important that this response to the pandemic, which has been such a significant part of parish life over these past months in so many places, continues and develops.
Funeral Masses and funeral services may continue to be celebrated, with an attendance of up to 30 people (not including those who are required for the celebration). Weddings are only permitted when one of those getting married is seriously ill and is not expected to recover. Such weddings are limited to 6 people excluding the priest or deacon celebrant.
It is important that the routines of cleanliness, stewarding and social distancing to which we have become accustomed, and which have made our churches places of real Covid security, are maintained. Face coverings should continue to be worn in churches, unless individuals are exempt. The maximum number of people allowed in a church for prayer will be determined by its size, seating arrangements and the requirements for social distancing.
In the light of the broad aim to minimise gatherings of those from different households, and to focus resources on keeping churches open for individual prayer, it is recommended that catechism classes and sacramental preparation sessions are suspended, or held online, whilst these Regulations are in force.
Note that this page will be updated as soon as the new guidance is issued.
Clergy and parishioners are encouraged to read the Regulations and Guidance and make mature judgments about how best they are to be applied in particular contexts. Some priests may have heightened vulnerability owing to age or medical condition: in making their judgements, they should consider their own circumstances and wellbeing, as well as the safety of others. These days are not easy, but during the time the Regulations are in force it is vital that the best and effective use of our churches is made, for the good of the faithful and wider society.
Rev. Canon Christopher Thomas
5th November 2020
Note that this page will be updated as soon as the new guidance is issued.
Statement from the President and the Vice-President of the Conference on the Prime Minister’s Statement – Saturday 31st October 2020
This evening, the Prime Minister announced further widespread restrictions in England beginning on Thursday 5th November. The Government have published their New National Restrictions Guidance on their website here. Whilst there was no formal announcement on Places of Worship by the Prime Minister, there is clear guidance on this website that places of worship will be required to end all acts of collective worship, except for funeral ceremonies. In response the following statement is issued by the President and Vice-President of the Bishops’ Conference.
The announcement of a new ‘national lockdown’ in England will, we know, bring hardship, distress and suffering to many. We must hope and pray that this is an effective strategy against a growing pandemic which has tragically taken so many lives already
and threatens so many more.
Faith communities have played a vital role in sustaining personal, spiritual and mental health and encouraging vital charitable activities, which support hundreds of thousands of people in all sections of the community, especially the most vulnerable. That critical service to towards the common good of all is created and sustained by communal worship and prayer. Part of this selfless giving has been a strong ethic of responsibility in the way in which we have reopened our churches so that essential worship has been enabled. Our communities have done a great deal to make our churches safe places in which all have been able to gather in supervised and disciplined ways.
It is thus a source of deep anguish now that the Government is requiring, once again, the cessation of public communal worship. Whilst we understand the many difficult decisions facing the Government, we have not yet seen any evidence whatsoever that
would make the banning of communal worship, with all its human costs, a productive part of combatting the virus. We ask the Government to produce this evidence that justifies the cessation of acts of public worship.
To counter the virus we will, as a society, need to make sustained sacrifices for months to come. In requiring this sacrifice, the Government has a profound responsibility to show why it has taken particular decisions. Not doing so risks eroding the unity we need as enter a most difficult period for our country.
The Prime Minister has stated that the draft legislation will be placed before Parliament on Monday 2nd November. Members of Parliament will have the opportunity to discuss the issues and vote on the proposed national restrictions. In this short timeframe, questions can be raised with our elected Members of Parliament regarding the cessation of public common worship. They are in a position to require the Government to publish the data that drives the decision to cease public worship under these restrictions.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols – President
Archbishop Malcolm McMahon OP – Vice-President