Places of worship to reopen from June 15 for 'private prayer'

Places of worship in England are set to reopen for private prayer from this month, the government has announced.

Weddings, worship groups and other services will not be allowed, however, but worshippers will be able to go inside religious buildings while maintaining social distancing from June 15. Places of worship have been closed since March 24, meaning many were unable to mark Easter, Passover, Ramadan or Vaisakhi with friends and family.

Downing Street said they would only reopen if the government’s five tests for easing lockdown are met. The reopening of places of worship come under step three of the government’s road map to lifting Covid-19 restrictions and were not due to fully reopen until at least July 4.

However, Boris Johnson is said to have urged ministers to start lifting lockdown earlier than planned to save 3 million jobs, reported The Times. It comes after the government this week banned two people or more from meeting in a public or private place indoors, with those caught breaching the rules facing prosecution.

Ministers have been warned that worshippers felt ‘disappointment and hurt’ at not being able to visit places of worship, despite some non-essential shops being reopened from mid-June.

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The government began working with faith leaders last month to develop a plan to enable the phased and safe reopening of religious buildings.

After places of worship were closed, funerals could only take place at crematoriums or at the graveside with a limited number of attendees. Clergy were encouraged to live-stream worship from their own homes.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said: ‘Ensuring places of worship can open again, beginning with private prayer by individuals has been my priority.

‘Their contribution to the common good of our country is clear, as places of solace, comfort, stability and dignity. And the need for them is all the greater as we weather the uncertainties of the pandemic.

‘I’m pleased the prime minister has announced that this is expected to happen from June 15. As Communities Secretary, I have worked with faith leaders and representatives to prepare guidance that ensures this can be done safely.

‘People of all faiths have shown enormous patience and forbearance, unable to mark Easter, Passover, Ramadan or Vaisakhi with friends and family in the traditional way.

‘As we control the virus, we are now able to move forwards with a limited but important return to houses of worship.’

A Number 10 spokeswoman added: ‘The Prime Minister recognises how important it is, at this unprecedented time, for people to have the space to reflect and pray, to connect with their faith, and to be able to mourn for their loved ones.

‘The PM is so grateful to people of all faiths and none, who have followed the social distancing guidelines, and in doing so, protected their communities.

‘We plan to open up places of worship for individual prayer in a safe, Covid-secure way that does not risk further transmission.’

The Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally – who chairs the Church of England’s Recovery Group – welcomed the Government’s announcement that church buildings can open for private, individual prayer.

She said: ‘This is the start of the journey for church buildings to open up safely in line with Government advice, and we look forward to their detailed guidance on enabling this first step to happen.’

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