During his speech on Saturday 31 October, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new measures to combat the rise of Covid-19 by ushering in a second lockdown which began Thursday 5 November. Amongst the many restrictions the one of worship is also affected. In his speech Boris Johnson confirmed that the new rules will include the closure of much of the hospitality industry, such pubs and restaurants, while schools and universities will remain open.
Under the new rules, all religious services are to be stopped once more. However, private prayer can continue. The government website states that all places of worship, including churches, mosques and synagogues, must close for the duration of lockdown, unless they are being used for a specific set of reasons including funerals, to broadcast acts of worship and individual prayer.
Places of worship can also remain open if they are used for formal childcare or where part of a school, essential voluntary and public services, such as blood donation or food banks, and other exempted activities such as support groups.
Faith Leaders' Response
Faith leaders have challenged the government's decision to ban communal worship during the second lockdown, telling Boris Johnson there is no scientific basis for the move.
In a marked change of tone from the lockdown earlier this year, some faith leaders have said in a joint statement: "But we strongly disagree with the decision to suspend public worship during this time…continuation of public worship is essential," see joint letter. Within the letter it is argued that faith leaders represented on the government Places of Worship Taskforce have demonstrated in recent months that places of worship and public worship can be made safe from Covid transmission. They say, "Given the significant work we have already done, we consider there to be, now, no scientific justification for the wholesale suspension of public worship."
Additionally, British Union Conference President Pastor Ian Sweeney, on behalf of the Adventist Church in the British Isles this week wrote to the Prime Minister:
Dear Prime Minister
On behalf of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the British Isles, I write to let you know that you and the government are in the prayers of our 40,000 members as you seek to lead the United Kingdom through this pandemic crisis.
To this end, as we pray for you, we would like for you to reconsider the decision to keep churches in lockdown during the upcoming four-week period. We believe that a decision to allow churches to open during this time would have significant benefits for the population.
Our nature as a faith community is to be law abiding and follow guidance as outlined by the government so the opening of churches would respect guidance on social distancing etc. and would assist with the mental, social and spiritual health challenges that are clearly a consequence of lockdowns. The church, as a place of worship is a vital lifeline for many who are struggling with loneliness, isolation and other negative effects of lockdown.
Churches have put into place measures that have ensured that worshippers can enter and exit our churches securely and safely with minimal risks of transmission of the virus. Even as shops are open for essential items, we believe that churches and other places of worship should also be open as they too are essential to millions of people in the UK.
To this end, we would kindly and respectfully ask that you would recognise the essential nature of Christian worship, and therefore amend the proposed legislation to permit churches to carry on meeting together during lockdown.
As we go through this second lockdown, we encourage all members to remain connected to their local churches if online services are available or join in with other services that are streaming within the local Conference or Mission. Furthermore there is the weekly BUC Online service and the BUC online morning worship each week day at 8:30am on our BUC Facebook page
We will keep the Church updated on any changes or updates on the BUC website.