Open our churches and restore worship!
We all patiently awaited Boris Johson's latest announcement regarding the COVID-19 pandemic in which he was due to announce tne measures for this new phase in this crisis which would support the resumption of economic and social activity. In fact after 8 weeeks of total closure and confinement, social distancing, sacrificee and proven patience, an announcement of a progressive return to normalcy was expected from many.
The faith-based community, in particular, waited in silence, obediently, hoping that the Government would help places of worship with the possibility of opening churches for private prayer and restoring services, responsibly and gradually. But, this was not the case.
Places of worship were not even mentioned by the Prime Minister and only given one mention in the subsequent 50 page document outlining the 'roadmap' back to normality, being lumped in the category of 'public places' which it is hoped, but not promised, might be opened on July 4th at the earliest.
By contrast, non-essential retail stores are expected to gradually resume opening, an entire month earlier on 1st June, and so too are sporting and cultural events, albeit behind closed doors for broadcast.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales has said that this statement fails to recognise the profound sensitivities and spiritual needs of the population. Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewbury has also issued a statement calling the decision regrettable and noting that government officials have relegated “spiritual need” to a “dimension of the leisure industry”. Another bishop has spoken anonymously of his shame at being forced to give the instruction for churches to be closed and the faithful to be denied access to the Blessed Sacrament.
In failing to account for the needs of worshippers, the government is forgetting that spiritual health is as essential as physical health and the closure of churches is having a knock-on effect on people's sense of well-being.
During this pandemic local off-licences selling alcohol have been allowed to remain open and yet our country's cathedrals and churches which have much more space to accomdodate worshippers and implement social distancing measures, have remaind resolutely closed. It cannot be right that buildings capable of holding hundreds and even thousands of people are not allowed to admit even a handful of people at a time and yet off-licences, supermarkets and DIY outlets are allowing hundreds of people to pass through their doors at any one time.
Many Catholic dioceses across the UK have been consulting the guidance developed by a working group from the Thomistic Institute, consisting of infectious disease experts, medical professionals, scientists andd Catholic theologians, which outlines how Catholic sacraments could be provided in the midst of the current pandemic in accordance with the current standards issued by the World Health Organisation and the US Centers for Disease Control.
Places of worship will know how to organize adequate instruments of social distancing within their facilities, and people of faith will be smart about protecting themselves and others. Worshippers should not be treated like second-class citizens of lesser importance and intelligence, whose needs are at the bottom of the pile.
Christians represent the largest affinity group in the UK and yet the government is signalling that it sees their faith as nothing more than an optional leisure pursuit and attending church as less important than going to a garden centre or playing a round of golf.
Sign the petition to ask Boris Johnson's government to prioritise the faith-based community, and protect the rights of worshipers and service attendees.