‘Disappointment and hurt’ as places of worship remain shut while shops reopen

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Worshippers feel “disappointment and hurt” at not being able to visit places of worship, despite some shops being allowed to open to the public, a bishop has said.

As of Monday, car showrooms and outdoor markets in England are allowed to reopen while non-essential shops can start to trade again from June 15.

But places of worship remain shut, with the Government saying they could open for individual or private prayer before opening up for small weddings and services.

Places of worship come under step three of the Government’s coronavirus recovery strategy, which means they cannot open until July 4 at the earliest.

New Bishop of London
Bishop of London Dame Sarah Mullally (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“There is no doubt that a second wave of the virus could be devastating for our way of life,” she said.

“Yet with shops reopening and some people appearing to be returning to a degree of normality, it is understandable that questions are being raised as to how and where the lockdown is being relaxed.

“Churchgoers are amongst those feeling real disappointment and hurt, as places of worship remain closed to the public.”

She said the Church of England (CoE) was working with local churches to develop a detailed plan to help them open for individual prayer as well as weddings and eventually services.

But she added: “For now, the Government does not deem it safe for us to take these steps.

Coronavirus – Mon Jun 1, 2020
Ikea stores reopened as part of a wider easing of lockdown restrictions in England (Nick Ansell/PA)

“We believe it could help bring healing and strength to many who are hurting amid this traumatic time, with our churches acting in so many places at the centre of community life, which is now beginning to resume.”

For the Hindu population, it is not worth taking the risk to reopen too soon, said Rajnish Kashyap, general secretary of Hindu Council UK.

He said the majority of Hindu worshippers belonged in the black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) community, which is disproportionately adversely affected by Covid-19, with analysis from University College London earlier this month showing they are are two to three times more likely to die from coronavirus than the general population.

Most worshippers who visit the temple are also aged over 65, said Mr Kashyap, who are at more risk of becoming seriously ill from coronavirus.

“I think worshippers understand that the safety and wellbeing of devotees is paramount,” he said.

“Unless we are absolutely sure we can safeguard everybody, I am prepared to wait.”

It comes after Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said people of faith may find it “strange” that places of worship would remain closed when shops and other places may open in the coming weeks and months.

At the Downing Street briefing on Sunday, he said: “I understand how important it is for millions of people in this country, and I can understand how people of faith would consider it strange that shops, cafes, pubs, restaurants, many other settings, might be open in the weeks and months ahead, but not somewhere as important as a place of worship.”

He continued: “I think the first logical step is probably to open places of worship for individual or private prayer, and that’s what we’re working towards with the faith leaders.”

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