UK churches to reopen July 4 with social distancing guidelines

The Canterbury Cathedral is the seat of the Cathedral of the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primate of All England and religious leader of the Church of England. | (PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/HANS MUSIL)

Correction appended

Churches and other houses of worship in the United Kingdom will see a loosening of restrictions on in-person gatherings starting on July 4, according to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Houses of worship were shut down in late March in an effort to help curb the spread of COVID-19 and not overwhelm hospitals with patients all at once. Since June 13, individuals have been allowed to enter for private prayer, but now people will be allowed to attend services.

In an announcement made last week in the House of Commons, Johnson noted a range of loosened restrictions on gatherings, including for houses of worship.

These include allowing in-person worship services, provided they follow government recommended social distancing guidelines.

“Mr. Speaker, I know that many have mourned the closure of places of worship, and this year, Easter, Passover and Eid all occurred during the lockdown,” Johnson said.

“So I am delighted that places of worship will be able to reopen for prayer and services — including weddings with a maximum of 30 people, all subject to social distancing.”

The House of Bishops of the Church of England received clarification from the government that the limit of 30 applied to weddings and other "stand-alone" services such as baptism and confirmation. There is no limit on the number of attendees at regular worship services as long as households are kept two meters apart, according to the Church of England.

Wearing face coverings is voluntary. 

Churches are being advised against singing hymns, as many are concerned that it could spread the virus. They are also being advised, per government guidance, to record the names of attendees for 21 days to assist "track and trace" if required.

Theaters and museums will also reopen. However, there will be no live performances allowed for the time being for the sake of performers.

Bishop of London Sarah Mullally, head of the Church of England’s Recovery Group, said in a statement that she welcomed the prime minister’s announcement.

“The last three months have been an extraordinary time — the first period without public worship and the sacraments in England in more than 800 years,” Mullally said. “There will be real joy as we begin to come together again — if even at a physical distance — but I also know that many will be understandably cautious at this news.”

Recently, many countries, especially in Europe and Asia, have begun to gradually reopen their secular and religious facilities following government-ordered lockdowns. 

In May, Germany allowed for the reopening of houses of worship, with certain restrictions put in place during the service, including no singing and no handshakes.

“We must work to make sure we bring the number of new infections down further,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the time. “If the infection curve becomes steep again, we need to have a warning system to notice it early and be able to act.”

In June, New Zealand lifted all restrictions on in-person gatherings, including churches, as the Pacific island nation had gone several days without a single new case of COVID-19.

Correction: July 1, 2020:

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that there was a 30-person limit on worship services. The cap only applies to weddings and stand-alone services, not regular worship services.

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