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Church Services: Covid-19

Volume 677: debated on Thursday 25 June 2020

When the Church Commissioners plan to reopen churches for services as the covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased. (903754)

When the Church Commissioners plan to reopen churches for services as the covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased. (903761)

What representations the Church Commissioners have made to the Government on enabling public worship to resume in churches. (903764)

When the Church Commissioners plan to reopen cathedrals and churches for worship; and if he will make a statement. (903779)

The last three months have been the first time in more than 800 years that England has gone without public worship and the sacraments, so there is real joy that we can meet again, socially distanced, from 4 July. I can give an assurance that the personal safety of clergy who are shielding should be prioritised and they can continue to do their duties remotely.

The self-sacrifice of so many people during the extreme lockdown period will have saved many lives, but one of the great sacrifices for many people will have been the inability to attend church physically and to have had to cancel weddings, baptisms and other deeply significant ceremonies. I understand my hon. Friend had to cancel his own daughter’s wedding last Saturday, and I wish her and her fiancé all the best. Will he now confirm that their wedding, as well as many others, can now go ahead in safety in church with 30 guests, and when does he expect the number of guests to be increased to reflect the capacity of the church being used and the new 1 metre-plus rule?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her kind good wishes, which are greatly appreciated. As she said, weddings can now take place from 4 July, but only with a maximum of 30 people. This is a huge relief to many couples throughout the country. For church services, there is no maximum number within a place of worship as long as the premises comply with covid-secure guidelines.

Given the country’s need for more housing, including more social housing, are the Church Commissioners able to take into account social and community outcomes in their land development decisions, and not just maximising financial profit?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question, and I can tell her that the Church of England pensions board already supports the social housing market through investments in social housing bonds. The commissioners also make provision for social and affordable housing on housing developments as per local planning requirements, while being required, like all charities, to obtain best value reasonably obtainable in the market when disposing of assets. But I am keen to explore whether the Church Commissioners are able to play any further role in solving the nation’s housing crisis. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s housing commission, which the Bishop of Kensington co-chairs, is looking separately at wider housing policy, and I am engaging closely with that work.

I used to enjoy a hymn sandwich before this interdict, but I have broken the habit. How is my hon. Friend going to lure us back if we are not allowed to sing? May I suggest, as a minimum, shorter services, even shorter sermons, some comfortable words from the Book of Common Prayer and an end to prating prelates?

That is a challenge indeed, Mr Speaker, but what I would say to my right hon. Friend is that I hope he has taken part in some of the uplifting online worship and services that have been available to him during the lockdown, and I would add that the warmth of the welcome, the opportunity for fellowship and the chance to grow in faith through prayer, worship and the revelation of God’s word will prove an irresistible temptation to my right hon. Friend to return.

I very much welcome that services can resume in places of worship in England and that private prayer is allowed in other nations of the United Kingdom, but what discussions have there been with Churches to ensure that people are encouraged to go back to church and are reassured that it is safe to do so?

The Church is delighted to be able to throw open its doors again, so that we can gather again for public worship and weddings in the way that we have not been able to do over the past three months. We will make sure that people are safe. I know that clergy and church wardens are taking their responsibilities very seriously to make sure that people are safe when they come, and we are really looking forward to seeing them back again in all our churches.

We are now heading to the shadows of the spires of Lichfield cathedral with one Michael Fabricant.

Thank you, Mr Speaker: from where I am sitting now Lichfield cathedral is just about 100 yards behind me.

Lichfield has a great choral tradition; we have a choral school and the services are very good. It is open for two hours a day at the moment for private prayer, but when does my hon. Friend anticipate that we will be able to go to evensong and enjoy the wonderful choir that sings there?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Cathedrals such as Lichfield are at the centre of the amazing choral tradition that we have in this country. Sadly, I have to tell him that singing and chanting are not allowed even at a distance, due to the additional risk of infection, and woodwind and brass instruments should not be used, but that still leaves many other instruments. His constituents can return for public worship from 4 July and I know that Lichfield Cathedral will be making them very welcome when they return.