From 2 December, places of worship can reopen for public worship, and churches and cathedrals can now approach Advent and Christmas with certainty. Clergy have already demonstrated that they have made their buildings covid-secure, and many cathedrals and churches are planning to have multiple services to accommodate more people as fewer are allowed in each service. The further good news is that, while indoor singing is limited to performance only, we can all take part in outdoor and door-to-door singing, staying 2 metres apart or away from the threshold, and nativity plays for under-18s are permitted in accordance with the performing arts guidance.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s comments on services, but at Christmas time, the Church does a lot more—it provides support for our communities through financial advice, fuel and food poverty advice and, of course, the social support that is at the heart of it all. With that in mind, what discussions has he had with local and national Government and the Churches to ensure that they can continue to provide that support in a covid-secure way at Christmas?
I know that my hon. Friend takes a close interest in this area of the Church’s work. The Church continues to work with the Government through the places of worship taskforce to advise parishes on how to continue providing critical assistance locally, which they have done wonderfully well. For example, St Peter’s in Market Bosworth, in his constituency, is supporting the local women’s refuge with food and toiletries.
I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Once again, churches have done amazingly through this pandemic, continuing with outreach to their communities. I pay tribute to the churches in Penrith and The Border and across the country that enabled remembrance ceremonies to go ahead this year in challenging circumstances. Does he agree that, as churches look to reopen for worship and other activities in the months ahead, targeted Government financial support for them would be a great way to ensure that their vital community work and support can carry on?
Churches did indeed organise very respectful and safe remembrance services. The National Churches Trust estimates that the economic value of our social action is worth around £12.4 billion. I can tell my hon. Friend that 227 churches and cathedrals have been supported by the culture recovery fund, for which I thank the Government.
I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Churches in Redcar and Cleveland, such as St Mark’s in Marske and St Cuthbert’s in Ormesby, have gone above and beyond to ensure that the risk of transmission in churches is low. They are a place for people of all faiths and none to find peace in what has been an incredibly difficult eight months. Unfortunately, Advent Sunday this year will fall inside the lockdown, but I am grateful that the Government have said that churches can reopen for the rest of Advent from 2 December. What message does the Church Commissioner have for those churches in Redcar and Cleveland in the approach to Christmas?
I am delighted to learn of the important role that churches in Redcar and Cleveland have played in helping people to find peace during this dreadful pandemic. The closure of churches is not something that any of us ever wants to see again. I hope that my hon. Friend’s constituents will follow the advice of the Archbishop of Canterbury: to come to church in person or virtually and to spend time with their wider families in a safe and responsible way.