Churches should make a “generous provision” to stay open during the new lockdown, the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has said.
In guidance published as the new month-long lockdown came into force, the bishops encouraged priests to “maintain a presence” in their open churches and make themselves available to talk with those attending for individual prayer.
The bishops also pointed out that churches can stay open to offer “support and charitable outreach”, including the provision of foodbanks and support for the homeless and vulnerable.
“It is so important that this response to the pandemic, which has been such a significant part of parish life over these past months in so many places, continues and develops,” the bishops said.
Funeral Mass and services may continue as before, with attendance limited to 30 people, but weddings should only be held when one of those getting married is “seriously ill and is not expected to recover”.
The government’s decision to ban public acts of worship was strongly criticised by leaders of different faiths in the run-up to the lockdown, but the bishops’ new guidelines accept the decision and say that Mass and other services should be streamed online without a congregation present.
Unlike the last lockdown, however, musicians and singers may be present if they would usually form part of the service and are essential to its delivery.
“These days are not easy,” the bishops said, “But during the time the Regulations are in force it is vital that the best and effective use of our churches is made, for the good of the faithful and wider society.”