The reopening of churches for private prayer in England would not have happened without the lobbying of Cardinal Nichols, a government minister has said.
Lord Greenhalgh, who was appointed minister for faith a few days before the start of lockdown, praised the cardinal’s intervention in persuading the government to open churches earlier than planned.
“Easement would not have happened without Cardinal Nichols’s lobbying,” the Tablet quotes him as saying. “I have to pay tribute to him.”
In a briefing organised by the Religion Media Centre, the minister also confirmed that communal worship will not resume until at least July 4.
“This is the earliest date it can happen,” Lord Greenhalgh said. “It is not definitively the date. We have to be ready, but it is at the discretion of individual places of worship whether they think it can be safe.”
The minister, who described himself as a practising Catholic, also said he had sympathy for people struggling with online worship. “I am sick and tired of blanket Zoom meetings,” he said.
The government announced on Saturday evening that churches and other places of worship could reopen from June 15 for private prayer, three weeks earlier than previously suggested.
The announcement came after Cardinal Nichols questioned why churches should remain shut even when non-essential shops were allowed to reopen. “We are told that these openings, which are to be carefully managed, are based on the need to encourage key activities to start up again. Why are churches excluded from this decision?” he asked in his homily for Pentecost.
He later welcomed the government’s updated guidelines: “It is a great blessing, for individuals and for the benefit of all in society, that church doors will again be open to all who long to pray there for the peace and grace we need today,” he said.