The following statement was issued by the Church of England late on the evening of 6 June following the government announcement, reported by BBC News that church buildings in England can open up for supervised individual prayer from 15 June.
Statement on individual prayer in churches
The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, chair of the Church of England’s Recovery Group said: “We welcome the Government’s announcement today that church buildings can open up for supervised individual prayer from June 15. This is the start of the journey for church buildings to open up safely in line with Government advice and we look forward to their detailed guidance on enabling this first step to happen.
“Advice has already been circulated to all our dioceses to enable local churches to plan ahead for opening up for individual prayer. Our advice recognises that a particular local church may or may not be able to open at the same time as others and collaborative working between local churches is encouraged. A simple risk assessment template has been provided.
“Throughout this crisis churches have been serving their communities in a range of practical ways but this announcement recognises that the buildings themselves are important sacred spaces for people. We also remember all at this time who mourn the loss of a loved one who died during the crisis and recognise that this is a fragile time in the prevention of the spread of this virus.
“We look forward to when it is safe for our church buildings once again to become meeting places for worship, prayer and all they do to serve and bless their communities.”
Resources can be found on our dedicated Coronavirus advice page.
Comment and update (10 June)
Yesterday we posted COVID-19: further guidance from the Church of England. Tonight’s announcement by government appears to have been timed to catch the 10 o’clock news and Sunday’s papers.
The Prime Minister’s statement at the coronavirus press conference on 10 June 2020 [“Transcript of the speech, exactly as it was delivered”] said:
“Finally, we will allow places of worship to open for individual prayer this weekend. And I hope that will be of some comfort to those of faith who have been unable to go to their place of worship”.
However, The Rt Rev Paul Bayes was quick to tweet:
“In @LivDiocese churches will have the option of opening for private prayer, depending on their local situation & on local resources available, from Monday (15th). Parish clergy will make these decisions for their own context. I trust my colleagues and will support them in this”.
India is opening up places of worship from tomorrow Monday.
Dr.S.K.Pachauri IAS Retd
Prior to this recent development, it appears that the phrase “supervised individual prayer” may well never been used before, anywhere in the world, by anybody. My attempt to find out, using a web search, what it could possibly mean in practice, yielded only 8 search results.
I cannot find any reference to supervision of individual prayer in the linked-to web pages of this report. Where does the idea that individual prayer will have to be “supervised” come from?
We have no background information on the issue of supervision, but suspect it is the security of the building that is the rationale behind the use of this term. Whilst social distancing and maximum numbers are also important concerns, it is not clear how these could be regulated as the legislation on the latter has not been laid. On social distancing, at present this is not addressed in the relevant statutory instruments. Another issue for the churches to address is that of supervisions, and who might be ineligible through membership of a vulnerable group, i.e. over 70 regardless of medical condition.
What I am saying is that the novel phrase “supervised individual prayer” seems to originate in the following sentence, penned by the Bishop of London herself: “We welcome the Government’s announcement today that church buildings can open up for supervised individual prayer from June 15.” I didn’t know what that meant and I still don’t. A search for the phrase didn’t locate the said “Government’s announcement”.
I am grateful to David Pockington for his reply, but I have to confess that it leaves me none-the-wiser. I fear that the invention of a legal need for supervision will result in churches that used to be left open remaining locked, except when a “member of staff” is available to “supervise” any “visitors”. The bishops have already shown themselves keen to impose even greater restrictions on church services than the government has asked for and there is no sign of repentance from this. For example, during the period when services to be broadcast were allowed in church buildings by the government, but not by the spoilsport bishops.
The term “individual prayer” is used in the House of Bishops’ Guidance COVID-19 Advice on Individual Prayer by Members of the public in Church Buildings which is dated 3 June. In relation to the question “Should someone be present all the time to monitor the church? the document states: “There is no public health need to do this, though the decision will need to be based on your own local situation and risk assessment”, which seems contrary to the need for individual prayer to be supervised.
On the need for legislation, “gatherings” fall within Regulation 7 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020, SI 350, and provided those present do not “engage in any form of social interaction with each other, or… undertake any other activity with each other”, private prayer would appear to be permitted [7(3)(a)].
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