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Churches Stay Open in England as Strict National Lockdowns Begin

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By Evangelical Focus 

England and Scotland have announced new national lockdowns, expected to last until mid-February, with the aim of to restraining coronavirus and protect hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with patients.

On Monday, the UK recorded more than 50,000 new confirmed Covid-19 cases for the seventh day in a row, “with 407 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, taking the total by that measure to 75,431”, the NHS reported.

There has also been a 50% rise in the number of patients in hospital with coronavirus in England since Christmas day. “We now have in the hospitals in London more Covid patients than at any time during this pandemic”, London Mayor Sadiq Khan pointed out.

Meanwhile, Scotland recorded 1,900 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours on January 4.

“It is clear that we need to do more to bring this new variant under control. That means the government is once again instructing you to stay at home”, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday during his televised address to the nation.

His announcement follows that of Scotland’s Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who also informed the country that a lockdown will begin on midnight, Tuesday. Wales and Northern Ireland are already in lockdown.

Strict measures
Under the new lockdown, people cannot leave their homes except for necessary reasons, such as medical needs, food shopping, exercise and work for those who cannot do so from home.

Furthermore, all schools and colleges will close, only the children of key workers and vulnerable pupils are allowed to go in person, following all safety rules. Higher Education provision will remain online until mid February.

Restaurants can continue to offer food delivery, but takeaway alcohol will be banned. Outdoor sports venues must close but outdoor playgrounds will remain open.

Churches open in England, closed in Scotland
The new lockdown in Scotland states that places of worship will have to close. Most areas of Scotland services were already limited to a congregation of twenty people, so that many churches are already operating on-line.

Churches may only open for the recording or streaming of worship services or the provision of vital services. Funerals with limited numbers and very small weddings may also take place.

Unlike in March, places of worship in England will be able to remain open in this new lockdown.

“You can leave home to attend or visit a place of worship for communal worship, a funeral, a burial ground or a remembrance garden, or to attend a wedding ceremony. You should follow the guidance on the safe use of places of worship and must not mingle with anyone outside of your household or support bubble”, the Coronavirus Guidance for England says.

Weddings in England can be attended by 6 people but can only take place in ‘exceptional circumstances’, while funerals can be attended by 30 people. Support groups for up to 15 people can still meet in churches.

EAUK: “Churches need to use wisdom as to whether it is appropriate to meet in person”
After the announcement, the UK Evangelical Alliance (EAUK) pointed out on twitter that “churches will need to use wisdom and discretion as to whether it is safe and appropriate to meet in person for services”.

“The announcement that church buildings in England are not required to close, will require as much, if not more, attention and action by churches than if they were required to close, as in March and November”, Danny Webster, Head of public policy of the UK Evangelical Alliance (EAUK) said in an article.

According to Webster, “by not requiring churches in England to close, the Government has done what we asked for in November, but that doesn’t mean it is the easiest option. In fact, in many ways it makes the decisions more challenging for churches”.

“Churches should pay close attention to the impact that their actions will have on the spread of this virus. It is essential that all measures put in place as part of a risk assessment ahead of reopening are revisited and strengthened where necessary”, he recommends.

Webster believes that “however churches in England decide to proceed over the coming weeks we need to have grace for each other and assume the best of motives for the decisions that are reached”.

“2020 has proved that meeting together is not about the building we are in, and witnessing to the good news of Jesus is not limited to a service. While the coming months will bring challenges to churches, and there is a very real need for caution as we take decisions, we can also be courageous as we speak the hope of Jesus into these bleak winter months”, he concluded.