UK: Churches reopen for first Sunday services in months but singing is off the cards
After places of worship were given the green light to reopen this weekend, many churches across the country today held their first Sunday Mass in months – but with a few changes.
Places of worship have welcomed people back for public prayer, after the government allowed them to reopen along with the hospitality industry yesterday. Gatherings of more than 30 people are now allowed for acts of communal worship in mosques, synagogues, churches, temples and meeting rooms in England.
Couples waiting to tie the knot were finally allowed to get married from yesterday with small numbers of attendees, while walking someone down the aisle will be banned if they are from different households due to distancing measures.
Christians and Catholics across the country have finally been able to attend Sunday service today after it was put on hold for 19 weeks. But they won’t be allowed to sing – an important part of the tradition – in a bid to reduce the risk of viral droplets spreading further.
Official guidance says where a music recording can’t be played, and if singing is an essential part of the religious service, then only one person can sing behind a plexi-glass screen or facing away from worshippers.
All attending must also stick to social distancing guidelines and attempt to remain in their own household or support bubble.
However, the Church of England said worshippers will be allowed to be within two metres of the priest – who will be wearing PPE – when they are given communion bread.
But they won’t be given any wine due to hygiene measures, with priests told to drink it all themselves.
Worshippers have also been encouraged to bring their own prayer books as communal ones will have to be cleaned and quarantined for 48 hours after use.
The country’s most important Anglican place of worship, Canterbury Cathedral opened its doors to visitors on Saturday morning, while services resumed today led by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
But the 950-year-old cathedral looks very different with one-way routes and floor markings, enhanced cleaning regimes, protective screens, hand sanitiser stations, distanced seating and staff wearing PPE.
It also reopened with gender-neutral toilets as the men’s were too small to maintain social distancing, meaning the women’s have been opened up to all visitors.
Other places of worship in York and Exeter shared images on social media to show how distancing will work by keeping at least one seat in between each worshipper.
Although faith leaders have mostly welcomed the reopening of places of worship, some urged caution.
The Muslim Council of Britain’s secretary general, Harun Khan, said: ‘Mosques must not feel rushed into reopening, but should only take this step when they feel it is safe to do so.’
Muslims have been encouraged to wear face masks and bring their own Quran, prayer mat and a reusable shoe bag.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, said reopening synagogues would be a ‘cautious, phased process’ that would take place over several months rather than a single event this weekend.
The United Synagogue also issued guidance to worshippers, including an online attendance booking system, encouraging the use of face masks and no kissing of holy objects or handshaking.
Meanwhile, the Hindu Council UK said it would be up to individual temples on when they choose to reopen while sticking to groups of 30 or less.