Weddings and worship in Devon’s church buildings from 4 July
Church leaders in Devon have welcomed the news that services, including weddings, will be able to take place in church buildings from 4 July.
But they have also said it would be wrong to “close the virtual door” to the growing number of people who have been attending online church services during lockdown by ceasing to produce them.
The Government announced the changes to the rules for places of worship along with new guidance about pubs, restaurants, museums and art galleries.
“This is the news we have all been hoping for” Bishop of Plymouth
People getting married will be able to have up to 30 guests in the church.
Congregational singing is not yet allowed, though research is under way to establish the exact level of transmission risk it poses.
The Bishop of Plymouth, the Right Reverend Nick McKinnel, said: “This is the news we have all be hoping for.
“Churches have been very active on-line and in the community over these last three months but our buildings are still important.
“They speak of God’s presence in our midst and I am delighted that they can now be open again for prayer and public worship.”
The new guidance is permissive which means churches do not have to open and it will be up to individual Mission Community leadership teams to decide when and if they will hold services in their churches again.
The Archdeacon of Exeter, the Venerable Andrew Beane, has been one of those helping churches navigate the coronavirus guidance since lockdown began in March.
He said: “My enormous thanks go to our clergy, churchwardens and parishioners who have adapted so creatively to the lockdown situation, reaching out to their communities in practical ways as well as using technology to stream services.
“We are pleased that churches across the Diocese of Exeter are taking small yet positive steps towards re-opening, where that is safe and sensible to do so, but support those churches who have decided that it is still not yet the right time to re-open.
“We have seen incredible innovation across all our churches during the lockdown and hope that spirit of creativity will continue as we discover a ‘new normal’ over the coming weeks and months.”
He also sounded a note of caution, “We acknowledge the worry, distress and loss so many people have experienced during the last few months.
“We will need to be mindful of those who will continue to isolate at home, or need to express their loss of loved ones in a more public way.
“Our promise is that as a church we are here for everyone in our communities in sorrow and in joy.”
The Reverend James Grier, the Diocese of Exeter’s Mission Enabler, said: “I find I have mixed emotions in response this news.
“We yearn to be able to gather physically to worship together as congregations.
“But there is a danger that some of us go dashing back to our buildings leaving others behind, whether because they aren’t able to be there or are too anxious about being there.
James, who is also a leader at Unlimited Church in Exeter, added “We have learnt to worship online in ways that have opened the church to many who wouldn’t otherwise engage and I’d hate for us to selfishly close the virtual door to them.
“It feels like now is the time for us to think yet again creatively about how to offer church to all rather than try to recapture what we’ve missed.
“We also need to continue to re-imagine how we worship together, whilst sung worship is still not an option.
“I’d encourage us to take stock, consult and explore how we make the most of the exciting possibilities today’s news opens up without abandoning anyone in our excitement.”
The Church of England is expected to announce more detailed guidance about the reopening of churches for worship in the next few days.
Guidance about producing online church services is available from the Diocese of Exeter Communications and Engagement team.