The reopening of places of worship for private prayer is a sign that life is returning to “something like normality”, a Catholic priest has said.
Places of worship came under step three of the Government’s road map to lift restrictions, and while many will open today for private prayer, a full reopening with services is not expected to take place until at least 4th July.
Among those opening up is Westminster Cathedral in central London, where the holy water font at the door will be empty and parishioners will swap the customary holy water blessing for hand sanitiser.
The cathedral will open for around four hours each day and a maximum of 80 people will be allowed into the 1,300-capacity building at any one time.
Fr Daniel Humphreys, a priest at the cathedral, said the opening for private prayer is welcome as he has often seen people praying outside the locked doors during lockdown.
“We can all pray at home, we can pray on the Underground or whatever, but churches as houses of prayer, as places of pilgrimage if you like, are very important to Catholics, to all people of Christian faith,” he said.
“People will have been missing just the opportunity to light a candle, to sit quietly and pray, even of course to meet friends as well, although that won’t be so possible now.
“If you put it in a wider context, in a way outside of faith, isn’t it, I think, a sign that things are beginning to loosen if you like, to return to something like normality?”
He added: “For Catholics, going to the church, yes of course for the Mass, but also just to pop into the church, is a vital part of life and of their spiritual life.”
Fr Humphreys said it will be very different to just “wandering into church”, with measures in place including restricted numbers, sanitiser, a one-way system, rows of seats cordoned off with “relatively tasteful tape” and the touching of statues “off limits”.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Barry Lerer, based at the Central Synagogue London, said it is not reopening today due to the nature of synagogue prayer requiring the participation of the community.
He said people can pray at home for now, but said there is a plan for the future and he is hopeful that there will be movement on reopening in July.
Rabbi Lerer, who said there are daily services online, said: “Singing which is quite a huge part of our prayers will brought to a minimal, if at all.”
He said services will probably be shortened and people will have to wear face masks.
“I miss my community, there’s no question. I live in the synagogue, it’s a very big building. I’m here by myself with my family.
“My family and I pray in the synagogue on a Saturday morning, but it’s just the seven of us, that’s it,” he said.
“Everyone I speak to, the number one question is: ‘Rabbi, when can we come back to synagogue?’ And that’s the number one question, what are we doing about coming back to synagogue?” he said.
Elsewhere, the Church of England, which is allowing funeral services in church buildings from today, said singing should be allowed in churches as soon as it is considered safe.
Current Government guidance says singing and playing instruments – with the exception of the church organ – should be avoided, as officials continue to review scientific and medical advice around how those activities can be managed safely.
Last month, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick referred to the particular problem of exhalation spreading droplets further during the singing of hymns.
There is said to be a lack of clarity for mosque leaders on how to implement regulations for their congregations.
Harun Khan, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), said earlier this month: “Mosques are provisioned primarily for congregational worship, so there is currently significant uncertainty and concern from mosque leaders on how the new regulations can actually be implemented.”
Picture: Westminster Cathedral will reopen today for private individual prayer after being shut for almost three months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. (Mazur/cbcew.org.uk).