Places of worship across England will reopen on June 15. However, only individual prayers and now mass gatherings will be allowed. The decision was announced by the UK government after a prolonged discussion with representatives of major faiths.
Responding to the decision, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said, “Ensuring places of worship can open again, beginning with individual prayer has been my priority. Their contribution to the common good of our country is clear, as places of solace, comfort, stability and dignity. And the need for them is all the greater as we weather the uncertainties of the pandemic.”
Individual prayer means “a person or household entering the venue to pray on their own and not as part of a group, led prayer or communal act. They should be socially distanced from other individuals or households”.
Due to the lockdown measures, places of worship for the public remained closed during major festivals like Easter, Passover, Vaisakhi and Ramadan. Thanking people for their patience for exercising restraint Faith Minister Lord Greenhalgh said, “It’s our hope that this is the first step in places of worship reopening fully when the science supports it. I look forward to continuing to discuss with the Places of Worship Taskforce on how to address ongoing practical safety issues in the coming weeks.”
Detailed guidelines with regards to the opening of the places of worship will be published shortly but in the meantime, thorough cleaning of shared spaces, hand cleansing at entry and exit and asking worshippers to bring their own items such as a prayer mat or religious text instead of sharing or using communal ones has been recommended.
While the preparations are underway, not all places of worship may open on June 15.
Arun Thakur, trustee Shree Ram Mandir and president of the National Council of Hindu temples UK said, “For better safety for our devotees and the priest of Shree Ram Mandir, we will open for individual prayers from July 1, after completing the risk assessment of the temple. Other temples have been instructed to open as and when they feel safe to do so keeping in line with the social distancing measures and hygiene as per the government guidelines.”
The process of consultation between the task force and the government is an ongoing one and its will be left to their discretion as to when they consider it safe to open.
As of now, funerals are allowed in places of worship where it is possible to do so safely. Other gatherings and services such as baptisms, weddings, supplementary schools, meetings and classes are not permitted.