Updated again 8.50 am Friday
The government advice which was previously given about allowing churches to be open for private prayer has been changed. The new wording is contained in this document, and the relevant section is copied below. There are differences between this and what the Church of England bishops have most recently said.
Update 1: the Diocese of Chelmsford has issued this letter from their bishops which says in part:
…We have become aware this morning that there is some confusion and indeed disagreement over the use of our church buildings in the current coronavirus restrictions. It seems this arises out of a difference between the current government advice and our own diocesan guidance based on the national church’s instruction from yesterday.
The Church of England guidance does go further than the government guidance and comes from our own medical advice. In the light of that advice we believe we need to take the lead in demonstrating how important it is to stay at home and that we can still be the church without our buildings, hard though that is at present.
As your four bishops we are asking in the strongest possible terms that churches and clergy follow our instruction and guidance in these matters for the immediate future. As a reminder that instruction is as follows:
1. Our church buildings remain totally closed with a notice on the door explaining why, as provided previously. This includes for the clergy, such that no act of worship is led or streamed from inside the building.
2. Therefore funerals are not possible in church, which we know is distressing for grieving families, but is safest in preventing the spread of the virus. Funerals can only take place at the crematorium or at the graveside with numbers restricted to closest family (partners, children, parents) and the maintenance of social distancing.
3. For the support of the most vulnerable, food banks and other essential social services, where they operate out of the church building, can continue as long as strict distribution guidelines are adhered to (pick up of food outside at the door, again maintaining social distancing both outside and inside the building).
We have no comfort in asking you to comply totally with these instructions, but we do believe it is our Gospel imperative and shared pastoral responsibility to be seen to be setting a lead to the whole of society. Being entirely blunt about it – this is what may save lives at present…
Update 2: The Government advice has been slightly changed (noticed at 14.30 Thursday), as shown below (italics denote superseded wording) and changed again (noticed at 8,45 Friday)
Update 3: The Church of England page can now be seen to contain the following update (which was not visible to me until just now, 24 hours later than the timestamp)
Last updated Wednesday 26 March 2020 at 16:00
Businesses and premises that must remain closed
The following businesses and premises must remain closed
|Places of worship
|Funerals, where the congregation is immediate family (with provision for a carer, if required) or a friend – in the case that no family members are attending. A distance of 2 metres is to be maintained between every household group, as per Public Health England guidelines.
A minister of religion, to go to their place of worship, including to broadcast an act of worship to people outside the place of worship, whether over the internet or otherwise.
And even later:
A minister of religion or worship leader may leave their home to travel to their place of worship. A place of worship may broadcast an act of worship, whether over the internet or otherwise.
For the purpose of hosting essential voluntary or public service, such as food banks, homeless services, and blood donation sessions.