The Bishop of Chichester has written to MPs to ask them to lobby for an urgent review of the closure of church buildings in response to the coronavirus crisis.
Bishop Martin Warner, whose head office is in Hove, called for churches to be allowed to reopen for individual private prayer at least.
He said that places of worship should be open to “individuals who seek solace in such places”.
And he has received a growing number of emails and communications reflecting many people’s frustration about the perceived low-priority status of the reopening places of worship.
The bishop, who also sits in the House of Lords, said: “The Bishop of London has underlined our commitment in the Church of England to complying with all the guidance and regulations concerning distancing and hygiene regulations.
“From her professional nursing career she fully understands this.
“She speaks for Church of England bishops in underlining our commitment to working with government and other relevant authorities in the expectation of opening our church buildings ‘in a phased way as soon as it is deemed safe and practical to do so.
“‘We (the Church of England) have already been actively planning to that end.’
“I hope that you would lobby for an urgent review of the continued closure of our church buildings to individuals who seek solace in such places.
“Cardinal Vincent Nichols has also spoken out about this, making a clear statement about the Catholic Church’s planning and commitment to best practice for opening Church buildings and about recognising the importance for every faith tradition of its place of worship.
“The cardinal also reminded us that we use our places of worship differently and it is with this recognition in mind that we ask for churches to be opened for individual private prayer.
“At a time when tensions run high, I believe that there is a deep thirst for access to churches and cathedrals as places of prayer for people of committed faith or for anyone who is in search of space in which to find peace.
“I am fortunate to live near to Chichester cathedral. Each day I see individuals peering in through its glass doors.
“I know from personal experience what pressing and intimate needs find expression in the prayers that they write down and leave behind.
“We urgently need places and experience that build hope, trust, and endurance. The capacity of the Christian Church to engender those virtues through prayer and stillness in its buildings should not be underestimated.
“I am making this letter public, in order to indicate to those who have made comments to me on this matter that I have shared their concerns with you.”
The bishop said that parishes across the Diocese of Chichester – the Church of England district that includes Brighton and Hove – have been working flat out to respond to the needs of many communities since the lockdown began when churches were closed.
He said that they had offered support to the relatives of those who were sick and who had died as well as the many projects supporting the young, elderly and vulnerable across Sussex.
The diocese had, he said, largely adapted to different ways of working, with services taking place online.
The bishop added: “Online response and co-ordination have been a top priority across parishes, local communities and with church schools supporting the families of frontline workers.”
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