World

The churches must stay open

26 December 2021

6:00 PM

26 December 2021

6:00 PM

Hooray for Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who used the one day of the year when his pronouncements are amplified by the season to ‘sincerely appeal that [the government] do not again consider closing churches and places of worship.’

He said in a BBC interview he believed it had been demonstrated that the airiness of churches meant they are ‘not places where we spread the virus’.

This is, of course, entirely sensible. It was nuts for churches to close at the start of lockdown, at least as spaces for prayer if not for communal worship. Pretty well any church is ‘Covid-safe’, in that there’s lots of room for people to spread themselves out. Just before they were closed I recall seeing just one man in our church for hours on end, silent before the altar; he was no conceivable risk to anyone. At most there might be half a dozen people with enormous space between them. It was easily more risky to go to a supermarket than a church.


And so we had the poignant spectacle of people standing outside churches in lockdown to say a prayer before the eucharist, when they could have been places of refuge and help, not least to NHS workers and the vulnerable.

Mind you, Catholic churches weren’t as bad as the Church of England, in that clergy could livestream masses from inside them. Anglican clergy weren’t allowed into their own churches. It was symptomatic of the control freakery that possessed everyone.

Cardinal Nichols did indeed make just this point in his interview:

I think this country has shown that people can make good judgements themselves. We’re at that point of saying we understand the risk. We know what we should do. Most people are sensible and cautious. We don’t need stronger impositions to teach us what to do.

Yes, yes and yes. When churches reopened, people were strikingly compliant with the restrictions. In some churches you were asked to sanitise the spaces you occupied; in most, traffic was sent in one direction; in all pews were roped off to ensure social distancing; and if people were told not to socialise outside, they didn’t, although we now know they’d have been safe in the open air. In other words, given good advice on one side, and goodwill on the other, we didn’t need closures and the corrosive spiritual deprivation that went with them.

Cardinal Nichols has, it seems, learned the lessons of lockdown: we can be trusted. It hardly needs saying, does it, that the principle is applicable elsewhere, though admittedly, churchgoers are probably more biddable than most. ‘We don’t need stronger impositions to teach us what to do’, he said. Dead right, Cardinal. Is the government listening?

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