The Church of England has recommended a ‘phased approach’ to re-opening churches.
Bishops agreed a plan to allow for a gradual re-opening of churches whilst continuing to apply social distancing measures.
In March, Health Secretary Matt Handcock said it was with “the heaviest of heart” that a ban on church gatherings was introduced.
Under plans agreed by the bishops, dioceses can immediately reopen church buildings for private prayer and to live-stream services. These restrictions were not a Government requirement but had been requested by the Church of England hierarchy.
The next phase will permit some formal ceremonies with “appropriate physical distancing and hygiene precautions”.
And the final phase will see worship services resumed when Government restrictions allow.
In a statement, the bishops made clear that while an imminent return to normality was unlikely, it was time “to start to look ahead to the potential easing of restrictions so that our clergy and churches can be prepared”.
Last week, Northern Ireland’s Environment Minister Edwin Poots has suggested that churches which can adhere to social distancing could re-open when restrictions are eased.
He also emphasised it should be a “graduated response, ensuring we do not put at risk a further rise of the virus”.
The heads of the Church of Ireland, Methodists, Roman Catholic and Presbyterian churches in Northern Ireland released a joint statement earlier this week on the crisis.
It said: “While we all look forward to the day when we can again gather together for collective worship in our churches, we accept that at this time it would not be appropriate to consider a full return to such gatherings.”