Health Secretary: ‘Churches should suspend activities to slow COVID-19 spread’

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that new advice on social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic applies to churches.

The Government announced guidelines that people should avoid “large gatherings, and gatherings in smaller public spaces such as pubs, cinemas, restaurants, theatres, bars, clubs”.

It also advised against gatherings with friends and family.

‘Deepest regret’

Hancock was asked in the House of Commons if places of worship were part of the changes announced.

He responded with “the heaviest of heart” that religious communities were included.

He said: “It is true that in our advice to avoid social contact we do include religious groups in that.

“We have seen from elsewhere in the world how sometimes it is through religious gatherings that this virus can spread so, with the deepest regret and the heaviest of heart, we do include faith groups and gatherings of faiths within the advice.”

God’s sovereignty

The Christian Institute’s Deputy Director for Communications Ciarán Kelly said: “Churches up and down the country will be temporarily closing as a result of this advice.

“We must keep in mind that as Christians we should be praying for our leaders and our nation as a whole, as well as looking to show the love of God to those around us.

“During this time of uncertainty, we trust in God with the full assurance that he is sovereign over everything.”

Church response

Following the announcements, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York issued a statement instructing all Church of England churches to suspend public services until further notice.

The Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, which represents more than 50,000 evangelicals around the country, has said that while “it is up to each independent church” to come to their own decisions, “our advice is that churches should not meet for the foreseeable future”.

The largest denomination in Northern Ireland, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, has also written to all ministers “informing them that all congregational organisations and activities, including Sunday worship, should cease until further notice”.

The Roman Catholic Church has ceased holding public masses across the UK.