Twenty MPs have written to the Prime Minister, urging the Government to allow churches to reopen earlier than July.
They emphasised the importance of reopening churches for private prayer and services with limited congregations.
The Government’s current plan states that places of worship, along with pubs and cinemas, will not reopen before 4 July. This would be delayed if the rate of infections has not dropped sufficiently for the change to be deemed safe.
The letter, organised by Sir Peter Bottomley MP, said: “We ask that our leaders, Government and church, especially the Church of England, together find reasonably safe ways to reopen our churches for prayer, for funerals even with limited congregations and for worship sooner than July.”
The MPs said that weddings, christenings and other services are wanted as soon as it is safely possible, highlighting that “ten can gather in a crematorium yet one cannot be in a church.”
They asked for churches to be open for private prayer with social distancing measures, saying: “It seems odd that you can go for a walk, enter a busy supermarket, get on a bus, but cannot go to a large virtually-empty-for-much-of-the-time building.”
The group warned the Prime Minister of the “strength of backbench feeling” on the issue, voicing concern that the reopening of churches could be delayed by the publishing of regulations and local circumstances.
Church leaders in Northern Ireland recently described the limited reopening of churches there as a “much-needed sign of hope”.
Church buildings can now open for private prayer and drive-in services are permitted, as long as social distancing is maintained.
The Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church in Ireland welcomed the move, saying: “We appreciate the recognition in this recovery plan of the importance of the local church, and public worship, in the lives of many people.”