On Sunday, May 24, the Telegraph posted an article that brightened my day: ‘Churches must be allowed to reopen, MPs demand in letter to PM’.

We haven’t been able to attend church since the middle of March, which is also true for other houses of worship.

I am mystified as to why the House of Commons is able to social distance adequately, with alternate benches closed and designated seating, but religious leaders cannot be trusted to do the same in their places of worship.

Fortunately, 20 Conservative MPs wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, expressing their incredulity that we can go to a supermarket but not to church (emphases mine):

Boris Johnson has been urged by a group of Conservative MPs to allow churches to open for prayer, weddings and funerals as soon as next month.

The 20 MPs, including former ministers and senior backbenchers, questioned why shoppers can go to a “busy supermarket” to buy food and drinks but worshippers in need of spiritual sustenance cannot currently pray in a largely empty church.

“Weddings (whether in the church porch or inside), christenings and other services are wanted; safely and soon”, the MPs said. “Ten can gather in a crematorium yet one cannot be in a church.”

The Government’s Covid-19 recovery strategy published earlier this month put churches and other public places of worship in the same bracket as pubs and cinemas, and said that could not reopen until July 4 at the earliest.

It added that some of these venues may not be able to open even then because “it may prove difficult to enact distancing”.

However, in a letter to the Prime Minister, a copy of which has been seen by The Telegraph, the MPs make clear that “many [of us] want further faster opening of churches and places of worship”.

They said: “We ask for clear guidance, rules removed and discretion allowed as local faith leaders stay alert and make churches, chapels and places of prayer and worship available to the faithful. Everyone understands the value of appropriate social distancing and the obligation to avoid contamination”

The letter was sent to Mr Johnson and his Parliamentary Private Secretary Andrew Bowie this weekend. It has been organised by Tory MP Sir Peter Bottomley. Other signatories include Tim Loughton and Sir Bob Neill as well as senior members of the influential backbench 1922 committee of Tory MPs such as the chairman Sir Graham Brady and executive officer Bob Blackman.

The group warned Mr Johnson that “the Cabinet and you know the strength of backbench feeling”, and expressed concern that some places of worship might not even be able to open in July.

They said: “Even that may be extended by delay in publishing regulations, decisions by diocesan bishops and local circumstances.

Quoting a representative Catholic pastor, they tell Mr Johnson: “I ask you to put pressure on the Government for private prayer as soon as possible. Two-metre social distancing is easy (easier than in a supermarket) and sensible hygiene precautions can quickly be put in place.

“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.”

They add: “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.”

That day, I heard an interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury on BBC News. He said he was more concerned about Mental Health Week at that time than reopening churches. It seemed an odd remark. Surely, church can help assuage mental health symptoms as those so afflicted can focus on faith, salvation and fellowship — especially during the coronavirus crisis:

At present, the Church of England has instructed clergy that they may go in to church to clean it — but not to pray! Daft.

The Archbishop of Canterbury films services in his kitchen:

However, the Bishop of London, the Right Revd Dame Sarah Mullally, a former nursing chief, disagrees …

… although she films sermons from her home:

Her flexible instruction, it seems, was a wise one, as some clergy were unhappy with Welby’s wholesale closure:

Bishop Mullally, who was UK’s chief nursing officer from 1999-2004, said priests could livestream services from within a church building if they could access it via an internal door from their home, or without leaving the curtilage of the church.

The Archbishop’s wholesale ban upset priests who felt he does not have the right to order clergy who are answerable to their own bishops.

One said: “He’s panicked and shut everything down,” while another vicar who used Zoom to conduct a Palm Sunday for a 90-strong congregation and will do so again on Easter Sunday, said: “The whole situation is ridiculous”.

That said, this Good Friday tweet appears to contradict that flexibility:

On Good Friday, London’s St Bartholomew the Great filmed a service with priest and choir:

Hospital chapels are another area of contention, as this letter to the Times, from St Bartholomew’s rector (shown in the above video), reveals. Click on the image to read the letter in full:

I like this priest. He’s eager — and rightly so — to have his congregation return:

This is amazing (as in awful):

That brought another set of replies from a curate and a gentleman in Montreal:

I fully agree with the ‘social service agency’ sentiment.

The discussion returned to Mr Walker and a random Twitter user. This is great. I’m so glad the priest took this man on:

Excellent reply.

Whenever church opens, I hope there will be a new market for those who have begun praying at home — and perhaps watching online services — during the past several weeks:

Plans are already underway to work out methods for reopening London’s Anglican churches whilst maintaining social distancing.