Methodists follow suit, with mosques advised to stop congregational activity
The Church of England has suspended all services until further notice, saying it must become “a different sort of church in these coming months”.
However, weddings and funerals may still go ahead, a spokesperson said. The Methodist church also suspended services from Tuesday.
In a joint letter to parishes, the archbishops of Canterbury and York said the coronavirus pandemic was a defining moment for the C of E. They said: “Are we truly a church for all, or just the church for ourselves?”
The church must now be “rooted in prayer and serving others”, Justin Welby and John Sentamu said.
The letter said, where practical, churches could remain open as places of prayer for the community, but social-distancing recommendations must be observed. If possible, services should be conducted by clergy and live-streamed.
The archbishops said congregations should still be at the forefront of providing practical care and support for the poor and vulnerable during the crisis.
They wrote: “Our life is going to be less characterised by attendance at church on Sunday, and more characterised by the prayer and service we offer each day … Please do carry on supporting the local food bank and buy extra provisions for it.
“Ensure the night shelters wherever possible are kept open. There are many very encouraging schemes happening right across our country in communities to focus on caring for the most vulnerable and do continue to play your part in those.”
The Church of Scotland cancelled its 2020 general assembly, which was scheduled to take place in Edinburgh in May. Almost 1,000 people were expected at the event, and the Duke of Cambridge was to attend as the Queen’s representative.
A spokesperson said the church was considering whether to suspend services, with an announcement expected shortly.
Quakers have decided to continue to meet for worship until advised not to but will refrain from physical contact.
Paul Parker of Quakers in Britain said: “Quakers usually shake hands at the end of their meetings for worship, as an expression of unity. But the act of shaking hands itself is not a core part of Quaker faith and there are many other ways Quakers can share this greeting.”
He said many meetings were experimenting with online silent worship: “In extraordinary circumstances, we’ll do our best to become a virtual worshipping community.”
The Methodist church said services would be suspended, baptisms would not take place in public worship, and those planning weddings should consult their minister.
“While funerals may still take place, we would advise that the number of people attending is limited as per the government’s advice,” it said in guidance issued on Tuesday.
The Catholic church in England and Wales has not suspended services but has introduced a series of measures to reduce infection including: advising against physical contact between priests and members of the congregation when giving communion; suspending the sign of the peace; removing holy water stoups; banning veneration of relics and the cross on Good Friday by kissing or physically touching them; no longer sharing hymn books and missals; and advising elderly and vulnerable parishioners to stay away from large parish gatherings.
After consulting Islamic scholars, the Muslim Council of Britain has advised mosques in the UK to suspend all congregational activity, including Friday prayers.
It said: “The obligation for Friday prayers is very important to Muslims up and down the country. Given the overwhelming majority of Muslims identify with their local mosque, its centrality to communal activities should not be understated. The choice therefore to suspend all congregational activities, is not one that has been taken lightly.”
Some gurdwaras have cancelled Nagar Kirtans, the Sikh religious processions that are a key part of Vaisakhi celebrations next month, and usually attract thousands.
Most synagogues in the UK have not suspended services but are following guidance about physical contact and hygiene.
Rabbi Jonathan Romain of Maidenhead synagogue said: “It is a really tough call. My heart tells me to keep services going for those who wish to attend and for whom both the religious and social experience is very important. My head tells me to cancel services in those people’s own health interest and to think of what is best for them medically, even if they do not. Sadly, I know my head will win over.”