Affinity Director's letter to the government minister for Faith and Communities

Affinity's Director, Graham Nicholls, has today sent a letter to Lord Greenhalgh (pictured above) who, among other responsibilities, is the government minister responsible for regulations regarding churches meeting in the post-lockdown period. Graham has written to ask him to consider relaxing these laws as they currently stand. 

The full text of the letter is available to read below. Please pray for all concerned in this matter, that a wise and appropriate way forward can be found that both respects the needs of people to be free to worship together, and also seeks to do so safely and in accordance with best practice. 

Dear Lord Greenhalgh

My name is Graham Nicholls. I am the Director of Affinity, a network of about 1,200 churches and Christian agencies across the UK. I am also a Pastor of Christ Church Haywards Heath in West Sussex.

Further to our earlier correspondence, most recently my email of 15 August, I want to continue to assure you that our members are taking great care to follow the government guidance for places of worship and as good citizens we will continue to do so. We are grateful for being allowed to meet physically since July.

However, I want to again make you aware that it is increasingly difficult to maintain support for some of these measures and it is severely curtailing our ability to meet together as whole churches.

In particular, the recent imposition of regulations regarding face coverings is hard to bear, given the careful steps we have all already taken to ensure hygiene protocols and two-metre social distancing. Having become used to these restrictions, it is demoralising to now have to also wear masks, especially as it is an unpleasant experience for the duration of a church service, and as you know, the efficacy of face coverings is unproven.

It is also difficult to continue to support the two-metre distancing limitations, given the low rates of infections, hospital admissions and deaths, which are statistically negligible at present. We also note that there are moves afoot to allow theatres and sporting venues to admit crowds in much less controlled settings.

As always in public life, government by consent is best. This is true in churches too. For that to work, people need to be convinced of the reasonableness of what they are being asked to do.

We would therefore again respectfully ask that you consider the following measures:

  • Relax the guidance/law on face coverings so that, at most, they are mandated only for entry and exit, not for when people are seated.
  • As soon as reasonably possible, but certainly by October, allow flexibility on social distancing by either removing it completely, or allowing for one metre only in churches if masks are worn.
  • Allow representation on the faith groups task force from Affinity which represents a large group of churches accounting for around 20,000 people across our congregations. Some of our members from independent churches do not feel they have a voice in these discussions.

As mentioned previously, we do not want to be reckless and take unnecessary risks, but we do place a high priority on people’s spiritual wellbeing and good mental health. Church pastoral care and community life also play an important role in this. Attending a Christian place of worship is not a leisure activity, nor can church buildings be placed on a par with entertainment venues when it comes to prioritising a return to some semblance of normality.

I look forward to your reply and assure you of our prayers for you and the government at this difficult time.

Kind regards

Graham Nicholls
Director of Affinity

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