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Covid-19: Lockdown rules divide opinion at Norwich places of worship

By Kate Scotter
BBC News, East

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image copyrightCathedral of St John the Baptist
image captionCathedral of St John the Baptist in Norwich remains open for mass

Norwich is famed for its churches - and was said to have one for every week of the year. But whether or not they should be open for public services during England's current lockdown, along with other places of worship, has divided opinion. Why?

'We need to heed the message to stay at home'

image copyrightBill Smith/Norwich Cathedral
image captionThe Dean of Norwich says they decided to suspend services with a "heavy heart"

Under the government legislation, places of worship are able to remain open for services during England's current lockdown.

But Norwich Cathedral has decided to suspend public worship and move its services online from Wednesday.

The Dean of Norwich, the Very Reverend Jane Hedges, says the decision was made with a "heavy heart".

But she says with regard to the coronavirus pandemic, it is "important to reinforce the message that people should stay at home".

The cathedral says its "virtual doors" remain open online to both worshippers and visitors alike via its the website and social media.

image copyrightChris Taylor Photo
image captionNorwich Cathedral says its "virtual doors" remain open while services are suspended

The Sunday Eucharist will be live-streamed every week on the cathedral's YouTube channel and full details of how people can participate in daily worship at home are available on the cathedral's website.

In line with government guidance, the Norman building remains open daily for individual prayer.

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Dean Hedges says: "We all need to look out for each other at this time and to heed the message to stay at home as much as possible."

She says they will resume public services "as soon as we can".

"While we may not be able to gather for public worship or welcome general visitors at this time, we hope the cathedral's digital worship and online events will be of help and comfort to people at this difficult time for everyone," she adds.

The cathedral's organists will play weekly online organ recitals throughout the lockdown.

'We need to play our part'

image copyrightSirajul Islam
image captionSirajul Islam said the mosque remained open for private prayer

Norwich Central Mosque has decided to suspend its communal worship, usually attended by about 95 people on Fridays.

Secretary Sirajul Islam says: "We have reviewed the situation with everything that's going on and we should play our part to not allow a big gathering and not spread the virus.

"We will being doing another review in two weeks."

image copyrightNorwich Central Mosque
image captionNorwich Central Mosque is reviewing the situation on a fortnightly basis

He says the mosque, on Aylsham Road, is still open for private prayer, which he says is needed to offer people "relief" and a place to go for those who are isolated.

"We need to pray in this time of the pandemic," he adds.

'It's a place for comfort and solace'

image copyrightDiocese of East Anglia
image captionCathedral of St John the Baptist is the second largest Roman Catholic cathedral in the country

Meanwhile, Norwich's Roman Catholic cathedral, St John the Baptist, remains open for 17 masses a week.

It is the second largest Roman Catholic cathedral in the country, behind Westminster Cathedral, and says it has the space for people to remain socially distanced.

Cathedral coordinator Daniel Justin says while they would normally welcome 1,200 people across all of five of Sunday masses, they are currently limited to 170 per service.

He says they are seeing about 50 to 70 people per mass, which is "like a postage stamp in this building".

Mr Justin says: "As long as we can maintain our plans to ensure our place of worship is safe, we must keep our church open for mass and private prayer.

"It really is a place where people can come for comfort and solace."

He says parishioners must wear masks, wipe down their benches before they leave and sanitise their hands, and the Unthank Road cathedral is cleaned after each service.

They have encouraged people to attend the various masses across the week, rather than fill up the Sunday service, and they also stream their services live online, he adds.

What are the rules?

In the areas of the UK where communal worship is allowed, a number of common measures are in place:

  • Services should be carried out in the shortest possible time - to ensure safety and minimise infection spread
  • Worshippers should keep a 2m (6ft) distance from anyone not from their own household or support bubble
  • People must not mingle with anyone not in their own household or support bubble, and should be "encouraged to move on promptly" afterwards
  • If shoes are removed before a service, people should avoid touching other people's
  • There should be no shared items such as prayer mats, service sheets, religious texts or hymn books - worshippers should bring their own and then take them home
  • If people can't bring their own books, places of worship can offer a selection for individuals to use - these should be quarantined for 48 hours before and after use
  • Those giving and receiving food and drink in a service will have to observe strict precautions
  • Spoken responses from worshippers should be uttered softly and communal singing avoided to reduce the risk of transmission
  • If singing is an essential part of the service, and a recording can't be played, only one person should sing - preferably behind a screen, or facing away from worshippers

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