Cathedrals across England suspend public worship as Covid cases remain high

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Cathedrals across England are voluntarily closing their doors as tens of thousands of people continue to be diagnosed with Covid every day.

Places of worship in England have been permitted to remain open during the third national lockdown but St Paul's, Southwark and Chelmsford Cathedrals all suspended in-person services after the Mayor of London declared a 'major incident' in the capital over the weekend. 

St Paul's and Southwark have closed completely, while Chelsmford Cathedral is remaining open for a limited period for private prayer and reflection. 

Ely, Rochester and Salisbury have also taken the decision to close completely to visitors and have instead moved their services online. 

"While this is disappointing, we feel we must act responsibly in order to mitigate all opportunities for the virus to spread," said Dean of Ely, Mark Bonney. 

Christ Church Oxford, Lincoln, Lichfield, Truro, Wakefield, Hereford, Derby, Blackburn, Liverpool, Norwich, Birmingham and Peterborough have all suspended public worship but remain open for private prayer and reflection at limited times and days through the week.

The crypt of Blackburn, formerly an event space with a cafe, is to open as a vaccination centre on 18 January. 

The Dean of Blackburn Cathedral, Very Rev Peter Howell-Jones, said: "This has been a difficult decision to come to, but in the interests of public health, responsible leadership and a determination to work together to see the suppression of the Covid pandemic, I hope people understand our need as a community of faith to act at this moment in time.

"We are proud to be able to walk alongside our community in these challenging times and look forward with hope to being at the centre of the fight against this pandemic when our crypt opens as a vaccination clinic in the coming days."

The Very Rev Adrian Dorber, Dean of Lichfield and Chair of the Association of English Cathedrals, said it was critical that people stay at home. 

"We have grown increasingly concerned about the rising infection rates in our country and wish to support the stay at home message which is so critical to controlling the virus," he said. 

"We are at a unique point in our fight against this pandemic, there is hope in the new vaccines that have become available to us, and we need to tighten our resolve now more than ever to keep each other safe and protect the NHS.

"There will be time again for us to meet, give thanks, to remember, and to grieve, but for now we need to do all we can to protect each other and protect all our front line workers in the NHS, social care and education.

"Cathedrals and churches will be keeping daily patterns of prayer going. They will be at the heart of local initiatives to serve and meet need, including supporting local vaccine clinics.

"And they stand, as they always have done, as silent but permanent signs of God's presence alongside us."