South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss contacted over continued church closures
Parishioners have expressed frustration over the continued closure of churches in West Norfolk, which is ultimately up to local leaders to make a decision on.
Of the 30 churches in the Deanery of Fincham and Feltwell, eight remain closed for regular services, with two of these planning to open by mid-October.
A spokesman for the Diocese of Ely said six churches have been unable to open at all, either due to ongoing repairs, or due to Covid safety concerns around being able to adequately meet the government guidelines.
He added: "Churches are able to reopen their doors but only where the local church leaders consider it safe for them to be able to do so, while adhering to the relevant guidelines from government and the Church of England.
"Many churches are dependant on volunteers to support church services and life events, such as funerals and weddings. In the current circumstances it is not realistic to expect all volunteers to be able to provide the level of support needed to open church buildings safely."
The Diocese has highlighted how many churches have been able to adapt to the pandemic crisis by delivering online services to reach out to new members.
South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss has been contacted by Swaffham town councillor Lindsay Beech over the continued closures of some churches in the area.
In a letter, seen by the Lynn News, Ms Truss said: "I completely understand how difficult the current situation is and how important faith is to people at this challenging time. I hope you will understand, however, that venue managers have discretion over when they consider it safe to open.
"As you can appreciate, this is a fast moving situation, and the government is regularly updating its advice and guidance."
The current government guidance on limits for communal worship should be decided on the basis of the capacity of the place of worship following a risk assessment.
From September 28, weddings must have no more than 15 people and funerals are limited to 30, not including those working.
Councillor Beech expressed frustration over church leaders having had five months to consider how to reopen their chuches safely.
She said: "Whilst I understand that venue managers have the ultimate power to decide whether their churches can open safely, I also understand that this decision is made without effective consultation with the parishioners they represent.
"Surely the venue managers have a responsibility to meet the needs of their parishioners when making these important decisions? Clearly they do not, otherwise the churches would've reopened more promptly.
"Pubs, restaurants, hairdressers and beauty salons have already reopened safely to meet the physical needs of their clients. Hospitals have remained open throughout to treat the medical needs of their patients.
"Why are the spiritual needs of the population being neglected at this time when arguably, these needs are equally or even more important?"
The Church of England website states: "Whilst government guidance has been revised to allow certain activities to take place in church buildings, it is still vital that the necessary hygiene and social distancing precautions are kept in place in order to protect the NHS and save lives."
Places of worship are exempted from the 'rule of six' government guidelines, enabling more than six people to gather for acts of communal worship.
Churches are also being told it is safe to operate nearly all forms of heating in the buildings amid ventilation fears.
No Covid-related concerns have been identified with the use of traditional hot water radiator systems, electric heating, underfloor heating and gas heaters.