CHURCH leaders have raised concerns that new lockdown restrictions prevent parishioners from worshipping at their venue of choice.
The fears come after new local lockdown measures – implemented in Conwy and Denbighshire – prevent people from entering or leaving their local authority area without a reasonable excuse.
Crossing county borders to attend a place of worship is not deemed ‘a reasonable excuse’, meaning many will not be able to travel to their preferred religious building – which may act as a source of solace and comfort – or see fellow members from distance.
Revd Canon Quentin Bellamy, vicar at St John’s Church in Old Colwyn, said: “We are concerned that, under the current guidelines, church members are being prevented from joining worship in their usual place of worship.
“From the first lockdown many of our number became familiar with the hitherto unheard of software Zoom, and as we got used to attending virtual church, the experience was much appreciated – and even fun – although we all hoped that it would not be too long before we would be back in our church buildings.
St John’s, Old Colwyn safety measures
“For many people, church is a lifeline; not only the worship, but the fellowship and friendship it offers.
“So it is a cause of great sadness when faithful church members are suddenly told that because they live outside the area they are not allowed to attend their church. Often these people have attended their church for many years and it has been a great source of solace and comfort both in the good times and the bad.
“We do indeed have quite a number of people in our local congregations who this ruling has affected.
“It should be noted that for the most part church members take the safety issues such as social distancing, safeguarding, hand sanitizing and more incredibly seriously.
“Most of our members have been in lockdown or shielding and they are all concerned for the comfort and well-being of their fellow church members and other visitors to the church.”
St John’s, Old Colwyn safety measures
Revd Sam Erlandson, new Aberconwy Mission Area Leader and new vicar of St Hilary’s in Llanrhos, said: “Whilst this dreaded virus is still prevalent, it is crucial that we do all we can to protect ourselves and others. However, we must not also forget the natural human need for fellowship and companionship.
“Often this need is deepest felt in communities where we share an historic connection, communities where we share a connection of like-mindedness, and even convictions or beliefs.
“Being cut off from one these communities can have devastating effects on our day to day wellbeing.
“Even though places of worship are now open for public worship, it is still negatively affecting many worshippers that we are still not allowed to sing, even though research is showing little risk in doing so.
“Travelling from county to county is allowed for something like work. This is because places of employment will be regulation bound to set procedures which will protect people.
“The church, however, is also a national organisation which has representatives in dialogue with government, and which will set out government approved regulations to keep worshippers safe.
“Therefore, crossing county boundaries to worship, will not be as high a risk as crossing boundaries to attend a friend’s barbecue or a climb up a mountain.”
Darren Millar, MS for Clwyd West, fears the restrictions will affect people of faith in a significant way and is urging Vaughan Gething, Wales’ health minister, to review the new rules.
He said: “As I understand it, it’s not considered to be a reasonable excuse to travel beyond your local authority border to attend a place of worship of your choice. Now, there are many people in North Wales who travel across their county borders in order to access services in churches, chapels, mosques, synagogues and temples of their faith or denomination.
“This is not something that I believe is acceptable, and I would urge the, health minister to look at this again.”
Mr Millar said the health minister had been ‘very considerate’ of faith communities throughout this lockdown, but stressed spiritual well-being is just as important as mental health and physical well-being.
A spokesperson from the Welsh Government said: “Local restrictions have been introduced in four local authority areas of North Wales to protect people’s health and control a rising number of cases of coronavirus. They include restrictions on travel into and out of the local authority areas, unless someone has a reasonable excuse.
“The local restrictions are kept under review and we continue to work closely with faith communities.
“We all have a part to play in reducing the spread of the virus and it’s important we all continue to follow the guidelines to protect our health and help bring the virus under control.”