Yesterday the City Mayor and the Director of Public Health wrote to all Religion & Belief Communities asking them to voluntarily stay closed for ‘the next few weeks’ as Leicester still has the 2nd highest infection rate in the country and in spite of huge efforts numbers do not seem to go down sufficiently. The Bishop has written today to all clergy recommending to think very seriously about this request and to make responsible decisions.
Hence the churchwarden and I agreed to continue to suspend public worship for the time being and to review this decision in two weeks time. At this stage I very much hope that we will be able to worship together in Holy Week and Easter Week and I am making plans to do so – but will wait with announcing times and dates until the middle of the month, hoping that greater clarity will emerge.
I am aware that this decision is controversial and distressing for many, but I seriously hope that things are developing in a positive way with the success of the vaccination program.
You may remember that Prof. Browne and I wrote to you earlier in the year, at a crucial time in our fight against COVID, appealing for all faith communities to come together and voluntarily pause all worship and other face to face activities.
At the time of writing we were faced by the prospect once again of our NHS services becoming overwhelmed and, sadly, the very realistic likelihood that many more people would lose their lives as we continued to do everything possible to limit contact with others and to identify, isolate and treat those in need. Since then, like elsewhere in the country, we’ve certainly made great strides in our efforts to loosen the hold of the virus over our city and as a result have seen lower levels of infection and hospitalisation and death rates fall.
I’m thankful to those places of worship of all faiths and denominations who responded so quickly to move prayer and worship related activities away from face to face provision. We certainly recognise how difficult that decision must have been, particularly because of the hugely important role religion and belief plays in the everyday lives of many of our residents.
Currently, our immediate focus still very much revolves around doing everything possible to protect the health and wellbeing of all Leicester residents. And though we’ve certainly seen a positive reduction in infection rates in Leicester, those reductions have plateaued recently and despite the huge efforts of all those involved in the continuing test, trace and vaccination activities.
We’re at a crucial moment. Cases continue to fall faster elsewhere in the country and levels of vaccine uptake remain lower in certain areas of the Leicester than we need them to be in order to exit the national lockdown arrangements as they are currently proposed. At the time of writing this email, much is being made of Leicester being an area of the country with one of the highest infection rates! All the evidence we have so far tells us that the most effective ways of reducing levels of infection in the city are to do everything possible reduce social contact and to vaccinate our communities at scale and at pace.
That in mind, we’re calling for your assistance once again as, together, we ask that all places of worship remain voluntarily closed for the next few weeks as we progress through the lockdown roadmap and work together to promote and encourage all of our communities to take up the offer of a vaccination when it comes.
Many of us will be looking forward to marking faith events and celebrations in the coming weeks that we were unable to take part in last year. It will be a bitterly disappointing time for us again if we were subject to any further lockdown restrictions because we haven’t quite yet managed what others areas of the country have. In order to avoid that, we must remain focused on keeping social contact to an absolute minimum and doing everything possible to encourage friends, family members and other people that we come in regular contact with to take up the vaccine when it they are offered it.
Prof. Ivan Browne Sir Peter Soulsby
Director of Public Health, Leicester City Council City Mayor, Leicester City Council