We are very grateful to the faith communities in Tower Hamlets for closing their places of worship during the lockdown period in order to protect both congregations and the wider community from the spread of coronavirus. We know how difficult the loss of collective worship within these spaces has been, especially with major religious observations such as Passover, Easter and Ramadan. We applaud the inventiveness of our faith leaders in maintaining spiritual and pastoral care throughout this time, especially in the use of online technology.
The government’s recovery plan indicates that places of worship could begin to open for individual prayer from 15 June. In Tower Hamlets it is vital that we continue to protect both members of our congregations and everyone who lives and works in the borough by preparing for reopening very carefully and taking into account our particular local situation.
The borough has experienced the fourth highest death rate in London from coronavirus. Higher death rates are known to be linked to deprivation as well as South Asian and Black ethnicity.
So we must ensure that we prepare our buildings to open with the necessary safety measures in place. This includes observing social distancing, regular thorough cleaning of areas used and protecting those who are most vulnerable. Communal activities such as washing and the sharing of sacraments might need to be altered in line with guidance from national and advisory bodies. We hope that these measures can be put in place in time but also stress the importance of remaining closed if that is not possible. We must be mindful that vulnerable groups, at least in terms of age, are likely to be a greater proportion of regular worshippers.
The Inter Faith Forum is working together with Tower Hamlets Council, Public Health England and Barts Health NHS Trust to engage with faith leaders across the borough to prepare for reopening safely. Hopefully, national bodies representing all of our faith groups will be issuing specific guidance but we are very keen to assist you if you wish.
Until that time, we would urge all faith buildings in Tower Hamlets to remain closed – even for private or individual prayer – to prevent resentment growing between different faith groups and the possibility of buildings opening without the proper measures in place. We all want to use our faith buildings to bring comfort, security and enrichment but in the current climate, the health of residents in Tower Hamlets must remain our number one priority.
Mayor John Biggs – Executive Mayor of Tower Hamlets
Cllr Sirajul Islam – Statutory Deputy Mayor and lead for Faith
Reverend Alan Green – Chair of Tower Hamlets Interfaith Forum
Dr Somen Banerjee – Director of Public Health, London Borough of Tower Hamlets