Leaders of Wales’ faith communities are urging worshippers to reflect particularly carefully on how they gather for services during Christmas and the New Year.

While places of worship can open for services in Level Four of lockdown, members of the Interfaith Council for Wales are calling for caution and for people’s safety to be the priority in response to the rapidly changing situation around the transmission of Covid-19.

Since the beginning of the pandemic Wales’ faith communities have worked closely together, deepening bonds of friendship. They have remained in regular contact with Welsh Government, seeking always to protect lives and to ensure the safety of the public. That remains the case as Christmas approaches and worshippers from a diversity of faiths reflect on the significance of a major Christian festival.

Kate McColgan, Chair of the Interfaith Council for Wales, said, “Given the rapidly changing circumstances it’s vital that we reflect on our own wellbeing as worshippers and the safety of others we may come into contact with.”

The Archbishop of Wales, John Davies, said, “The true meaning of Christmas is about putting other people first, showing them love and compassion. It is in this spirit that I urge those holding services and those attending to be thoughtful and considerate and to be sensible, rather than sentimental. The welfare and safety of all must be our priority.”

The Reverend Gethin Rhys, of Cytûn: Churches Together in Wales highlighted the importance of conducting risk assessments. He said, “Welsh Government would remind us that the health situation in Wales is currently very serious, and all risk assessments should begin by asking the question: Given the inherent risks involved do I need to engage in this activity at all? Are there safer alternatives such as broadcast?”

Siân Rees, Director of Evangelical Alliance, Wales underlined the importance of adhering to procedures such as social distancing, hand sanitising and refraining from congregational singing.  She said, “Gathering for corporate worship is an important component of Christian life, perhaps more so at Christmas. Churches also provide essential support networks for those with spiritual, mental health or practical needs. We fully acknowledge the seriousness of this pandemic and the duty of care churches have to ensure that congregants are kept safe.”

Speaking for the Muslim Council of Wales Dr Abdul-Azim Ahmed said, “Places of worship are among the safest places in Wales during the pandemic, we are glad the Welsh Government has recognised this and allowed them to remain open. It’s vital worshippers take special care to attend only when absolutely safe to do so. Careless attendance may harm many others.”

In response to the Interfaith Council’s statement, Jane Hutt, Deputy First Minister and Chief Whip said:

“I have worked closely with faith leaders and groups throughout the pandemic. Faith plays an essential part in many people’s lives, and I recognise how important communal worship is for faith communities.

“In all of my many meetings with faith leaders across Wales this year, and in all of my interactions with those of faith, I have been impressed by their incredible efforts to keep places of worship safe for communal worship. I am also aware of the important work they have been doing in their own local communities, supporting and reaching out to those in need during this difficult and uncertain time, and exemplifying more than ever the best of who they are.

“I know that the restrictions on communal worship continue to be difficult for many congregations, but that does not mean that those of faith have stepped back – indeed it has been quite the opposite.”

Kate McColgan, Chair of the Interfaith Council for Wales