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It’s not just restaurants, pubs and hair salons throwing open their doors this weekend. Places of worship are also part of England’s July 4 jamboree of reopening, the biggest relaxation of lockdown since it was imposed three months ago.
Churches, gurdwaras, mosques, temples and synagogues have been allowed to open for individual or private prayer since mid-June.
But now is the first time since March that people have been able to attend public services or prayers, not to mention weddings – provided there is strict social distancing, no more than 30 guests and no big singalongs.
We spoke to three people of different faiths on how they feel about getting back to communal worship – and how lockdown has nurtured their faith. Happiness, togetherness and a sense of normality are just some of the things they crave.
‘The thing I missed most was the cups of tea’
Min Kaur, 39, a Henna artist and writer from Harlington can’t wait to return to her local gurdwara. “It’s exciting getting a chance to go again and being able to pray in an atmosphere with other people,” she tells HuffPost UK.
“Although, it’s going to be very weird social distancing because as a SIkh community we are very close to each other and give each lots of hugs.”
Despite being able to worship and see familiar faces, there are practical implications, she says – not everything will return to normal straight away.
“At gurdwara, we have an open kitchen called langar where they serve free meals to all, but that will obviously be closed,” Kaur explains. “The thing I miss the most is just having a cup of tea, a chapati and some daal, which is so different from what you’d get at home – it’s made with so much love and prayer.
“I know they’ll be serving Parshad, which is like the holy sweet food and I know that that is going to bring back that feeling of home.”
‘All of this has really strengthened my faith’
Noor Hadi, 24, an iman of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, was worried about not being able to go to mosque during lockdown.
But despite the isolation, he says the community has been kept buoyed by its leader, Caliph Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad. “
Many interesting online talks, classes and programmes were organised,” he says, “and members of our community kept engaged spiritually.”
“One of the duties as a Muslim is to help humanity and we consider that also as a form of worship,” says Hadi. ”Where our neighbours were in need, as a community we were able to fulfil that form of worship by effectively helping them in any way possible. Ultimately, all of this really strengthened my faith.”
Before mosques closed for lockdown and when they partially re-opened in June, many of the Muslim community like Hadi were already taking precautionary measures – encouraging the use of hand sanitiser, avoiding unnecessary contact and telling the most vulnerable to stay at home.
“Before every prayer as a matter of routine we wash and do ablution,” he explains. “We’ll continue doing what we did previously, but also be carrying out temperature checks and taking all measures to be extra cautious.”
‘It’s been hard not having that space to speak’
Habiba Katsha, 24, a staff writer from south London, isn’t going to be rushing back to her church any time soon. Because of its size, it’s going to remain closed for the foreseeable – plus she’s cautious about a potential second wave fo coronavirus.
“I’ve actually really enjoyed going to church at home, because my church is really far from me,” she explains. “I’d have to get the tube, which I’m still not comfortable in doing.”
But while it’s great to be able to continue prayer services and watch sermons online, it’s not the same as meeting in person, says Katsha, It lacks the human connection.
“I miss having that sense of fellowship and community,” she says. “It’s hard not having that one place to speak to others about social issues and talking directly to my pastor, especially with everything that’s been happening at the moment, like George Floyd.
“I wished I could speak to a community of people, rather than currently have 10 different conversations at the same time.”