The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has urged people to return to church on Christmas Day, as coronavirus rules are relaxed over the festive period.
Places of worship can open in England in all areas from December 2, although worshippers cannot interact with anyone outside their household or “support bubble” under Tier 2 and 3 restrictions.
But for five days over the festive season, between December 23 and 27, people will be able to meet members of their Christmas “bubble” – composed of no more than three households – in places of worship.
Mr Welby said that people should not be put off physically attending worship on December 25, describing churches as “one of the safest places going at the moment”.
The archbishop told BBC’s Newsnight: “Yes of course they should go to church. Go to church online. Go to church physically.
“You’ll find that far fewer people will be there, because we’re keeping people two metres apart. Go to church, pray.
“Remember at the heart of Christmas is the gift of Jesus Christ, by God, to give us hope and life and a future. And it’s that hope that’s at the centre of Christmas.”
The archbishop added: “I will certainly be in church. That’s one of the safest places going at the moment, and it will be permitted from the end of lockdown. But there will be very few people there.
“And we will wait a bit closer to Christmas to make a final decision, but at the moment the plan is that few of us gather, that we are not too close to each other, we care for each other, we look after each other.”
Mr Welby also said people should see their relatives if they can “in a way that keeps them safe” to “tackle the really dangerous epidemic of isolation”.
He said: “If you really love people, you will see them in a way that is safe. And it is possible.”
The Catholic Church has also stressed the importance of people attending places of worship during the festive period.
Catholic Union head of public affairs, James Somerville-Meikle, said: “Allowing churches to open next month will help bring comfort and joy to people’s lives, but this will still be a hugely difficult Christmas for many people.
“For those families who are grieving, for people worried about their jobs or businesses, and those who face the prospect of being alone this Christmas, these pains will not be solved quickly or simply by opening churches again.”