Thinking Anglicans

Bishops discuss access to church buildings

Church of England press release

House of Bishops backs phased approach to revising access to church buildings

The House of Bishops met via Zoom this afternoon, as it has done regularly throughout the current pandemic, and continued to review advice to clergy on the Church’s efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus, to protect the vulnerable and health services.

In a discussion led by the Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally, who chairs a group examining how the Church of England might proceed once the current restrictions for COVID-19 are relaxed or lifted, the House of Bishops recognised that there have been some welcome signs of improvement in the current situation, including a reduction in new cases and hospital admissions giving evidence for hope.

While church buildings remain closed for public worship, in line with Government advice, the Bishops agreed in principle to a phased approach to lifting restrictions, in time and in parallel with the Government’s approach, with three broad stages as infection levels improve:

  1. An initial immediate phase allowing very limited access to church buildings for activities such as streaming of services or private prayer by clergy in their own parishes, so long as the necessary hygiene and social distancing precautions are taken
  2. Subsequently access for some rites and ceremonies when allowed by law, observing appropriate physical distancing and hygiene precautions
  3. Worship services with limited congregations meeting, when Government restrictions are eased to allow this

The Bishops agreed that the decision on the timing of when to implement the revised advice on ministers or worship leaders praying and streaming from their church buildings should be made by individual Diocesan Bishops, depending on their local situation.

The Bishops were clear once again that this is guidance – not an instruction or law – and that it will be constantly reviewed depending on the national situation.

National Church of England guidance will be updated in the coming days with further advice on how the staged process could be implemented and with factors and information for dioceses to consider.

Bishop Sarah said: “We are hugely grateful for all that our churches and clergy have been doing to support the Government’s message to stay at home, to support the NHS, and to save lives.

“While it is clear there will be no imminent return to normality, the emphasis is now turning towards how and when aspects of social distancing can be eased, although we remain mindful of the potential risks of a second wave of the virus.

“Nevertheless, it now makes sense for us to start to look ahead to the potential easing of restrictions so that our clergy and churches can be prepared.”

ENDS

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J Kirby
J Kirby
3 months ago

Finally some common sense!

Froghole
Froghole
3 months ago

Excellent, and many thanks to the House of Bishops. So there is a plan and a roadmap. However, I suspect that services will resume as normal quite late in the process (along with cinemas, theatres, bars, etc.). Presumably the guidelines will also allow for the resumption of a lockdown if the number of cases increases again.

Michael O’Sullivan
Michael O’Sullivan
3 months ago
Reply to  Froghole

Churches should not be lumped with theatres and bars. Churches are generally airy and spacious with high vaults… what’s more the congregation isn’t drunk and stumbling into each other – usually anyway.
Most churches have small congregations and those that do not have begun very successfully to ticket main services with passes freely available by telephone or internet – Cologne Cathedral being a fine example – so that social distancing may be applied and Holy Communion administered under a discreet screen for example, but with no other physical contact and no general singing.

Kate
Kate
3 months ago

The biggest point is that this is only guidance so presumably individual parishes may do as they think best, so long as they stay within the law?

Sam Jones
Sam Jones
3 months ago

There is no reference to opening churches for private prayer with appropriate social distancing. I would have thought that would come between stages 1 and 2?

Jayne Ozanne
Jayne Ozanne
3 months ago
Reply to  Sam Jones

Couldn’t agree more, Sam. We seem to be unhealthily focused on ‘ourselves’ – our services, our clergy praying….what about the rest of society who don’t want any of that, they just want a place of refuge where they can pray?

And by the way, you can easily do that without touching pews – that’s a poor excuse that is being used to justify a poor decision.

Fr John Harris-White
Fr John Harris-White
3 months ago

A step in the right direction, but failing in humanity, and an understanding of those who in death are refused the comfort for them and their family of a funeral mass/service in the church which has been their spiritual home through many, many years.
The Bishops are behaving like frightened Isaacs. Where is their spiritual courage? Sadly lacking for the whole nation to see. The Bishops with the archbishops have let the nation down, and their failure will echo down the years

Katherine Wilson
Katherine Wilson
3 months ago

I fully agree. This obviously provides the House of Bishops with an honourable exit strategy from an poorly judged, hastily made (and potentially illegal) decision that was proving divisive, among the bishops themselves as well as those of us lower down the food chain. One thing that I’ve spotted on social media – and is not yet being addressed in the C of E as far as I can see – is the issue of music. Given that many of our professional musicians in churches (and in some cathedrals) have been furloughed, some scientifically-based and strategically imaginative thought needs to… Read more »

David Richards
David Richards
3 months ago

I’m given to understand that a former chief nursing officer and a former member of the Ugandan judiciary were the episcopal driving forces behind the initial ban on clergy entering their churches. The fact that others felt unable to question their position, and the speed with which the implementation happened, suggest decapitated chickens across our episcopal residences. Dame Sarah’s undoubted distinguished career as chief nursing officer in the past does not make her the country’s leading epidemiologist; neither does the current occupant of Bishopthorpe’s obsession with appeasing the Establishment (as well as the Daily Mail) mean that he is best… Read more »

John Wallace
John Wallace
3 months ago
Reply to  David Richards

Thanks, David for your comments. I just wonder how proactive individual Diocesan Bishops will be. Who will be brave enough to go first? Really peculiar leadership strategy – closure occurs by diktat, reopening is left to individual diocesans!

Will Richards
Will Richards
3 months ago
Reply to  John Wallace

Norwich was the first out of the starting blocks – soon to be followed by a ‘clarification’ from one of his archdeacons (who is clearly wanting to wave a flag for compliance – when does the next round of vacant sees come up?) to say that clergy are still welcome to livestream from home. Nothing so far from the CDM-threatening Bishop of Rochester.

J Kirby
J Kirby
3 months ago
Reply to  David Richards

That is simply not true – Dame Sarah did not initially follow the Archbishops’ guidance. It was only later when she’d clearly been brought in for a good dressing down that she complied. None of the bishops cared that she was a former chief nursing officer when she was allowing clergy to enter their buildings alone, but as soon as they’d dragged her into line they couldn’t stop shouting it from the rooftops. She was very badly treated.

David Richards
David Richards
3 months ago
Reply to  J Kirby

I can only speak of what I know, My source is as reliable as they come – and I’ve seen documentation dating back to late March.

Angusian
Angusian
3 months ago
Reply to  David Richards

Incredibly well put! Nursing careers do not include theological training, and her concern with the NHS compares unfavourably with her lack of concern for her priests and parishes.

Anthony Archer
Anthony Archer
3 months ago
Reply to  Angusian

This is an absolutely scandalous and ignorant comment. Sarah Mullally was ordained deacon in 2001, three years before she stepped down as NHS Chief Nursing Officer. She was well able to combine her nursing career with her vocation for ministry, as she is today. I do find it objectionable that these type of comments are made by contributors to TA who won’t disclose who they are. Their comments are necessarily of little importance.

Kate
Kate
3 months ago
Reply to  Anthony Archer

“I do find it objectionable that these type of comments are made by contributors to TA who won’t disclose who they are. Their comments are necessarily of little importance.”

In what way is this different to the archbishops not identifying the advice on which their ‘guidance’ was based? Does that make the archbishops’ notes ‘of little importance’ too or are TA contributors held to a higher standard than archbishops?

Moreover, if the House of Bishops was transparent there would be no opportunity for people to make the type of comment you dislike. That’s where change is needed.

Stanley Monkhouse
3 months ago
Reply to  Kate

Spot on, Kate.

Nic
Nic
3 months ago
Reply to  Angusian

The last time I checked Bishop Sarah had an MA in Pastoral Theology. There are sadly relatively few priests, and even bishops, in the Church of England who hold a master’s degree in theology.

RWPJ
RWPJ
3 months ago
Reply to  Nic

MAs are never withdrawn or cancelled. So, no matter how recently or long ago you checked, the degree is only a snapshot of the moment she passed it. This is not a comment about the Bishop of London, just advice that there is no need to keep checking whether a person has a degree.

Bill Broadhead
Bill Broadhead
3 months ago

Just a general reflection on this situation, where there seems to be a clear emerging tension between diocesan autonomy and (what could be called) national policy, as well as the specific role of the archbishops. Without wishing to heavily personalise it, we should not be surprised that the current archbishop of Canterbury, who came to the role after a very short period of episcopal ministry, and as someone who sat rather light to the institution of the Church of England during his previous ministry, does not seem to realise how – and why – his conduct has been interpreted as… Read more »

T Pott
T Pott
3 months ago

There is an episode in the American TV series The Waltons in which an old lady’s grand-daughter, a nurse, mis-diagnosed her grandmother. This led to her symptoms getting worse. The nurse tried to brush it off, saying everyone makes a wrong diagnosis sometimes. But the doctor says that isn’t the point. Any diagnosis from her was wrong. In the same way, any decision by bishops on what is a medical emergency is wrong. It should be left to the government experts to decide when and how churches can open, and to the clergy to fulfill their obligatory duty to lead… Read more »

Just sayin'
Just sayin'
3 months ago

‘The Bishops were clear once again that this is guidance – not an instruction or law – and that it will be constantly reviewed depending on the national situation.’ The Bishops may have been clear this is guidance but that is certainly not how information has been delivered in my diocese. Was + Rochester ‘clear’ when disciplinary proceedings were threatened for non-compliance? I am well aware of my rights and responsibilities as an incumbent but did not think this an appropriate time to argue the toss when there were so many more serious matters to attend to. Now the process… Read more »

Malcolm Dixon
Malcolm Dixon
3 months ago
Reply to  Just sayin'

Quite right, Just Sayin’. It is breathtaking cheek, if not pure dissembling, to claim that the bishops have ‘once again’ been clear that this is just guidance. The original statement was so clearly NOT guidance that my own diocesan chose to promulgate it with a threat of disciplinary action if it was not followed. The ABC’s subsequent climbing down when challenged on the Andrew Marr show was craven and shameful. One has, sadly, come to expect this of politicians but we should be able to expect better of the ABC.

Susannah Clark
3 months ago
Reply to  Just sayin'

Yes, I think there has been a little re-writing of history. Advisory: I personally agreed with Justin’s approach to the exile from churches, on the grounds of solidarity with everyone else. That said, I really don’t like obfuscation, because it is an enemy of the truth, and it is disingenuous to claim the restrictions detailed by the Archbishops were just guidance, not an instruction: ‘The Bishops were clear once again that this is guidance – not an instruction or law.’ It’s true, the phrase ‘our advice and guidance’ was used within some of the messages to clergy. But the restrictions… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
Pat O'Neill
3 months ago

I really don’t understand the concern about singing. Here in the US, I have not heard any reputable medical source suggest that the breathing required for singing (at a proper social distance) is any more apt to spread the virus than normal speaking. Is there some citation available for this?

T Pott
T Pott
3 months ago

In what sense is the Initial Immediate Phase immediate?

Did they all agree to do it immediately, and then someone said obviously we won’t do it straight away. We’ll do it immeditely but not now. The theology of Now and Not Yet.

If I tell someone I’ll do something immediately and don’t I now have the perfect excuse. I didn’t mean immediately now, I meant immediately I get round to it.

Michael Mulhern
Michael Mulhern
3 months ago

From conversations I’ve had, it’s clear that the lack of transparency, an unwillingness/inability to have a reasonable conversation around the theological/ecclesiological issues, and the authoritarian preparedness to exceed legal and canonical power is what made this ‘guidance’ suck – regardless of whether people saw the ‘exilic’ point of it or not. Justin Welby went to the same school as Boris Johnson. Clearly, developing skills in semantic circumlocution was part of the syllabus. This unedifying episode has done much to erode the ‘soul’ of the CofE in the public mind; but it has also eroded trust between the leaders (to use… Read more »

Stanley Monkhouse
3 months ago

“Clearly, developing skills in semantic circumlocution was part of the syllabus” wrote Mr Mulhern. When is a command not a command? When are we in solidarity with the public and when are we not? When are clergy to be disciplined for not obeying uncanonical and illegal Episcopal fiats, and when are they not? (How can the bishop of Rochester hold up his head?). It’s a farce. It puts me in mind of Sir Humphrey’s “the precise correlation between the information you communicated and the facts, insofar as they can be determined and demonstrated, is such as to cause epistemological problems,… Read more »

Pete Broadbent
Pete Broadbent
3 months ago

Let’s be quite clear. The London College of Bishops, including Bishop Sarah, were unanimously against the original advice. We issued a letter permitting clergy to pray in their churches. I know, cos I drafted it. We only capitulated to the Diocesan Bishops’ illogical decision under protest. Bishop Sarah has consistently argued for our position – and now we have managed to get back to where we should have been. We now need to move on and rebuild trust, which has been badly affected by the way this all took place.

Susannah Clark
3 months ago
Reply to  Pete Broadbent

Thank you for clearing that up. At least somebody has the guts to be open about this.

Charles Clapham
3 months ago
Reply to  Pete Broadbent

Thank you, +Pete. Both your views and clarity on this much appreciated.

Nic
Nic
3 months ago
Reply to  Pete Broadbent

Very good to have the truth, Pete. Which is entirely logical, because the guidance for London shifted after the adverse publicity in national newspapers pointing to it being at variance with the archbishops’ guidance. Even with your direct intervention, I suspect there will be people on here who still think they know better!

David Runcorn
David Runcorn
3 months ago
Reply to  Pete Broadbent

Thanks +Pete. I assume that the ‘illogical decision’ was a democratic vote?

Pete Broadbent
Pete Broadbent
3 months ago
Reply to  David Runcorn

No idea. Unlikely, since the Diocesans are not a legislative body, and their meeting had no legal standing.

Oliver Harrison
Oliver Harrison
3 months ago

Now clergy are “allowed” to re-enter their own churches (thank-you so much Bishops), the powers that be have issued some frankly hilarious advice to Vicars, including this gem: “Ensure you close any windows and lock the church when you leave.” Well, thanks for that. Who knew?

T Pott
T Pott
3 months ago

Perhaps locking the church is highlighted because the bishops see it as liturgical, or even sacramental. An outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual disgrace.

Stanley Monkhouse
3 months ago

The document was written by the ghost of Joyce Grenfell but without her gift of humour: “when we have paid a visit to the littlest room, what do we do? We pull our knickers up again.” Just think of the pen pushers employed to write stuff like this. What intellects! What imagination! What sensitivity! Presumably some are in Church House, some in Diocesan Offices. When the financial ordure hits the fan and jobs have to be slashed, will it be such apparatchiks that get the chop, or will it be parish clergy? Ooh, that’s a hard one.

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