Thinking Anglicans

Bishops reiterate their restrictions on use of church buildings – 1

Yet another letter from the bishops to all Church of England clergy has been issued today, Friday at 6.23 pm. You can read it here: 20200327 Letter from Archbishops and bishops. The full text is also copied below.

This came as an attachment to a press release, which is reproduced in the next article.

Letter from Archbishops and Diocesan Bishops of the Church of England to all clergy in the Church of England

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Stay home, protect the NHS and save lives

27 March 2020

We are writing further to you given the rapidly changing nature of the situation in our country at present. We want to thank you for the ministry you are exercising and for the creative and imaginative ways in which you are responding to the crisis and showing the love and care of Christ to the communities we serve, particularly to the most vulnerable in our society.

As we move towards Passiontide, focussing on what Jesus did for us on the cross, more than ever this is brought into stark focus.

We want to reiterate the advice we have already sent. The government is asking us to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. We call upon all our churches and church leaders, clergy and lay, to follow this advice.

We are in a time of great fearfulness. The numbers of those becoming seriously ill and dying is increasing. It therefore remains very important that our churches remain closed for public worship and private prayer. The Church of England is called to model the very best practice. We must lead by example. Staying at home and demonstrating solidarity with the rest of the country at this testing time, is, we believe, the right way of helping and ministering to our nation. Therefore, for a season, the centre for the liturgical life of the church must be the home, not the church building.

We recognise that this has its challenges. But many clergy and lay people have already started streaming and live streaming daily worship from their homes. Often they create prayer spaces or a small oratory in a room or the corner of a room. It is hugely encouraging to hear stories of how our prayers and loving actions are blessing our communities and reaching out beyond our usual congregations. Similarly it is wonderful to hear stories of innovative pastoral practice and spiritual care being undertaken in new ways. Thank you for this.

Not being able to use our church buildings is, of course, a huge loss to us all. We are aware that for many clergy it is hard not to be able to pray and worship in their church building; and for many lay people, not even being able to see worship going on in their church building is difficult. Streaming worship from home shows that we are alongside those who are having to self-isolate and those who are forgoing so many other things in their lives that they used to rely on. It also shows that we are facing up to the same restrictions as them and doing all that we can to take a lead in encouraging people to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. Moreover, to pray from and in the home may help us to show that the church is, as we all know, us, the people of God, not our buildings.

Nationally, the Church is making a growing range of digital resources available including weekly video broadcasts each Sunday; daily audio for prayer for the day and night prayer; webinars for churches; daily #LiveLent content; new mental health reflections; and apps and smart speaker skills. Lots of this content is also available in downloadable and printable formats. Explore everything available here. More will be added in the weeks and months ahead.

The BBC is also offering services on television and radio and online which people can access and we are working closely with them. This will be especially helpful for clergy who do not feel confident in streaming services themselves. No one should be under pressure to stream worship or feel guilty if they can’t.

Some of our communities do not have access to the internet. Please, therefore, do all that you can to ensure other resources are available and pastoral care is offered to all. For example, we know many places have set up telephone networks and these are crucial for keeping in touch with the vulnerable, isolated and elderly. We are endeavouring to make other resources for prayer and worship at home available, particularly for Holy Week.

The decision to close the church buildings and to prevent them being used for streaming has been a very difficult one. Some government advice suggests that we should be able to allow streaming from church buildings. Our advice, however, is that we should go the extra mile in following the clear public health advice and guidance which is to stay at home and to stay safe.

The government guidelines also continue to assert that funerals can take place in church buildings. The medical, epidemiological and public health advice we have received clearly indicates that this represents an additional layer of risk that we don’t need to take. Cleaning a church building after a funeral is much harder to do than a crematorium chapel. Furthermore, the ability of a parish priest to control the number of mourners will always be compromised by the proper instincts to care for the bereaved at the moment of a funeral. Of course, this is costly, but we believe the cost is less likely to be in human lives. Consequently, we are continuing to ask clergy to conduct funerals at the graveside or in a crematorium chapel.

We are very aware of how quickly events are changing and we will keep under review all our advice and guidance.

If Government guidance changes we will consider our own guidance. Our priority is to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. Our prayers are with you all; let us all support one another.

With every blessing,

+Justin Cantuar +Sentamu Eboracensis

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Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
5 months ago

I have to confess that this has come as something of a surprise. But, of course, the legislation enacted yesterday applies to all places of worship (and those of other denominations and religions) and not just specifically those of the C of E.

Given the date of the Archbishop’s letter, one assumes that they were aware of the legislation and have chosen to continue the Church’s more restricted policy. One notes that they state that the Church will reconsider “if Government guidance changes”.

Stevie Gamble
Stevie Gamble
5 months ago

Given that both Prime Minister and Health Secretary have been diagnosed with the corona virus, and that the Chief Medical Officer of England almost certainly has corona virus, I greatly doubt that there will be any loosening of restrictions. If they change it will be to tighten them up…

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
5 months ago
Reply to  Stevie Gamble

Yes, that thought also occurred to me. I admit that when the regulations were enacted on Wednesday, I assumed that the C of E would fall in line. I was wrong! I fear some (many) people simply aren’t taking this seriously enough. People have referred to the symptoms of those you mention (and Prince Charles) being ‘mild’, as though that somehow lessened things.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
5 months ago

It has been pointed out that the regulations were made on Thursday, not Wednesday. One of the strange things about being self-isolated is distortion of normal concept of time – every day feels like Sunday (but without church, of course), and events have unfolded so quickly.

Stevie Gamble
Stevie Gamble
5 months ago

The change to the basis for reporting fatalities has not helped; the numbers announced today show a horrendous increase, but we don’t know the figures for the last 24 hours because they won’t be announced for another 24 hours. And those figures are worse than both Italy and Spain on the upwards slope, hence the plea yet again today to save lives by staying at home. We are told by the Government that if we are really lucky and people do stay home we may get away with 20,000 deaths. Judging from the number of people apparently convinced that, in… Read more »

Anne Farthing
Anne Farthing
5 months ago

Forgive me if I am being thick, but I am still at a loss to understand from the archbishops’ latest epistle what the scientific – let alone theological – rationale is for ‘advising’ clergy against entering their churches. If they were candid with the clergy, and provided rigorous evidence to support their stance, there would, I’m sure, be considerably less resentment. As it stands, the suggestion that not entering church buildings is about going ‘the extra mile in following the clear public health advice’ is extremely opaque and not convincing. But much that comes out of Lambeth Palace is not… Read more »

Stevie Gamble
Stevie Gamble
5 months ago
Reply to  Anne Farthing

It is deeply unfortunate that at a time when people are dying of entirely preventable illness there is a small but vociferous minority who prefer to pursue conspiracy theories – in this case relating to the Church of England, but it’s one of many such theories – rather than grapple with reality. Unfortunately there appears to be no cure for this sort of narcissistic paranoia, a trait it shares with the corona virus; it is all the more unfortunate that the conspiracy theorists actively increase the number of people suffering and dying because they do not accept the moral obligation… Read more »

Bill Broadhead
Bill Broadhead
5 months ago
Reply to  Anne Farthing

Up here in Yorkshire, Anne, we call it being treated like mushrooms: they keep us in the dark… (I’m sure you can finish the rest). Of course, there is minimal health risk in a priest entering his/her church either to pray or two livestream alone. The tolling of the bell would be a powerful reminder that people are being prayed for, even if it is not safe for them to attend in person.The only people cheering this are the puritan iconoclasts who are frustrated by beautiful buildings and the idea that they can have a sacramental quality. For those of… Read more »

Tony Bellows
5 months ago
Reply to  Bill Broadhead

Strikes me as daft. If church buildings are closed to the public, a streamed service with a priest constitutes a risk to whom? We know that after at least 7 days on a surface the virus will be dead anyway, and if the church is closed to the public, it cannot get back inside, unless the priest has it, but then it is hardly a risk to him or those watching if the service is streamed? Has anyone actually thought through the logic of this? It makes no sense at all.

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