Thinking Anglicans

Closing churches now codified in Government regulations

Updated Friday morning

The. government restrictions relating to church buildings have now been published in a Statutory Instrument: The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020.  (PDF version here.)

The relevant paragraphs are copied below. This wording supersedes earlier government notices.

Further restrictions and closures during the emergency period

…(5) A person who is responsible for a place of worship must ensure that, during the emergency period, the place of worship is closed, except for uses permitted in paragraph (6).

(6) A place of worship may be used–

  1. (a)  for funerals,
  2. (b)  to broadcast an act of worship, whether over the internet or as part of a radio or television broadcast, or
  3. (c)  to provide essential voluntary services or urgent public support services (including the provision of food banks or other support for the homeless or vulnerable people, blood donation sessions or support in an emergency)…

Restrictions on movement

6.–(1) During the emergency period, no person may leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse.
(2) For the purposes of paragraph (1), a reasonable excuse includes the need…

….(k)  in the case of a minister of religion or worship leader, to go to their place of worship;…

—–

The position of most but not all of the Church of England diocesan bishops remains more restrictive (example here), in particular no funerals are allowed in church buildings, and broadcasting is forbidden from inside church buildings. But there are exceptions:

The Church Times reports the London diocese position:

…On Tuesday evening, the College of Bishops for the London diocese wrote to clergy stating that they understood “the need for a consistent approach to all worship and occasional offices”.

They write, none the less, that “where the church is accessible by an internal door from the clergy home, or can be accessed from the clergy home without leaving the curtilage of the church, we will encourage those — and only those — clergy to pray in their churches privately and to consider whether they could live stream their services from within the church building.”

The Bishop of Chichester yesterday issued this Ad Clerum which says:

…Many clergy have asked about whether they are forbidden to enter their churches. It is vital that we model best practice in terms of public safety, protecting the limited resources of the NHS, and attention to the care of the most vulnerable to infection. Nothing we do should compromise these concerns or the regulation of them by Government instruction.

If you can ensure that these requirements are met, and you still decide to go into church to pray and celebrate the Eucharist, I would respect your decision on the basis that it is made in conscience and informed by legitimate pastoral, spiritual, missional and legal considerations. Thank you to all who streamed services and messages last Sunday. Any service must clearly be solo-streamed or you should explain that it is being done with the aid of a person who lives in your home…

The Church Times editorial view supports a change:

…Thus the Archbishops’ letter on Tuesday, enforcing the shutting of all churches, must be broadly welcomed. When parks and outdoor areas are being closed or carefully policed, it is clearly wise to shut buildings to which many vulnerable people repair. We say “broadly”. Many priests can reach their churches without the risk of encountering other people. Some, indeed, are as close to their churches as are the Archbishops to their chapels at Lambeth and Bishopthorpe. The Archbishops give no reason for deviating from the advice of the London bishops on Sunday — that clergy who live “adjacent to their churches” may continue to enter, pray, and celebrate — other than that clergy must “take a lead in showing our communities how we must behave”.

Theologically, of course, the eucharist can be offered anywhere; but it is more than a symbolic act to offer the sacrament on behalf of the parish in the place where their prayers have been gathered. If commercial managers are being trusted to keep their key staff safe in the workplace, priests can decide whether they can enter a church safely. It would signal that the eucharist, and the church, fall into the category of key activities, alongside the shopping and the exercise that the Archbishops mention. We urge them to reconsider this aspect of their advice…

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
15 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Father Ron Smith
5 months ago

Yet again, Folks, we are reminded of our human fragility in a time of both national and international peril. We need to obey the respective civil authorities (Scriptural) with the hope that our spiritual leaders will fall into line. A sad reflection on this is the way that the U.S. President is still advising Christians to fill their Churches – in the mistaken belief that Christians do not have to act in concert with those of our society who have the knowledge and skills to do and advise what is the very best for the common good in the prevailing… Read more »

ACI
ACI
5 months ago

“…the U.S. President is still advising Christians to fill their Churches.”

Perhaps there is a problem with NZ news reports.

Kate
Kate
5 months ago

I am delighted to see both the Chichester Ad Clerum and the Church Times editorial. Both offer a balance between our obligations to God and our obligations to the community. Quite where that balance should lie will vary over time and according to circumstances and is a reasonable topic for debate. I don’t think any bishop should be criticised for how they feel that balance should be struck in their diocese provided they do try to strike a balance between the two unlike the archbishops who seem to have forgotten our obligations to God.

Alison Baker
Alison Baker
5 months ago

As an American Episcopalian living in Paris, who flits between the American cathedral and one of the Diocese in Europe chaplaincies, it is very instructive to read about the total closure of churches in the UK and what sounds like the bizarre prohibition on clergy entering their churches. Here in France, the government has been far more decisive: both in initiating a total lock-down 10 days before the UK government even began to introduce any restrictive measures; and in the uncompromising enforcement of them. President Macron has spoken of the country being ‘at war’ – and it certainly feels like… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
5 months ago
Reply to  Alison Baker

The answers to your questions are set out in Simon Sarmiento’s above summary of yesterday’s legislation (which applies only to England). This is a situation where the church (and other places of worship) must now comply with the law. For the duration of the emergency places of worship are closed except for the three purposes listed. A minister of religion or worship leader is permitted to go to their place of worship, it being implied that they will do so responsibly. It is wholly inappropriate to level these personal criticisms at the Archbishop of Canterbury. Over the last week, or… Read more »

Michael Mulhern
Michael Mulhern
5 months ago

It may be the Law, Roland, but I think Alison asks a legitimate question, especially when England (in particular) has been out of step with the rest of Europe, despite receiving the same scientific advice. Just look at the fiasco over ventilators and the obfuscation surrounding it. Clearly, not all bishops are singing from the Lambeth hymn-sheet – and that is legitimate, too.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
5 months ago

We are mixing two separate and different issues. I fully accept that I mistakenly assumed that the Church of England would follow the terms of the regulations enacted yesterday – it hasn’t. Please see today’s two new threads “Bishops reiterate their prohibition on church buildings”. The Archbishops’ further letter does say that the Church will reconsider in the light of any further Government guidance. As it happens, I agree with Alison Baker that the UK Government dragged its feet and should have taken earlier and more decisive action, but that is a personal opinion. The delay and the problem of… Read more »

ACI
ACI
5 months ago
Reply to  Alison Baker

Good summary of the situation in France. Thank you.

Will Richards
Will Richards
5 months ago
Reply to  ACI

Rowland Wateridge seems to forget that, when the archiepiscopal big footing happened, last Monday, it was not ‘the law.’ Furthermore, the archbishops initiated their big footing of other bishops’ dioceses without any explanation, scientific rationale or – more significantly – theological underpinning. Thankfully, we have a theologian and pastor in Bishop Martin Warner. Now the archbishops are playing catch-up by resorting to ecclesial bullying masquerading as explanation. If I were a priest in the Diocese of Chichester, I would be following only the legal and canonical restrictions I am required to follow: whatever my bishop determines. I agree, Alison Baker’s… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
5 months ago
Reply to  Will Richards

There really is no justification for the discourtesy in some of these responses. I have forgotten nothing! I am one of the over-70s (78 and two underlying chronic medical conditions) who self-isolated in response to the first Government warning. Since then, both the Government and the Church have changed their advice several times. On Wednesday the Government enacted regulations which aren’t optional. They are the law of the land for the duration of the emergency. That you, and others here, feel that you are able to substitute your personal opinions and wishes for decisions which were taken in the interests… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
5 months ago

A very brief correction: The regulations were made and came into force on Thursday, not Wednesday.

Susannah Clark
5 months ago

Can we focus on tending the desperately sick, and supporting the elderly and vulnerable who are stranded in their homes, unable to venture out? Can we hear about local churches and how they are supporting their communities? (That would be SO encouraging.) Can we explore the far far more catastrophic threat posed by this terrible virus in poor and developing nations, where literally millions may die? My priest has used his common sense, and constructed a dear little sanctuary shelter in the privacy of his garden, from where he prays and livestreams to his whole local church community. It is… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
5 months ago
Reply to  Susannah Clark

Further to this conversation; In New Zealand, various parishes – including my own at Saint Michael and All Angels, Christchurch (where the church building is beautiful) – the Vicar is podcasting live from his own home, the Daily Offices and Daily Mass – except on his Tuesday day-off. All worship here has become local community centred via the web, which, considering the circumstances, is more than adequate. Here, I believe, is a liturgical reality we might all learn to live with: “God is a Spirit, and all who worship (God) – will worship (God) in spirit and in truth”. Thanks… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
5 months ago
Reply to  Susannah Clark

Well said, Susannah. From the amount of column space taken up with the issue here, you’d think that having a Sunday service in an ancient stone building was the heart and soul of the message of Jesus.

J Kirby
J Kirby
5 months ago

Tim Chesterton – this isn’t a theological issue. The upset and anger among clergy has been caused by the gratuitous nature of the Archbishops’ advice. It is not in line with govt regulations, and it is manifestly absurd. The local vicar can take his daily exercise right past the church, but not go inside. He can go to the supermarket, volunteer with the NHS, help run foodbanks and run errands for vulnerable members of his congregation. But he can’t go into his church alone to offer prayer and live-stream worship in a way that will give real comfort to those… Read more »

15
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x