Thinking Anglicans

Let Us Use Our Churches

We linked previously to the article in The Tablet, written by Bishop Peter Selby. Today, a follow-up letter has been published in The Times (scroll down, behind paywall).

Text of letter to The Times

Dear Sir,

As the Bishops of the Church of England meet to consider their next steps in response to the pandemic, we call on them to change their current policy, which prevents clergy from visiting their churches to pray or broadcast a service. Bishop Peter Selby in The Tablet last week (‘Is Anglicanism going private?’, 30th  April 2020), speaks for many laity and clergy about the Church of England’s current approach. We fear, like him, that ‘this may mark a decisive point in the retreat of the Church of England from the public to the private realm’. We regard what has happened to be a failure of the Church’s responsibility to the nation, stifling our prophetic witness and defence of the poor, and ask for open discussion and accountability through the Church’s structures and other forums regarding the processes and thinking which led to these decisions.

It is widely agreed that the temporary closure of churches for public worship is necessary in the current crisis. However, the broadcast of services from a closed church is explicitly permitted by government guidelines, yet unlike almost all other Churches in these isles, the Church of England has gone beyond this advice. Without detracting from the excellent worship offered by many clergy in their homes, domestic settings cannot replace the church buildings whose architecture, symbolism and history represent the consecration of our public life. Moreover, Church of England clergy have also been prevented from ministering in schools educating the children of key workers and to the sick and dying in hospitals.

As the government is talking about the hope of easing the national lockdown could the Church of England now offer similar hope to its people with this first step?

Yours faithfully,

Full list of signatories (names are still being added)

Some related articles:

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Froghole
Froghole
5 months ago

Thank you for this, and for reproducing the letter (as well as for everything else you and your colleagues do on this site). The reaction of the authorities to the Selby letter will be a useful litmus test, as to whether they are prone to the tendency described in Exodus chs. 7 to 11 and 14 (the phrase is a well-known one, which I shall not repeat). It has seemed to me that the blanket ban was based on sound advice in the context of an incident which occurred near Brixham in March (though that is, of course, my conjecture).… Read more »

Malcolm Dixon
Malcolm Dixon
5 months ago

Belatedly, I would point out that the text of the letter which you included at the top of this thread is not the same as that printed in The Times (or in the link provided). Crucially the final paragraph as printed is much more directive and less questioning than you have shown. Perhaps you included what the originators sent to The Times, and it was edited by them to be more direct? If so, it confirms a clear editorial favouring of those opposed to the Archbishops’ original ‘guidance’. Furthermore, I wonder why the +Selby letter was published in The Tablet.… Read more »

John Wallace
John Wallace
5 months ago

It’s so good to see such a wide range of churchmanship right across the C of E supporting this letter. How do others of us get to add our names?

Anne Foreman
Anne Foreman
5 months ago
Reply to  John Wallace

John, At the end of the letter it suggests going to bit.ly/2KRUspa where it will tell you. I did this at 9.30am and my name had been added by the time the letter was on TA

Fr John Harris-White
Fr John Harris-White
5 months ago

This letter, and the related articles have rejoiced my heart. I’m fortunate to be retired to Scotland, and each Sunday have shared the Mass from Canterbury, and later the Mass from the Scottish Province. The Primus prayed from his chapel, and the majority of Bishops prayed from their cathedral But I was reminded as a curate the ringing of the bell for the offices, and one lovely lady telling me how much this meant to her, to hear the bell. She said I knew the Fathers were saying our prayers. The same is true when the bell is rung during… Read more »

Charles K
Charles K
5 months ago

Food banks overwhelmed, Universal Credit applications rising exponentially, low-paid at greater risk of contracting Covid-19, and key workers being forgotten. Domestic violence on the increase, and youth mental health the next epidemic – and all we are worried about is getting back in our warm cosy churches?! Our parishes are dying, the poor yet again overlooked and we are more concerned about being behind an altar rather than a kitchen table?! A petition to stop the rapid polarisation of an already unjust society would be a better one to sign.Have our buildings become our PPE to shield us from the… Read more »

David Emmott
David Emmott
5 months ago
Reply to  Charles K

‘warm cosy churches’?? You must live in a different world. The problems that you mentioned will not be solved just because clergy stream worship from their warm cosy kitchens. But church buildings being seen as a sign of hope to their communities may just help to break down a few barriers and prevent the church retreating behind a barrier of middle-class complacency.

Froghole
Froghole
5 months ago
Reply to  Charles K

The Church is sustained by parish share contributions, which have almost vanished with the advent of the lockdown. Without actual (as opposed to virtual) services there will be no weekly giving and, therefore, no parish share. Now we could dispense with the parish share, but that would mean: (i) selling vast numbers of church buildings at a discount to sustain the clergy; or (ii) dispensing with the paid clergy. So if anyone wants the Church to provide some sort of practical mission in society courtesy of the paid clerical profession, it had better find a way of resurrecting parish share… Read more »

Savi Hensman
Savi Hensman
5 months ago
Reply to  Froghole

Some important points about vision, Froghole, though the tendency of Church of England leaders to fear rocking the boat politically may get in the way. It will be sad if the main distinction in the minds of much of the public between this church and the wider voluntary and community sector is that the latter has been bolder in speaking out for the less powerful as well as serving them.

NJW
NJW
5 months ago
Reply to  Charles K

In response to the final question in Charles K’s post – the decision to ban clergy from praying in the building set aside and consecrated within their community as a place for prayer to be offered is being seen as unintelligible by many in the local community that I serve. It is not that we do not do things beyond the walls – we have a network maintaining contact with around 200 people who may be lonely, isolated or otherwise affected by COVD-19, are providing counselling to those in immediate need, are operating a foodbank that provides several hundred meals… Read more »

Perry Butler
Perry Butler
5 months ago
Reply to  NJW

I agree NJW. I remember my doctoral supervisor saying how in the French revolutionary wars when the destructive anti christian bands arrived in villages it was the church building the villagers were most keen to defend from desecration. At root it seems to me there is something of a cleavage between those who see Christianity as entering into a personal relationship with Christ as an individual and then seeking a church for fellowship with those who share this experience and those who see the Church not as an ad hoc fellowship but an organism ,”that wonderful and sacred mystery”, moving… Read more »

Kate
Kate
5 months ago

I will probably say more later but I want to say one thing immediately.

I am root and branch opposed to clericalism, but if a cleric, as the person responsible for a church, worships or prays in a church closed to the public, I support that. Nay, I encourage it. It is not clericalism. That isn’t taking advantage of something not open to lay Christians, that is responding to our collective adoration of the Lord.

Susannah Clark
5 months ago

“Church of England clergy have also been prevented from ministering… to the sick and dying in hospitals.” Could someone clarify that for me please? My understanding was that the Bishop of Chelmsford and others acted on the medical advice and decisions of the local hospital Trusts? Overall, I have divided feelings about this letter. On the one hand, I personally believe that priests and local churches should be free to exercise sincere conscience on matters like use of churches (and indeed on other matters of conscience, like the blessing of gay and lesbian marriages). However, personally I support Justin’s general… Read more »

Shamus
Shamus
5 months ago
Reply to  Susannah Clark

I think you are spot on. In my parishes we are holding Zoom services, which are far from ideal, but I believe parishioners are being nourished as much by the service as by being able to see each other. In that sense we are worshipping together as best we can at the moment. I‘m not sure that live streaming a Facebook service achieves quite the same. Knowing that we are joining in worship together rather than simply watching a service is for me significantly different. One thing we can learn from this period is that worship consists in a lot… Read more »

David Beadle
David Beadle
5 months ago
Reply to  Susannah Clark

The original article in the Times quoted the Deputy Lead Chaplain at St Barts, saying that they were willing to train volunteer chaplains and provide them with PPE, who is also a signatory to this letter. The response from the Bishops of London was carefully worded: it did not directly, so far as I can see, deny anything claimed in the article. It seems fairly clear that the CofE requested that its seconded diocesan clergy would not be ministering on the wards.

Susannah Clark
5 months ago
Reply to  David Beadle

David, my understanding is that Stephen and others were not opposed, in principle, to additional chaplains being co-opted, and indeed started to try to facilitate that. However (quite rightly in my opinion) they subordinated the final decision to the medical experts at each Trust: “As our guidance made clear, how this is best done is a matter for each NHS Trust within their own local risk assessments.” The reason the expansion of chaplaincy provisions was not sanctioned was, it would appear, because Barts Trust believed it risked further spread of the virus, into the hospital, to patients, from patients, and… Read more »

David Beadle
David Beadle
5 months ago
Reply to  Susannah Clark

It’s bizarre, though, isn’t it? The Deputy Lead Chaplain of St Bart’s does not appear to accept that this was the advice of the trust. If, on this occasion, the London Bishops were acting on the medical advice from the trust, wouldn’t they actually say it in the letter? None of this actually says that the advice came from the trust: “…these additional volunteers cannot assist in face to face patient contact as this would increase the risk of infection transmission within, into, and out of the hospital.” “It is what we will continue to advise our volunteers, unless otherwise… Read more »

Susannah Clark
5 months ago
Reply to  David Beadle

Agreed. Since it seems ambiguous and disputed, I think it would have been better to leave this claim out of today’s Letter. I am hoping to get clarification myself and have made a few phone calls. Anyway, we probably need to start focussing on what comes next, and the phased ‘unlocking’ in all these areas. Don’t get me wrong: personally I think that individual conscience is incredibly important – it’s a God-given gift – and while I personally agreed with Justin’s advice, I think it is up to each priest and local church to decide what in conscience they should… Read more »

Charles Clapham
5 months ago

I fear Bishop Jonathan Clark’s reflections will simply feed the fire! The question many parish clergy (like me) are asking is whether there are any good medical or legal reasons for clergy not to pray in church and not to record/live-stream worship from inside the church building. But instead of answering this question, Bishop Clark offers ‘a theology of exile’. Well and good. With the impact of secularisation, post-Christendom, and declining finances, we may indeed need to sit light to our buildings at some point, and to ‘do church differently’, as they say nowadays. Perhaps we are even there in… Read more »

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
5 months ago

I for one will be sad when I can no longer access a service streamed from a home or garden. As a survivor of church abuse it’s been a revelation to me to have church services separated from a church building. It’s enabling me to realise how much baggage those buildings can carry.

David Runcorn
David Runcorn
5 months ago

I would be interested if those supporting this letter (and +Peter’s piece) were to engage with Jonathan Clark’s response rather than just recycle the arguments that filled the weeks before Easter. A friend comments, ‘I think he (Clark) is right that we cannot tie all our sense of being a public open faith just with church buildings. Stephen got stoned for saying much the same thing!’

Kate
Kate
5 months ago
Reply to  David Runcorn

David, I read Jonathan Clark’s response with growing annoyance. “But if we do not take up that challenge now, there is a danger that we do not discern what God may be saying to us. Because it may be that in feeling so much at home in our churches, we may have forgotten that we are always in exile.” We have a problem if a bishop thinks that only through clergy being forbidden to pray in a church while checking for broken pipes engenders a feeling of exile. I feel exile every time I watch or read the news –… Read more »

David Runcorn
David Runcorn
5 months ago
Reply to  Kate

Kate you write with typical passion and compassion. But I am struggling to get your problem with his piece. +Jonathan is warning, from scripture, of the possibility that our attachment to sacred buildings can become unhealthy and an obstacle to faith and ministry. It was a familiar failing of God’s people in the Bible. But when +Jonathan takes the title for his blog from an ancient prayer that speaks of our earthly experience as ‘this our exile’ I am puzzled you do not find yourself agreeing with him.

David Keen
David Keen
5 months ago

Fascinating. The conflation of ‘church’ with ‘church building’ in the letter is telling. If we have trouble describing or practicing our life as God’s church without reference to a particular building, then we are not a church that the New Testament would recognise. As Marshall McLuhan nearly said: we shape our buildings and then our buildings shape us. I would love to have use of my church building again, but for the moment we are outside the thick stone walls of our 15th century building and visible to the parish in ways we weren’t visible before. Embrace it, make the… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
5 months ago
Reply to  David Keen

In Carl Zuckmayer’s 1931 satire of Wilhelmine Germany, ‘Der Hauptmann von Köpenick’ (in which an ex con dons the uniform of a Guards captain and orders a suburban mayor to hand over municipal funds), it is remarked that in the Kaiserreich, “the uniform makes makes the man” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYYOjB80REk and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bBYARpsa8c, the latter being screened at the NFT/BFI about 15 years ago; it also had a run at the NT in 2013). So too in England, and in many European countries, it is the building which makes the church. This is scarcely surprising. Most communities have atavistic tendencies to a greater… Read more »

Susannah Clark
5 months ago
Reply to  Froghole

Of course the church belongs to the community. It is part of the community, a constant in many cases over the centuries, sometimes a thousand years. That’s what being an established and national church is. We belong to a Church for the whole nation, the whole community – and I’d argue that it is sometimes the loss of this perspective (and the promotion of a kind of membership church envisaged as being made up of those who are born again and ‘in’) that has led to a certain dislocation of wider community from this ‘insider’ community – with almost a… Read more »

Swithun
Swithun
5 months ago

I do believe that clergy could be permitted to enter church buildings to pray and stream/record without excessive risk. However I am less convinced that this would improve the situation. We have been making Herculean efforts to connect over the internet, and this has been surprisingly successful, but all the equipment for doing so is located in homes: decent WiFi, a desktop computer, tripods, adjustable lighting, other family members to join in and point and click when convenient, etc. From a practical point of view, it would be a colossal faff to lug all that to a (in this case… Read more »

Angusian
Angusian
5 months ago

The vestry of our parish, while being designated ‘part of the vicarage’ is separated from the High altar by less than 10 metres but in obedience to the coverall restrictions of a less than theologically literate bishop, the church remains out of bounds for prayer, but open for regular security observance to ensure insurance demands are observed ! The obedience of clergy, and their faithful ministry, is to be admired in the face of such wimpish ‘leadership’

Stanley Monkhouse
5 months ago

In the discussion about church and buildings, it is obvious that different people write from different standpoints. I identify three—doubtless others will see more. Some write from the POV of the institution, ”church” for this group being both building and faith community, and both subservient to, and a means of financial support for, diocese and administrative structures in the belief that this is a legitimate outworking of mission. Some writers put their version of Christianity first. These consider themselves “serious” or “committed” Christians. “Church” is for this group the people in the club, the buildings merely places to meet, often… Read more »

andy gr
andy gr
5 months ago

It seems like there are two possible theological analogies here, both of which are worth of respect. The first is of kingdom-exile-lament-restoration, with the idea that, at least for clergy, the “normal” place to encounter God is in a sacred building, though of course there is no denial that God is everywhere. This model is strong on the need to lament, which contributions from the world of psychology tell us is crucial at the present time. This can be developed in two directions – either to say the sooner the Restoration comes (at least for clergy) the better, as in… Read more »

Savi Hensman
Savi Hensman
5 months ago
Reply to  andy gr

Thanks, andy gr – in situations such as this, talking past one another is all too easy.

Peter Reiss
Peter Reiss
5 months ago

Coronavirus has not physically destroyed our buildings (though its financial impact may lead to closures), it has “destroyed” our physical gathering. If all our buildings had been destroyed we would gather elsewhere (and do well on the insurance!). Although there are similarities between Exodus and Exile times (uncertainty, powerlessness, unsettled-ness), one of the differences between Exodus and Exile is that, in the exile, people are remembering what was with affection and hoping to come back to that, whereas in the Exodus people are coming out from. The current situation is maybe more akin to Exile in that many are hoping… Read more »

Susannah Clark
5 months ago
Reply to  Peter Reiss

What a sensible comment! And I think, if we are all experiencing exile from the life we long to get back to, then (a) it shows solidarity for the priest to go into exile as well, alongside the rest of the community (b) prophetic hope of future return would be good and, as a nurse, I think the idea of the bell being rung on Thursday evenings would – given the connotations of the toll of a bell – show solidarity towards front-line workers, and also a recognition of the tragic backdrop of this all. Your mention of the village… Read more »

dr.primrose
dr.primrose
5 months ago

Perhaps the development of the synagogue is not the most apt analogy to the current situation since “synagogue” comes from the Greek verb meaning to bring together while the current situation seems to be pulling us apart.

Anthony Archer
Anthony Archer
5 months ago

This really has become a pretty sterile debate, reserved for the few within the Church, mainly clergy. I supported the advice to close church buildings for all purposes, other than insurance and security inspections, and still do, but frankly having seen some pretty dreary dining room shrines it might well be better for the backdrop to be the real thing. It won’t make a jot of difference to the quality of worship, won’t increase the views (which has been moderately encouraging), but will keep this vociferous group happy. I assume they have quality Wi-fi in their church buildings. I am… Read more »

T Pott
T Pott
5 months ago
Reply to  Anthony Archer

Not sure if this adds a further dimension to virtual theology but with zoom you can use a background photo which can make it look like you are anywhere you like, provided you have a photo of it. It could be your church or an archiepiscopal kitchen, or in front of a vast bookcase.
Log in to the Zoom web portal.
Click Room Management > Zoom Rooms.
Click Account Settings at the top of the page.
In the Account Profile tab, under Background image for Zoom Rooms, click Upload New Image. …
Select your image and click Open.

Will Richards
Will Richards
5 months ago

I gather that there was a H of B video meeting this morning and the Peter Selby article, the degree of response to it, and the letter in the Times, has rattled a lot of cages. The previously trumpeted ‘unity’ among the purple blouses is not holding. Apparently Dame Mullally is producing a policy document and it will be down to each individual diocesan bishop to make a decision on opening churches for prayer and broadcasting – which, frankly, is how it should have been in the first place before a blanket edict from Lambeth & Bishopthorpe. This is becoming… Read more »

Savi Hensman
Savi Hensman
5 months ago

I think, at a time of collective trauma, being attentive to what is happening within as well as among us (see e.g. https://tragedyandcongregations.org.uk/2020/03/24/guidance-for-ministers-as-the-coronavirus-crisis-deepens/, https://tragedyandcongregations.org.uk/2020/04/25/thoughts-for-ministers-one-month-on-april-25-2020/) may help us to listen to, and better understand, one another. While there are sometimes expectations that clergy and to some extent laypeople should be selfless in service to others unless classified as ‘vulnerable’, perhaps more recognition of our own varying sorrows and joys, fears and hopes, what has disturbed or refreshed us, the different meanings that church buildings and kitchens, ‘the community’ and the sacraments may have to us, may help us to communicate these… Read more »

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