Thinking Anglicans

Revised Government information about closing churches

Updated again 8.50 am Friday

The government advice which was previously given about allowing churches to be open for private prayer has been changed. The new wording is contained in this document, and the relevant section is copied below. There are differences between this and what the Church of England bishops have most recently said.

Update 1: the Diocese of Chelmsford has issued this letter from their bishops which says in part:

…We have become aware this morning that there is some confusion and indeed disagreement over the use of our church buildings in the current coronavirus restrictions. It seems this arises out of a difference between the current government advice and our own diocesan guidance based on the national church’s instruction from yesterday. 

The Church of England guidance does go further than the government guidance and comes from our own medical advice. In the light of that advice we believe we need to take the lead in demonstrating how important it is to stay at home and that we can still be the church without our buildings, hard though that is at present. 

As your four bishops we are asking in the strongest possible terms that churches and clergy follow our instruction and guidance in these matters for the immediate future. As a reminder that instruction is as follows:

1. Our church buildings remain totally closed with a notice on the door explaining why, as provided previously. This includes for the clergy, such that no act of worship is led or streamed from inside the building.

2. Therefore funerals are not possible in church, which we know is distressing for grieving families, but is safest in preventing the spread of the virus.  Funerals can only take place at the crematorium or at the graveside with numbers restricted to closest family (partners, children, parents) and the maintenance of social distancing.

3. For the support of the most vulnerable, food banks and other essential social services, where they operate out of the church building, can continue as long as strict distribution guidelines are adhered to (pick up of food outside at the door, again maintaining social distancing both outside and inside the building).  

We have no comfort in asking you to comply totally with these instructions, but we do believe it is our Gospel imperative and shared pastoral responsibility to be seen to be setting a lead to the whole of society. Being entirely blunt about it – this is what may save lives at present…

Update 2: The Government advice has been slightly changed (noticed at 14.30 Thursday), as shown below (italics denote superseded wording) and changed again (noticed at 8,45 Friday)

Update 3: The Church of England page can now be seen to contain the following update (which was not visible to me until just now, 24 hours later than the timestamp)

Last updated Wednesday 26 March 2020 at 16:00

  • Updated answer to What should I do about my PPC or APCM meeting? FAQ

Businesses and premises that must remain closed

The following businesses and premises must remain closed

Non-residential institutions Exceptions
Places of worship

 

 

 

 

Funerals, where the congregation is immediate family (with provision for a carer, if required) or a friend – in the case that no family members are attending. A distance of 2 metres is to be maintained between every household group, as per Public Health England guidelines.

A minister of religion, to go to their place of worship, including to broadcast an act of worship to people outside the place of worship, whether over the internet or otherwise.
replaced by
A minister of religion, to go to their place of worship may broadcast an act of worship, whether over the internet or otherwise.

And even later:

A minister of religion or worship leader may leave their home to travel to their place of worship. A place of worship may broadcast an act of worship, whether over the internet or otherwise.

For the purpose of hosting essential voluntary or public service, such as food banks, homeless services, and blood donation sessions.

 

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Stevie GambleRPNewarkSimon SarmientoDaniel WaltersBill Broadhead Recent comment authors
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Shamus
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Shamus

Let’s hope we don’t have to produce yet another new poster for church notice boards if rules change again. At this rate, the people who make laminating pouches will be very rich.

David Lamming
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David Lamming

So lessons have not been learned (to use the hackneyed phrase) and mixed messages continue. If (a) the UK Supreme Court can conduct a full appeal hearing online (as it did yesterday in the case of Fowler v HMRC, with the justices in their own rooms and counsel appearing remotely, but with all participants able to be seen on the ‘Supreme Court Live’ stream), and (b) the Health Secretary is able to conduct a press conference from No. 10 with journalists asking their questions remotely, it ought to be possible for there to be a video-conference involving (i) the Prime… Read more »

David Keen
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David Keen

I’m confused. When was the government guidance changed? Was it after the bishops statement? Did the government originally ban all use of church buildings but has now rowed back?

Philip Hobday
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Philip Hobday

As far as I can tell the sequencing was (1) the Prime Minister’s broadcast announced further restrictions on movement and closure of buildings including the prohibition of weddings and baptisms; (2) the Bishops issued guidance closing church buildings completely; (3) the official guidance published by the Government required only the closure of church buildings for public worship; (4) quite a lot of us got even more confused and asked for clarification; (5) the Government’s guidance was revised and seems to allow an exemption to the closure for a minister to go into the building, while without listing all the reasons… Read more »

Kate
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Kate

So, under the Chelmsford guidance a minister can with others run a food bank from a church (subject to maintaining social distancing) but cannot alone enter the church to stream a service or for private prayer. If anyone understands the logic of that, can they please explain it?

Philip Hobday
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Philip Hobday

Yes. Common sense or (if one prefers theological terms) application of the doctrine of necessity. Feeding those who would go hungry is an urgent act of compassion which can only be met materially and therefore requires a geographical point of meeting and the inevitable social contact. The need to pray, while never more urgent, is one that can – for this temporary period of crisis – be met in other ways that do not entail physical contact, meeting places, or buildings.

Stuart
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Stuart

The general principle is “Minimise your going out.” Private prayer can be done at home, so should be done at home. Same for a streamed service. A food bank probably can’t be done from home (not enough space, clients wouldn’t know where it is) so can continue to run from church.

The government guidance is still a bit of a mess, though improving. But the logic of the principle is pretty clear. And just because something is permitted doesn’t make it desirable.

David Lamming
Guest
David Lamming

Not only can you pray privately at home, but to do so is in accordance with the instructions of our Lord in Matthew 6.6: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (NIV)

Allan Sheath
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Allan Sheath

Except that it is never private prayer: “I believe …in the communion of saints,” as the baptismal profession of faith has it. And this is more than mere pedantry, knowing that when you’re praying at home you’re still praying with the saints on earth and in heaven can be immensely encouraging.

Stevie Gamble
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Stevie Gamble

Perhaps it would help if those struggling to understand why they should not increase the risks of others suffering from Covid-19 acquainted themselves with the way in which people die from it. A quick perusal of freely available information should enlighten them: put simply, it’s slow strangulation as the lungs fill with fluids and the body fails from lack of oxygen despite the patient’s desperate attempts to breathe. It is a terrible way to die. The same thing happens to someone who is crucified; that’s why the Romans used crucifixion as their ultimate deterrent to those who challenged their power.… Read more »

Kate
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Kate

“Perhaps it would help if those struggling to understand why they should not increase the risks of others suffering from Covid-19 acquainted themselves with the way in which people die from it.”

A minister entering the church nearest his/her residence alone to pray, stream or just to keep an altar light burning, isn’t putting others at risk.

Quite apart from anything else the idea that nobody will check for months whether our great cathedrals are safe ought to be a concern.

Stevie Gamble
Guest
Stevie Gamble

Kate, you seem incapable of grasping how viruses are communicated. The minister should be at home, and stay there, because as soon as s/he steps out of that home s/he joins the pool in which the virus circulates and grows. The NHS staff begging people to stay home aren’t doing so because they want to spoil your day. They are begging because they know what this virus does to people, including themselves, and as I have noted, it is a terrible way to die. My daughter, a consultant physician in an acute medical unit, risks her life each and every… Read more »

RPNewark
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RPNewark

Thank you Stevie. You make the point so well. May God protect your daughter and all who work so heroically with her.

Stevie Gamble
Guest
Stevie Gamble

Thank you!

Susannah Clark
Guest

Death is often surprisingly peaceful, but that’s correct Stevie, respiratory deaths can be distressing and cause panic (understandably).

Let’s focus on every possible way of preventing more of these deaths happening.

And meanwhile, how can the human race help poorer countries to prepare? I’m very very concerned about how people will cope in developing countries when this virus starts to spread there.

Lord, have mercy.

T Pott
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T Pott

Possibly the government advice is to be understood as permitting a minister to attend the place of worship, but only as an exception, where necessary, to the general rule. In some religions it may be that a minister can, according to the rules of his or her faith, only perform certain acts of worship in a designated place. In that case, so be it. In the C of E it is not believed necessary to prayer that it be in Church. The bishops then may be right to say there is no need for the C of E, under its… Read more »

Gordo
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Gordo

Stupidity from Chelmsford. If it is “dangerous” to have five people in a church building to livestream a service, why are the stores not closed? I’ve just been in a medium sized Tesco and there must have been 50 or 60 people there. This is ridiculous.

Stevie Gamble
Guest
Stevie Gamble

The stores are not closed because people dying of starvation is not an optimal outcome. You might just as well ask why hospitals are not closed…

Susannah Clark
Guest

My priest has created a little sort of garden chapel and livestreams from there – a simple wooden construction with icons. It’s simple and it’s beautiful. One could equally livestream from a vicarage. I think the point about Tesco is that food supply is a practical imperative. For a Christian, prayer is too, but I’m happy with my priest’s improvised little chapel, and appreciate it.

David Lamming
Guest
David Lamming

Re the revised FAQ on PCC meetings (not PPC, by the way) and APCMs, some dioceses (e.g. Oxford and Ely) have been posting on their websites the ‘Bishop’s Instrument,’ extending the date for electing churchwardens and holding APCMs to 31 October 2020. I wrote about this, in particular holding ‘virtual’ PCC meetings and the effect of extending the term of office of all deanery synod members elected in 2017 to 30 November 2020 (so that, even if a parish has already held its 2020 APCM, those elected to the deanery synod will not take office until 1 December 2020) in… Read more »

Stanley Monkhouse
Guest

From BBC news: “The effects of the pandemic are likely to be most severe in developing countries … with 25 times more patients needing critical care than beds available, compared to seven times more in high-income countries”. I find the sin of the world at times so overwhelming that I can cope only by responding with ridiculousness and/or black humour. Or despair. Our discussions about who, when and how many people should be in churches or crems, and how a virtual mass “feels“ seem insignificant compared to the likely impact of the pandemic outside the so-called first world. Read this:… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest

Thank you Stanley. Yes, I am very concerned about the catastrophic threat this virus poses to people in developing countries. It’s so pitiful. Having a daughter working in a very deprived community, in Uganda, life is already desperately challenging, but the threat there has scarcely begun.

Savi Hensman
Guest
Savi Hensman

Are any churches in the UK still livestreaming Holy Communion services on Sundays, e.g. from the homes of clergy who live with one or two other family members or friends who are Anglicans?

Daniel Walters
Guest
Daniel Walters

We are! (Oxford St Giles’ and St Margaret’s). Well actually not live, it’s pre-recorded to allow contributions from congregation members for intercessions, readings etc.

Bill Broadhead
Guest
Bill Broadhead

For those wondering exactly how this decision to close churches was arrived at, the bishops were summoned to a skype call with Thornton (not Welby) on Monday morning, where they were told what ‘the line’ was. This is when they were also told that the Lambeth Conference was off. It’s just another way in which the Covid 19 emergency is being used to strengthen the hand of ‘The Curia’ in Lambeth and undermine diocesan autonomy. In that respect, it is hugely encouraging to see that the Bishop of Chichester is exercising his pastoral and theological authority with insight and imagination… Read more »