|29 May 2020|
We had been expecting a Government announcement yesterday on the opening of churches for private prayer, weddings, and funerals. Bishop Sarah’s statement below explains where things have (or haven’t!) got to.
“The Prime Minister’s statement this evening on easing the lockdown restrictions spoke about shops and parks but did not mention places of worship. I know that a lot of people will feel disappointed and frustrated by that. While, of course, the Church is not a building, for many people these sacred spaces are an incredibly significant place in their lives – and in their faith – as well as being at the centre of community life.
“So, we will continue to work with the Government to ensure that we can begin to reopen our places of worship in a phased way as soon as it is deemed safe and practical to do so. We have already been actively planning to that end and have developed detailed advice to help local churches plan for the practical challenges of enabling opening for individual prayer as well as weddings, funerals and other important rites to take place and then, in due course, a resumption of public worship services.”
This means that it may well be 15th June until we have more information, though there is a little incoherence in the way Government is working at present (!) which may mean that an announcement on churches is made without pre-warning. That is why we have encouraged the Area Deans to begin conversations with you all at Chapter, so that you can begin to plan for what you are able to do once we get a green light. They have been provided with documents on risk assessments, cleaning, access to buildings, private prayer, weddings, and funerals, which they can make available to you to help you think things through.
I need to be very clear – it’s not our preferred style in London to tell you what to do. Clergy attitudes range right across the spectrum from “It’s none of your business, Bishop, to tell me how to run my parish” to “Please give me clear instructions on how I should now operate.” You may recognise the fun that produces! The cure of souls is mine and yours, but please assume that we shall treat each other with mutual respect and that you will be given space to make your own decisions except where there are Government or Canonical proscriptions or prescriptions in place. You’re of course welcome to ask for advice, but I want us to treat each other as adults (and I’m sorry that some of the earlier material around lockdown that went out to clergy simply didn’t do that).
The second bit of clarity is that you need to decide, with Chapter colleagues, what provision will be made when we reach the next phase. Some of you will continue to pray, say mass, and stream services without opening for private prayer (as you know, we can’t open for public worship yet anyway). Some of you and your congregations are vulnerable or shielding and you won’t want to open your building at all yet. Some will want to make weddings (though limited) possible again – or you may wish to ask a fellow priest to come and officiate because you can’t. This disease is helping us work more collaboratively and enabling us to signpost what is available online or in neighbouring parishes. The important thing to do in this next couple of weeks is to make a plan together in each deanery for what is going to be available.
The Area Deans have played a blinder in all this, and I’m extremely grateful to them.
What we think we know about the next stage looks like this:
We have been planning for phases 2 & 3, which we should continue to do, and await Government easing of restrictions. Opening of Church buildings is in the Government’s phase 3 which is not before 4th July. Phase 2 is meant to be individual prayer, small weddings, and funerals (no more than 15). Not everyone will be able to do this. All planning should include risk assessment, 2 metre distancing, hand care on the way in and way out. The building will need always to be supervised. There will need to be increased cleaning, no use of books and service sheets, no singing at this stage, no administration of Holy Communion. Face coverings are not necessary but can reassure some. Opening safely will look different in different contexts. In opening, we have to consider those who will remain online, those who cannot attend church and clergy who are shielding. There is advice on the website for matters that are in the public domain. The Area Deans, and Anne and Nikki can advise on other materials that have been distributed for planning purposes. Please don’t hesitate to be in touch if you need advice, support or want to raise an issue.
I’m on 07950 299 685. Nikki is on 07759 754 893.
Bishop Rob has provided a prayer for us all:
As we plan for our shared future, we seek to create a safe space for encounters with Jesus Christ. We long and hope to be good news within the communities that we serve.
This Pentecost, we pray for wisdom, we pray for creativity, and we pray for pragmatism as we discern your will. Father, in the midst of the chaos and lament of this season, in your mercy, help us not to domesticate the wildness of your Spirit, but to be immersed in your generous love, rebuilding lives, supporting communities and being good news in your City.
With love and prayers
Bishop of Willesden