A Message from the Rector, Reverend Stevie Cross
There is a lot of contradictory information in the media and in discussions about when our churches will be open. I would like to share with you the latest information I have from the Bishop of Peterborough following the guidelines from the House of Bishops last Friday.
The first thing to state is that not every church / benefice will be moving forward at the same rate. Individual bishops, who know their dioceses, have some flexibility. Also, there may be differences between town and country churches, large and small congregations. The overriding consideration is safety and not risking spreading the virus.
The present thinking is that there will be 3 steps. The bishop says:-
The first step
“As from today, clergy or licensed lay ministers in this diocese may enter their church buildings for private prayer, or to record or livestream services. Anyone doing so must first read the document on the Church of England Coronavirus web page entitled “Advice for Clergy on Re-entering Closed Church Buildings”, and follow that advice.
“Only members of the minister’s household may accompany him or her into the church building. This is not permission for any sort of public meeting or worship.
“Please note that this is only permission. You don’t have to do this. If you prefer to await permission for lay people to join you for worship, that is perfectly alright too. Purely personally, I would choose that latter course, but you are free to follow your head and your heart on this.”
(As it will not be easy to try and livestream services from any of our churches, I will not be going into church. The guidance for multi-parish benefices is that I should only use the nearest church. I will continue daily prayer at home)
In the longer term
“Further stages of return to our buildings will follow, depending on government advice and regulations. It is likely that in a few weeks, small-scale services such as baptisms, weddings and funerals, with family only present, will be possible. Social distancing, and strict conditions around access and cleaning, will have to apply.
Further down the line
“Further down the line, I hope to be able to authorise Sunday worship on an appropriate scale. This will depend on how many people can conveniently be in the building with appropriate social distancing (which is likely to remain in force for months at least). Please note that it is very unlikely that we will be able to permit singing in the coming months, as the medical advice is that this would require social distancing of five metres, and that no books or service sheets can be used: these are a good way of passing germs from hand to hand.
“There are no timings on this plan. These will depend on government advice, on other advice I receive, and on local conditions. It is possible that relaxations to the lockdown will have to be reversed, and even new restrictions imposed, if there is a new wave of infections nationally or locally. Please be patient. I want our churches open, but only when that is safe.
“One area which is particularly complicated, and on which I am regularly lobbied by laypeople, is the question of opening churches for private prayer. It might seem that this is a relatively easy win, but I am afraid that it is not. If churches are left open, they will need to be hygienically cleaned after each use. Remember that each person who enters the church might be a carrier of the disease, or might be particularly vulnerable to it. We are responsible for keeping our people as safe as we can, especially in our church buildings. I know that this will not be popular, but for the time being our church buildings cannot be opened for private prayer or other visits. Perhaps counter-intuitively, this is likely to be the very last point on any roadmap towards re-opening.”
I am sorry that I cannot be more positive about the way forward in the short term and when our beautiful churches will be open again. I know that we all are longing for the time when we can gather together and I will be doing my best to bring this about as soon as we can.
As soon as I have any more information I will share it.
Thank you for all you are doing to support one another and the wider community at this time. I thank God for you in my prayers and pray that you stay safe and healthy