Thursday, 11 June 2020
Dear Friends in Christ,
This week seems to have brought us some good news, just as it has continued to leave us feeling confused and uncertain.
There can be no doubt that we are living through difficult and unprecedented times, and I am sure that none of us (however certain we may be from the comfort of our armchairs) would really want to be in the position of our national leaders. However, there is a lot of pain and confusion that is being expressed to me in a variety of ways. Over the last few days and hours I have received emails and telephone calls asking me the same questions: Why can I go to the shops, but not to church? Why can I go to a zoo, but not to church? Why can’t we celebrate our departed loved one’s life, in church? Why can’t we get married as we have been planning for the last two years? Why can’t we have our baby christened? Why can I exist in a ‘bubble’, but not pray in church? Why? Why? Why? Of course, I do not have answers to any of these questions. In fact, they are the sort of questions I have asked myself many times over the last three months. Then, yesterday evening, we were given a glimmer of light at the end of a very dark tunnel. The Prime Minister announced that churches could re-open for private prayer from this Saturday. But… ! And, I am afraid there is a big BUT that goes with this announcement.
Over the last month or so our Church leaders have been thinking about how this moment might be handled. I have received many communications on the subject. I am afraid they do not make for happy reading. In one version of the guidelines, no church could open that did not have at least two doors – thus facilitating a complete one way system within the church. Similarly, no church could open that did not have running water (near the door) to facilitate hand washing on both entrance and exit. Also, it was said that no church could open unless someone was there to enforce social distancing and to record the names, contact details and times of entrance and exit of every visitor to the church. All of these conditions would have made it impossible for any of our churches to open, even for private prayer. Thankfully, some of these conditions have now been relaxed. But…! And, again, I am afraid that is a big BUT, there are still things that have to be done before our churches can open.
Every church that wants to open its doors for private prayer MUST first be deeply and thoroughly cleaned. There are specific guidelines on how this must be done. There also has to be the provision of hand sanitiser for visitors to use on entrance and exit. All books must be locked away for fear of spreading the virus through contact. Seating must be roped off to ensure adherence to the 2 metre distancing rule, and a clearly signed one-way route must be installed. I am sorry, but the list goes on and on.
I am concentrating on this issue in this week’s letter because I know how much many of you have been missing the opportunity to go into your local church for prayer. I am awaiting final instructions from our Bishops on the conditions we will have to institute before our churches can be opened. Having had communication with Bishop David yesterday, I am hopeful that his instructions will come today. As soon as they arrive I will be consulting with all our churchwardens to identify the best way for facilitating early access to our churches.
Please be assured that I have missed our churches as much as any of you. Do not forget that even the clergy have been banned from access over the last three months. I really have shared in your pain and upset. As I have prepared the Daily Prayer services for our website, I have been constantly reminded of where we could have been praying. I am working as hard as I can to get those doors open, even if only for private prayer! In the meantime, let us stay constant in prayer for one another and for all.
With every blessing to you all,