Friday, 26 February 2021
Dear Friends in Christ,
There is a strange feeling in the air this week. The sun has been shining, which has made a lovely change. The news has been relatively positive, which also makes a lovely change. The Prime Minister has given us some idea of how the current restrictions might be lifted over the coming months, which has raised quite a few questions.
In response to the announcement on Monday evening, I thought it might be useful to briefly outline what the government’s ‘road map’ will mean for us as a Church community. As far as Public Worship and Private Prayer is concerned, there are unlikely to be any significant changes before 21 June. However, there will be a change for those hoping to be married. Until 8 March no weddings can take place other than under exceptional circumstances. From 8 March weddings will be able to take place, but with a maximum of six guests only. The limit on those attending funerals will remain at thirty, providing any given church can accommodate that number safely. These numbers will remain unchanged until 21 June, although up to fifteen people will be allowed to attend receptions and wakes from 12 April. If all continues to go well, stage 3 begins on 17 May. All services continue to be subject to the same restrictions although the numbers attending receptions and wakes will be increased to thirty. Then, providing all the appropriate criteria have been met, from 21 June all limits on weddings and funerals will be removed, and baptisms will be allowed to take place again. I realize that all of this information focuses on how the Church celebrates life events rather than on how our Public Worship and Private Prayer arrangements might develop over the coming weeks. The Church of England’s Coronavirus Recovery Group is currently studying the details of the government’s road map and will be ‘refining’ guidance and advice for local churches as matters proceed. I hope this will help you gain something of an idea of how things may unfold between now and 21 June. I would urge all who have weddings booked in our churches in 2021 to make contact with me in the coming days so that we can catch up and ensure that the information I have remains current and accurate. I will also be able to advise on legal preliminaries as necessary.
Having turned our thoughts on how life might open up over the coming three months, I would also like to ask you to pause and reflect on our more immediate journey, our journey through Lent. As we come to the Second Sunday of Lent Jesus tells us that the path of true discipleship demands that we deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him. For many the past twelve months will feel as though it has been one long Lenten pilgrimage. But, is that really the case? We have been living through unusual times and we are still subject to unusual restrictions. However, we have been given time to reflect and reconsider our priorities in life. We have been given time to re-evaluate those relationships that should be at the top of our list of priorities. We have had time to pause and to re-think how we might live out our lives of faith in the very different days to come. Jesus’ message in Sunday’s gospel (Mark 8:31-38) is very timely. It stops us wallowing in self-pity and frustration, and it gives us a different road map for the future. Jesus calls us into an unrestricted, fully open and loving relationship with him. Jesus is with us always, even when we forget about him. Let us rejoice in that fact and let us constantly pray that we might measure up to the challenge he sets before us, rather than constantly lamenting the past. Let us go forward praising God and ensuring that his light shines into the very darkest places of this world, and our own hearts.
With every blessing to you all,