Bishop Nick Baines has reiterated national advice that churches must stay closed to clergy, laity and the public to protect communities and the NHS from the spread of COVID-19.
In a letter sent to all clergy yesterday evening, Bishop Nick urges everyone to heed further guidance sent out at the same time by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the diocesan bishops.
He also writes how he shares the emotions of those now unable to enter their churches.
“I know how distressing it is for clergy not to be able to pray or worship in their church.
“I am also ‘fasting’ eucharistically and sharing the loss of sacred place.
“However, this experience – rooted in the need to prioritise public health and be good neighbours to those whom we are called to love and protect – also brings opportunities for spiritual renewal.
“As I am indicating on my blog, this sort of ‘exile’ might help us read the Old Testament prophets afresh, gaining first-hand insight into the experience of dislocation and disorientation that gave rise to their poetry and pleadings.
“That said, I do not minimise the cost.
“But, sacrifice lies at the heart of Christian faith and discipleship.
“My longing for sacramental life is not the point; protecting the public health is.
“Witness how many people are ignoring government advice (and law). Most people who carry the virus have no symptoms; so, they can transmit the virus unwittingly and it spreads exponentially.
“My personal spiritual needs and affections are secondary in this time of crisis.”
Extracts relating to COVID-19 from Bishop Nick’s latest letter sent to clergy on Friday, March 27 are printed below:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The bishops of our diocese speak every afternoon in order to keep abreast of what is happening in the parishes and episcopal areas. We all send you our greetings and assure you of our continuing prayers.
I asked for some stories of good things happening, and got flooded. Wonderful! There are so many stories of how clergy and parishes are being creative, taking the initiative in challenging circumstances, being the church even when we can’t be in the churches.
- Clergy unconfident about digital technology finding that necessity can be a gift – learning skills for streaming or just uploading stories to websites.
- Reconnecting with former church members or local people met through occasional offices, many of whom are grateful for the reconnection.
- Seeing the benefit of links built up over years in the local community now proving substantial when stress-tested.
- Churches being asked by local authorities to serve as hubs for foodbanks and emergency provision.
- Telephone, cards and social media being exploited for good local pastoral care and sharing of information/news.
- Establishment of pastoral and spiritual support groups across deaneries – including clergy chapter meetings online or by conference call.
- Daily Prayer being streamed, but low-tech systems of sharing an order of service for people to use in their home at the same time as others on Sunday.
- Food packages left at the church door instead of the usual hot meal in church.
- Church members acting as the pastoral and communications hub for the local community in order to ensure nobody gets missed.
- Checking on local elderly people on behalf of family living at some distance.
- By sacrificial denial, clergy demonstrating that discipleship of Jesus goes beyond our familiar contours and securities.
- Candles being placed in windows.
- Support for people continuing to work: rural farmers (whose market has disappeared), NHS workers, hospice and care home staff, teachers.
- Retired bishops doing podcasts.
- Setting up ‘telephone trees’ for contacting people.
- Clergy engaging virtually with our church schools to lead collective worship and supporting the excellent work of our church school teacher.
Buildings: I know how distressing it is for clergy not to be able to pray or worship in their church. I am also ‘fasting’ eucharistically and sharing the loss of sacred place. However, this experience – rooted in the need to prioritise public health and be good neighbours to those whom we are called to love and protect – also brings opportunities for spiritual renewal. As I am indicating on my blog, this sort of ‘exile’ might help us read the Old Testament prophets afresh, gaining first-hand insight into the experience of dislocation and disorientation that gave rise to their poetry and pleadings.
That said, I do not minimise the cost. But, sacrifice lies at the heart of Christian faith and discipleship. My longing for sacramental life is not the point; protecting the public health is. Witness how many people are ignoring government advice (and law). Most people who carry the virus have no symptoms; so, they can transmit the virus unwittingly and it spreads exponentially. My personal spiritual needs and affections are secondary in this time of crisis.
You will see from the letter from the archbishops and bishops nationally that we have not changed our line – despite pressure from all sides to move in every direction. Based on serious medical and scientific advice, we are holding the line – and I urge you to take this wider view whether you find it comfortable or not. The bishops are reviewing the position weekly.
Funerals: As you know, funerals cannot now be conducted in our church buildings. Different local authorities are moving at different paces; but, as the projected numbers of deaths increases rapidly, clergy will soon find themselves in demand for burials and cremations where a full service is neither possible not allowed. The national Church has produced advice, resources and liturgical material for funerals and these can be downloaded from https://www.churchofengland.org/life-events/funerals/clergy-funeral-and-bereavement-resources.
Holy Week and Easter will be different this year. Resources are being developed to help us celebrate creatively and joyfully as we, plunged into the reality of a world in crisis, proclaim that death, violence and destruction do not have the final word: God does – and it is called ‘resurrection’. This word will be heard afresh and through unfiltered ears this year as so many of the comforts and securities of modern life are absent and beyond our control. The darkness cannot extinguish this light of hope.
Church House is functioning remotely and virtually. I am so proud of our staff and officers for the imaginative and committed ways they are continuing to serve the parishes. Please pray for them. Some work will go into abeyance, but essential work will continue. The sort of work continuing looks like this:
- The Children, Young People and Families Team have started ‘Not Overcome’; a virtual community on the Diocesan Learning Platform for those involved in ministry with children, young people and families where people can share encouragement, resources and ideas to help us enrich our communities when unable to meet together physically. New resources and ideas will be added regularly and the details can be found here. To join the community, simply click on list of members and follow the instructions.
- Reader Ministry: Our diocesan strategy speaks of ‘growing the potential of Readers’ as on outworking of ‘reimagining ministry’. There will plenty of scope for this in current circumstances. In addition, the outcome of our diocesan Reader Review will shortly be publicised, providing fresh vision and impetus for Reader Ministry in the days to come. Diocesan Synod was due to receive the Reader Review Report earlier this month, but the Synod was cancelled. Selection for Reader ministry will be recommencing, with instructions given about selection procedures and PCC ratification of sponsorship.
- Wellsprings Together, our joint venture with the Church Urban Fund, is gathering resources to help parishes maintain a loving presence within their communities. These resources will help parish leaders direct parishioners towards sources of support and be an encouragement for work that is going on. For example, many local church members will be looking for volunteering opportunities or advice on how to participate safely.) Wellsprings Together will also be looking for stories to share and celebrating the great work that you are doing using the social media hashtag #PeopleofHope. Please visit wellspringstogether.org.uk or contact mark.waddington [at] wellspingstogether.org.uk or theo.sheridan-watts [at] wellspringstogether.org.uk
Please keep looking at the websites for updates.
With my continuing prayers and best wishes.
Rt Revd Nick Baines
Bishop of Leeds