The Church’s worship and ministry during the crisis
From the Revd Kenneth Cross
Sir, — The Revd Alice Whalley (Comment, 24 April) articulates my own dis-ease. Nowhere in national or diocesan communication does anyone clearly suggest how we safely minister to those vulnerable people who not only have no internet, but for whom the phone might be difficult because of deafness, confusion, etc. Many such people have no carers or relatives.
The idea that — heaven forbid — I might wash my hands, don gloves and mask (if available), tap on their door, and leap back and talk at a distance, as other key workers or shopping deliverers would, has never once been suggested in formal communication; nor has guidance been clearly offered about liaison with other agencies that could help.
So, when, legally, I take a deep breath and go to care for a vulnerable person, I feel guilty. Perhaps irrationally, I worry that the Church’s silence on this means that I might be punished. What happened to the diaconal vow to go to the “forgotten corners”?
I use social media and have no issue with measured use of YouTube (though it fatigues and disrupts silence). Should we not, however, be doing so only after we have ensured that we have prayerfully searched out the profoundly isolated and technology-deprived? These are surely the Good Shepherd’s lost lambs.
34 Manor Road, Alcombe
Minehead TA24 6EJ
From the Revd John Chitham
Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby (Comment, 24 April) addresses the question that many of us are asking: can the eucharist be valid virtually? She uses the privacy of our homes as an argument against. Like so much else in our present crisis, the great issue is about location.
The modern world is linked digitally as never before. In our benefice, we meet as a congregation, not physically, but spiritually, and it is undoubtedly a real meeting. Surely the consecration of the bread and the wine is also primarily a spiritual rather than a spatial act. The prayer of consecration, the work of priest and people together representing the body of Christ, should be seen as effective as this local and wider congregation meet virtually.
This is a new world, and a virtual meeting is a specific meeting of specific members of the body of Christ, not solely local, but still defined. Each Sunday, when I celebrate the holy communion, I ask the congregation to share in an “agape meal” of bread and wine. I let them interpret that as they will. But I long to be able to say to them what many undoubtedly believe: what you do in your homes is equally in remembrance of Him.
The Vicarage, Kents Lane
Standon SG11 1PJ
From Mr John Pitwood
Sir, — In the article “Why I am fasting from the feast” (Comment, 17 April), the author expresses her view that “The eucharist has been at the heart of [her] spiritual life for as long as [she] can remember.” It is, therefore, disheartening to read that she is prepared to stop celebrating the communion — to be at one with “the people”.
It seems to me that the sacrifice is Christ’s, and those who have the extraordinary privilege of being able to re-enact that sacrifice on behalf of “the people” should not use this gift of Christ and make it their own personal sacrifice. It is a bit like celebrating in one’s kitchen to be like “the people” when there is a perfectly good chapel one can use — which, I imagine, is what “the people” would expect.
”The people” take (I do, anyway) spiritual comfort in the sure knowledge that the clergy are continuing to present the mass on our behalf, and we are thus able to make a spiritual communion in this knowledge.
5 Trafalgar Crescent
East Yorkshire YO15 3NR
From the Revd Philip Martin
Sir, — Although our points of view are at variance, I have some sympathy for Mrs Allik-Schünemann (Letters, 24 April), because the Archbishops’ and Bishops’ guidance on closing churches has fractured what was until then a remarkable unanimity among clergy and congregations as we sought to respond to the present crisis.
For my part, I declined from the first to abide by the guidance and have continued to enter the church building to pray, offer the Divine Office of morning and evening prayer, to celebrate a daily eucharist, and to toll the bell so that others may be aware and thus comforted — and, on Thursdays at 8 p.m., be encouraged by its joining the noise that we all make for the NHS and carers.
Making that decision was among the most painful I have had to make during 36 years of ordained ministry, but it was for me inescapable. The Archbishops’ opinions properly merit our observance in most, but not in all, circumstances.
In this case, I considered their advice to be clearly outweighed by several competing claims on my obedience: the Government’s directives, based on expert medical advice, which clearly state that places of worship may continue to be open for private prayer and for funerals; reason, which calculates that my entering church does not entail any more risk to myself or others than does my walking past the entrance as I must while taking exercise or shopping for a neighbour; the needs and wishes of those who live and work near by, who have expressed warm appreciation for this continued ministry; Anglican ecclesiology, in which the ministry of priests is exercised both within and among, but also for and on behalf of, the people; my conscience, which demands that prayer be my first and chief responsibility; my frailty, which finds prayer on such a scale impossible in my kitchen, but possible by God’s grace in the place set aside for the purpose; and the Book of Common Prayer, which obliges me to pray each day in church and toll the bell.
I continue, of course, to pray for the Archbishops, who have tough calls to make and deserve all our support, but I regret, with immense sadness, their decisions in this matter and the somewhat bullying tone in which they were communicated. They reinforce a managerial form of leadership which is undermining the competence and confidence of the clergy and chaplains who are the essential front line of the Church of England.
In addition, while we committed Christians can agree that the Church remains active, the complete closure of our buildings has conveyed a message to the nation amid a national crisis that the national Church has retreated to the security of its living rooms.
The Vicarage, St Aldhelm’s Road
Poole BH13 6BT
From the Revd Dr Simon Steer
Sir, — I have been struck by the extraordinary exaggeration of the significance of church buildings by those who have fumed in your columns against the closure of churches. To quote one of many examples, Alison Baker (Letters, 24 April) challenges those “prohibiting entry to sacred spaces that have a sacramental quality”. Could not our homes be described in precisely the same way?
One of the great insights of the Christian faith is that worship is not restricted by physical location and the church is not a building, but a body of people sharing a common commitment to Christ and his mission. The early Christian communities met in homes and in other spaces, but church buildings were not common until the third century.
In my chapel talk (via Zoom) to the school where I am Chaplain this week, I will be sharing the remarkable conversation that Jesus has with the Samaritan woman in John 4. Jesus explicitly challenges the link between worship and physical location. Geography and buildings are relativised to the point of irrelevance.
We give thanks for church buildings and we look forward to returning to them in due course, but we do not need them in order to worship in spirit and in truth.
29 Park Road
Abingdon OX14 1DA
From Mrs Vicky Deasley
Sir, — As one of very many participants in Zoom services, may I make a plea. I am sure that I am not the only recently bereaved widow attending these in the fifth week of social isolation because of Covid-19. Please could the leaders and participants in these services take this into consideration. To see happy couples bouncing around on sofas and asking “poppet” to make the coffee just breaks my heart. I don’t think I am a grumpy old woman, just a dreadfully sad one.
36 School Lane
Stretton on Dunsmore, Rugby
Warwickshire CV23 9ND
Liverpool decision to furlough assistant curates
From the Revd J. B. Gilder
Sir, — I write in thankfulness and praise of those curates from Liverpool diocese who have volunteered to be furloughed (News, 24 April). As a stipendiary curate from another financially troubled diocese, I recognise that such a course of action cannot have been an easy choice, either for diocesan authorities or for the individuals concerned.
While furloughing clergy is by no means a pleasant thing to have to do, it seems -— in the case of curates at least — a sensible course of action, given the serious financial circumstances of the time. My diocese has yet to make such a decision, but I for one would be content to be furloughed if it helps the Church that I love survive in the long term.
I have witnessed many expressions of shock on social media at Liverpool’s decision to furlough. This is entirely understandable. Concerns have been expressed at both the potential financial consequences for individuals and the effects caused by the removal of clergy’s ability to minister, as such persons cannot continue to work for their employer while furloughed.
First, given that furloughing is temporary and should not lead to any loss of stipend, provided the diocese continue to pay 20 per cent, I doubt that any clergy would be caused financial hardship purely by being furloughed. Second, undoubtedly such action will cause a sad loss to ministry in parishes where any furloughed curate serves. However, by our very nature, we curates are not intended to be permanent additions to ministry teams and therefore such a loss should not be completely detrimental to any parish where the curacy is properly managed.
While it would be a personal loss not to be able to minister, I think I need to bear in mind that the Church of England primarily exists as the Church rather than as an organisation whose principal aim is to provide me with ministry opportunities. I ought to accept that occasionally there is a greater overall picture, and sometimes humility is called for in this regard. I’m permanently thankful to be paid a stipend, recognising that this is only possible through the giving of others, often less well-off than myself. If people in my position are not furloughed, it ultimately places even more of a financial burden on laity once this is all over, many of whom might well be facing far more problematic situations than I.
I would not, of course, wish hardship of any kind on anyone, least of all my fellow clergy. If, however, by furloughing me and others who are legally in a position to be furloughed, the Church retains its ability to provide for mission and ministry, now and in the future, then so be it.
44 Hurst Avenue
London E4 8DW