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Bishops produce guidance on resumption of ordinations

09 June 2020

Geoff Ward

Ordinations to the diaconate, such as these at Lichfield Cathedral last year, will have to follow social-distancing measures, but may be able to take place as early as August

Ordinations to the diaconate, such as these at Lichfield Cathedral last year, will have to follow social-distancing measures, but may be able to take ...

IT MAY be possible to hold ordination services as soon as August, guidance released by the House of Bishops on Tuesday suggests.

There will be no ordinations at Petertide (St Peter and St Paul falls on 29 June), owing to social-distancing measures. Once public worship is permitted to resume in England, however, dioceses may hold ordination services, although they must be governed by strict new rules on hand-washing, and with very limited numbers, the guidance states.

According to canon law, ordination can be administered on any Sunday or feast day. If the Government does move to the next stage of relaxing the lockdown in July, the document envisages some dioceses’ holding services as early as the feast of the Transfiguration (6 August); but Michaelmas (29 September) — at which date some dioceses customarily hold ordination services — is more likely.

“It is advisable to avoid winter dates, as they may converge with the seasonal flu and additional pressure on the NHS,” the guidance recommends. The advice has been put together by senior figures of the Liturgical Commission and Ministry Division.

Of critical concern has been the laying-on of hands. The guidance states that, besides being a moment of “great significance to the candidate”, it is also the moment of greatest danger for possible transmission of Covid-19.

“Special care must be taken to minimise the number of participants in this action, to keep the contact brief, to ensure distance between those taking part, and to ensure that hands are clean and uncontaminated.”

For ordination to the diaconate, only the bishop will be allowed to lay on hands; for ordination to the priesthood, the bishop should be joined by two other priests, but no more.

All involved must wash their hands thoroughly before and after laying them on the candidate. The two priests should lay on hands one at a time after the bishop, while also observing two-metre distancing.

“The typical Anglican practice of priests gathering in a large group to join the bishop in the laying-on of hands will not be possible in the current circumstances, and this practice is in any case of no great antiquity,” the document states.

Furthermore, to avoid large gatherings, the House of Bishops envisage most dioceses’ holding several smaller ordination services — possibly not in the cathedral — rather than the popular single service at which all or large numbers of candidates are ordained together.

Candidates should be permitted “a few guests”, but the numbers must be tightly controlled. Beyond the candidates and their guests, few people should be present, apart from the bishop, any assisting priests, an archdeacon, and the diocesan director of ordinands.

The giving of a Bible to each candidate is a necessary part of the service to be carried out after the ordination prayer or at the sending out as usual. The bishop is requested to sanitise his or her hands before distribution, and the Bibles are to be handled as little as possible before the service. .

Bishops may anoint with oil — but this should be done only with an implement that can be either disposed of or thoroughly cleaned. Foot-washing is not permitted.

If ordinands are to vest as customary for the service, they are to place or adjust their stole themselves during the service. Candidates may enter the service in the vesture of the order to which they are to be ordained.

The guidance states that it may be possible for a cantor to sing Veni Creator and other music, but it is unlikely, on the basis of current government advice, that congregational singing will be permitted. Official guidance on the use of music should be followed.

The ordinations are to take place within the eucharist, but the newly ordained will not be allowed to distribute the sacrament, but only to receive communion in one kind. Given that social distancing may not be possible at various points in the service, everyone involved should consider wearing a face covering, the guidance concludes.

Although it has been known for some time that this year’s Petertide ordination services could not be held, many candidates for ordination and deacons have been left in the dark about any alternative arrangements.

Many dioceses intend to license (many of them remotely) as lay workers those who were due to be ordained deacon. Many of these will begin their ministry in their parishes and receive stipends from this date, before a rescheduled ordination service.

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