A PRIEST in the St Albans diocese has found a way to beat the ban on public worship inside churches while complying with lockdown restrictions.
The Vicar of St Mark’s, Bedford, Canon Charles Royden, is holding communion services in his church’s garden of remembrance under the ruling that allows an outdoor gathering of a maximum of six people.
On Sunday, he and his associate priest, the Revd Dr Sam Cappleman, held ten 25-minute eucharists for five people at a time. The reception was such that he has already taken telephone bookings from 60 members of his congregation for al fresco services this Sunday.
Canon Royden said: “It went really well, it was very much appreciated by the congregation. People really welcomed it back; it’s restoring those links to the congregation. We have an online service every Wednesday and we get good numbers, but not everyone can, or wants to, go online. People just want that personal contact. It was all a bit different, but with it being quite intimate, it is quite a meaningful service.”
His plan has the approval of both his diocesan bishop, Dr Alan Smith, and the Suffragan Bishop of Bedford, the Rt Revd Richard Atkinson.
Canon Royden said: “The new rules are clear that we can now share food and drink and enjoy outdoor picnics and barbeques. It is, therefore, entirely within the new government directions that the sharing of the holy sacrament is no longer prohibited. The possibility of catching Covid-19 from this practice is considered extremely low.
“We have been getting exasperated that these measures have been put in place to accommodate all sorts of activities, but nothing has been done in consideration of how churches are managing; so we are using the social-distancing criteria to have outdoor services of holy communion.
“We are doing everything by the book, we are complying with government laws and with canon law, and, by doing that, we can offer a safe environment for all our congregation to come and take the sacrament — and know that they are safe as well as spiritually fed. We are following the regulations to the letter. If you can have burgers, you can definitely take the sacrament.”
Canon Royden has carried out a stringent risk assessment, plotting safe routes in and out of the garden, social distancing, and arranging gazebos should it rain. The service is strictly regulated. Only the celebrant receives the sacrament in two kinds, and the host is administered in individual disposable containers. Single metal chairs are provided and sanitised with anti-viral cleanser before and after each service.”
Canon Royden said: “It would be lovely to see more churches doing it. Perhaps this will plant a seed. It really would be an encouragement for the congregation; it is what people are crying out for. There’s no danger, it’s safer coming here than sitting on a bus.”