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Church Times Review of the Year 2020

18 December 2020

Stories of note from the news this pandemic year. Click on the gallery below for more striking news images from 2020


The British Ambassador to the European Union, Tim Barrow, hands the instruments of ratification for Brexit to the Secretary of the European Council, General Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen, in Brussels, in January, two days before the UK left the EU

The British Ambassador to the European Union, Tim Barrow, hands the instruments of ratification for Brexit to the Secretary of the European Council, G...


THE Primates’ Meeting in Jordan ended with participants’ praising the “mature” and “grown-up” discussions that had taken place. Primates from 33 of the 40 Provinces were present. Three — those of Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda — chose not to attend, while others were detained by illness or other difficulties.

A lessons-learnt review was commissioned concerning the Revd Jonathan Fletcher and Emmanuel Proprietary Chapel, Ridgway, Wimbledon, after allegations of physical beatings and spiritual abuse.

Bishops and church leaders praised survivors of the serial abuser Peter Ball for their bravery, after their testimonies appeared in a BBC documentary on the case. The Revd Meirion Griffiths, a former Rector of St Pancras’s, Chichester, was convicted of sexually assaulting two women in the 1970s and ’80s.

The C of E’s national bodies announced that they would invest only in companies working towards net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The World Health Organization warned that a pandemic of a new, highly infectious, airborne virus that would threaten millions of lives was “inevitable”.

On the final day of the month, the UK left the EU, setting in train a transition period.



A PASTORAL letter from the Anglican Bishops in Hong Kong spoke of “a sense of frustration, helplessness, and even panic . . . as the novel coronavirus spreads through Hong Kong, Macau, mainland China, and across the world at an alarming rate.” As new cases of the coronavirus emerged across Europe later in the month, the Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, called for close co-operation between agencies across borders.

The General Synod set a 2030 target for net zero carbon emissions by the Church of England, rejecting the recommended target of 2045.

During a debate at the Synod on the Empire Windrush legacy, the Archbishop of Canterbury described the C of E as “deeply institutionally racist”. A private member’s motion that called on the Synod to apologise for and “stamp out” racism was carried unanimously.

PAStreets of Appleby-in-Westmorland, Cumbria under water, as Storm Ciara hit the UK, in February

Storms Ciara and Dennis brought floods to large parts of the UK. Churches rallied to support affected communities.

An independent investigation reported that the founder of L’Arche, Jean Vanier, who died last year, had initiated “manipulative and emotionally abusive” sexual relationships with six adult women.



THE restrictions on churches in response to the spread of the coronavirus grew more stringent as the month went on. On 10 March, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York advised members of the clergy to suspend both the administration of the chalice and physical contact during the Peace. A week later, they announced that no public services should take place until further notice, but requested that church buildings remain open for “private prayer wherever possible”.

On the evening of 23 March, the Archbishops said that churches must shut for private prayer, too, and that not even clergy should enter, after the Prime Minister named places of worship as among the buildings that must shut. The reason for this was to “take a lead in showing our communities how we must behave in order to slow down the spread of the coronavirus”.

PAA deserted Westminster in March, after the Prime Minister’s warning to people to stay at home to slow the spread of the coronavirus

The Lambeth Conference was among many Christian events postponed because of the pandemic.

The Church Commissioners and Archbishops’ Council agreed about £75 million in short-term liquidity funding to help dioceses and cathedrals struggling with their finances because of the pandemic.

The Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, was exonerated by a judgment given by Sir Andrew Smith, a former High Court judge, at the end of an internal inquiry. Dr Percy had been accused by an informal group of senior academics of “immoral, scandalous, and disgraceful behaviour”. After the judgment was delivered, he was reinstated, allowing him back inside the cathedral.



Peter WalkerLichfield Cathedral is floodlit by the artist Peter WalkerAID agencies working in the developing world forecast that millions could die and millions more be forced into extreme hunger as the virus spread.

The Archbishop of Canterbury convened a meeting of church leaders from different denominations in the run-up to Holy Week, to consider how they could bring hope amid the “despair” of the pandemic. Easter was celebrated in people’s homes, as many churches broadcast services on Zoom.

The leaders of 20 Christian charities wrote to the Prime Minister urging the Government to support both the Church and charitable sector in their work to protect communities during the crisis.

More Christian events were cancelled, including the Passion play staged annually in Trafalgar Square, and Greenbelt.

The lockdown was having a serious impact on church musicians, their membership organisations said. These included choristers, classical musicians, and organists, who were not allowed to meet or practise. Undertakers were being put under “incredible strain” to manage the increase in deaths resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors reported, after more than 18,000 people in the UK had died after contracting the virus.

Cardinal George Pell’s 2018 conviction for child sexual abuse was overturned by the Australian High Court in a unanimous decision.



THE Government unveiled a three-phase plan for the return to normal life. Churches would have to stay closed until 4 July. No change was made to the instructions for funerals, which allowed a few family members and friends to attend services in crematoria or at outdoor burials.

The meeting of the General Synod in York in July was cancelled.

Bishops were among those calling for an independent public inquiry into the disproportionately higher Covid19 death-rate among the UK’s ethnic minorities.

bluecoat schoolPupils of Bluecoat C of E School, Birmingham, sing “Looking to the Rainbow”, which was viewed more than 30,000 times online, in May

The annual prayer event Thy Kingdom Come and the annual National Pilgrimage to the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham moved online.

Bishops said that trust in the Government had been undermined by news that the Prime Minister’s senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, had made a trip from London to County Durham during the lockdown. Some called for Mr Cummings to be sacked.

Super-cyclone Amphan hit Bangladesh and India, killing at least 100 people.

George Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed black man, died in the city of Minneapolis while being detained by a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, who could be seen in a video kneeling on his neck. Mr Floyd’s death led to mass protests across the US and the world.



DURING a Black Lives Matter protest in Washington DC, police used force to clear the streets so that President Trump could pose outside St John’s Episcopal Church, holding a Bible. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Michael Curry, rebuked President Trump.

As protests continued, archbishops and bishops said that it is time to “own up to” and “repent” of white privilege, within the Church as in other parts of society.

diocese of leicesterThe Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, (centre) and colleagues “take the knee” outside Leicester Cathedral, in June

Churches were allowed to reopen for the first time in three months, for private prayer and funeral services. Hand-sanitisers, social distancing, one-way traffic systems, and priests in PPE greeted people who were allowed inside.

Aid agencies reacted angrily to the decision to merge the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office, saying that it would seriously hinder the UK’s ability to tackle global poverty.

The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, praised the Government’s decision to provide food vouchers during the school summer holidays for children who were eligible for free school meals, after a campaign by Marcus Rashford, the England and Manchester United footballer.



IT WAS thought that only a minority of churches reopened for worship when the ban was lifted on 4 July.

Hundreds of people married in church on Saturday when the government restrictions were lifted in England to allow wedding ceremonies once again.

PADavid D’Arcy and Hayley Collins are married at St Anne’s, Aigburth, south Liverpool, in July

Civil-rights groups and Hong Kong residents voiced outrage at the support that the Archbishop of Hong Kong, the Most Revd Paul Kwong, gave to China’s new National Security Law, which granted the State wide-ranging powers to suppress opposition, and effectively ended Hong Kong’s political independence.

The General Synod met informally for one day, for the first time online instead of in York, where it normally meets in July. The Archbishop of Canterbury was grilled about instructions to close churches. “The government advice was about care for the community,” he said. “We issued advice, not law, in the middle of a complicated process after the Prime Minister said places of worship would be closed. We were working with a fast-moving situation.”

Churches in Britain and overseas deplored a Turkish government decision to turn the ancient Hagia Sophia basilica in Istanbul into a mosque, and warned that the move could damage Christian-Muslim relations.



FACE coverings in places of worship became mandatory.

New lockdowns were imposed in areas of northern England reporting big increases in new coronavirus cases. The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, described the timing of the announcement as a “shambles”.

At least 135 people died and more than 4000 were injured after a devastating blast in Beirut, the Lebanese capital, caused by a fire in the port area which ignited 2750 tonnes of unsafely stored ammonium nitrate.

The moment when the ceiling began to fall above the sanctuary at St Maron’s, Bauchrieh, during a live-streamed liturgy, in August, about two miles from the site of an explosion in Beirut

Some choirs returned to church services, after changes to government guidelines on the performing arts were announced which made it permissible for both professional and non-professional singers and musicians to perform individually or in small groups inside and outside of buildings.

Bishops welcomed the Government’s U-turn over A-level results, which meant that students would be awarded the grade predicted by their teachers. A-level results had initially been awarded through a system based on schools’ previous results, which were calculated through an algorithm and not through individual student performance. This sparked a widespread outcry after thousands of students were downgraded and missed out on university places.

Thousands of people bought passes for an online version of the Greenbelt Festival, organised in place of the traditional festival Boughton House.



THE Government imposed a ban on social gatherings of more than six, though it did not apply to public worship in churches.

Archbishop Welby and the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, said that too much central control was hampering the Government’s response to the pandemic.

At the end of the month, global coronavirus deaths exceeded one million. It marked “a dark and difficult day” for the world, Archbishop Welby said.

The Dean of Christ Church, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, accused of safeguarding lapses earlier in the year, was cleared after an independent investigation.

PAMigrants rest in a car park on Lesbos, in September, after fires destroyed a refugee camp

The Government’s UK Internal Market Bill, which would allow it to override parts of Britain’s Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union, cleared its first parliamentary reading, despite an admission that it would break the law

A Group headed by ecclesiastical lawyers suggested radical reform of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003

Wildfires in the United States destroyed church buildings, while other places of worship provided shelter for residents who had fled their homes.

Fires destroyed a camp for migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos. The Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, said that the tragedy highlighted a moral and political “failure”.



THE Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) published its investigation report on the Anglican Church, and concluded that, for decades, the Church of England has contradicted its “moral purpose” by failing to protect children and young people.

The House of Bishops subsequently unanimously endorsed a motion to accept the investigation report and committed itself to “urgently implementing” the Inquiry’s recommendations.

IICSACopies of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse’s report on the Anglican Church, which was published in October

Restrictions that had been lifted were reimposed on church services across the Continent, as governments sought to contain an upsurge in the Covid-19 pandemic.

As Greater Manchester prepared to enter Tier 3 restrictions, the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, warned that the Government risked “increasing infection rather than driving it down” if it did not offer sufficient financial support.

Pope Francis reaffirmed a link between religious faith and human dignity in his new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti: On fraternity and social friendship, and confirmed his Church’s unconditional rejection of war, capital punishment, and excessive wealth.

All five Anglican Primates in the UK warned the Government that its UK Internal Market Bill would set a “disastrous precedent” and “further undermine trust and goodwill” between the home nations if it was passed unamended.



RELIGIOUS leaders and parliamentarians spoke out against the suspension of public worship, which came into force as part of a month-long second national lockdown.

An earthquake in the Aegean Sea killed at least 115 people and severely damaged the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Izmir.

The long-awaited outcome of the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) project was published. It included A 480-page book, 17 videos, 16 podcasts, and an online learning hub. .

Bishops in the House of Lords contributed to a heavy defeat of the Government over the UK Internal Market Bill during its Committee Stage. The Government said that it would re-table the clauses when the Bill returned to the Commons.

Bishops in the United States welcomed the election of Joe Biden, the second Roman Catholic US President. They called for national unity and healing after a deeply divisive election campaign.

PAUS President-elect Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Delaware, in November

Bishops and aid agencies condemned the decision by the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to cut overseas aid spending. The Archbishop of Canterbury described it as “shameful and wrong”.

The General Synod met online for a three-day meeting. It accept the recommendations of the IICSA report, and gave final approval to sweeping reforms of cathedral governance.



HOLY COMMUNION could now be administered in both kinds under strict conditions, the Archbishops said.

A Church House spokesperson said that there was “no scope under the canons” for priests to post consecrated bread to a communicant, as some had been known to do.

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, said that seeing the first vaccine administered had “brought hope to people around the world”. C of E guidance warned churches and cathedrals that logistical issues might make it difficult for them to operate as temporary vaccination centres.

PAA care-home worker, Pillay Jagambrun, aged 61, receives one of the first Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine doses at Croydon University Hospital, south London, in December

The General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church voted to match the Church of England’s pledge to reduce carbon emissions to net zero in a decade.

Almost 500 church leaders signed an open letter to the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, asking him to find a solution to lockdown debt. Families who had been hit by the pandemic had faced “awful choices”, such as having to decide between food and rent, the letter said.

The President of the European Com­mission, Dr Ursula von der Leyen, said that there was “a path to an agreement” on a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK. The final outcome was unclear, however, as the Church Times went to press.

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