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Do not suspend worship again, say clergy in open letter

28 September 2020


A sign on the padlocked gates of St Luke’s, Thurnby, near Leicester, in March, after churches were advised by the Archbishops to close

A sign on the padlocked gates of St Luke’s, Thurnby, near Leicester, in March, after churches were advised by the Archbishops to close

MORE than 150 Anglican clergy have joined with ministers of other denominations to urge the Government not to recommend the suspension of public worship again for fear of causing “serious damage” to the mental, physical, and spiritual well-being of the nation.

In an open letter sent to MPs on Thursday of last week and published over the weekend, the five lead authors, while supporting “proportionate measures” to protect the vulnerable from the coronavirus, oppose the severity of recent restrictions (News, 25 September).

“We are troubled by policies which prioritise bare existence at the expense of those things that give quality, meaning and purpose to life,” they write.

“Increasingly severe restrictions are having a powerful dehumanising effect on people’s lives, resulting in a growing wave of loneliness, anxiety, and damaged mental health. This particularly affects the disadvantaged and vulnerable in our society, even as it erodes precious freedoms for all. In our churches, many have been working tirelessly to provide help to those most affected.”

The letter has accrued more than 850 signatures.

The lead authors are: the Minister of Ealing International Presbyterian Church, the Revd A. Paul Levy; the Lead Minister of Highfields Church, Cardiff, Wales, the Revd David M. Gobbett; the Minister of The Tron Church, Glasgow, the Revd Dr William J. U. Philip; the Revd David Johnston, a minister emeritus of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland; and the Minister of Trinity Church, York, the Revd Dr Matthew P. W. Roberts.

More than 150 of the signatories are C of E clerics, many of them Evangelicals. These include the Rector of St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, in London, the Revd William Taylor; the Vicar of St Andrew the Great, Cambridge, the Revd Alasdair Paine; the Senior Minister for Evangelism at All Souls’, Langham Place, in London, the Revd Rico Tice; and the director of the Church Society, the Revd Dr Lee Gatiss.

Their letter continues: “The public worship of the Christian church is particularly essential for our nation’s wellbeing. . . The supportive relationships that churches nurture between people are vital, and simply cannot be dispensed with again without significant harm. And most of all, we know that regular gathering to worship God is essential for human life to be lived to the full.”

Churches across the nation had been diligent in maintaining “rigorous” hygiene and social-distancing standards, they argue. “As a result, church worship presents a hugely lesser risk of transmission than pubs, restaurants, gyms, offices, and schools; and it is more important than them all.

“We therefore wish to state categorically that we must not be asked to suspend Christian worship again. For us to do so would cause serious damage to our congregations, our service of the nation, and our duty as Christian ministers.”

One of the signatories, the Revd Dr Ian Paul, who is a member of the Archbishops’ Council, told Sky News on Monday that the virus should not be considered in isolation, but as having multiple effects, including fear and isolation, and a disproportionate impact on people living in poverty.

“We’ve had all this language about beating the virus, as though illness and disease is something that we can just muscle away. That is not the case. . . We have an ecological relation with the virus. Church leaders would say, from a Christian perspective, one of the things the virus has done has confronted us with our own mortality: people die of diseases.”

He continued: “We really want to say to the Government that the spiritual dimension of life is really important. The Christian church has a message of hope to offer the world. . . That is significant as well. Please don’t inhibit us. This is a time when people have had all sorts of questions raised about life, and we believe we have something really vital to share which is going to have a practical impact on the lives of people in Britain today.”

Dr Paul denied that church leaders would resist any lockdown that was put in place. “There is no hint in the letter at all of threatening the Government, or saying we are not going to comply; it is a call to think realistically, to think more broadly, and consider all the aspects of what is happening here.”

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