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New Welsh regulations bring sad resignation, says Archbishop Davies

02 October 2020

Church in Wales

The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies

The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies

THERE is disappointment, confusion, anxiety, and “sad resignation” among the people of Wales, the Archbishop, the Most Revd John Davies, has said, as swaths of the principality were locked down this week to temper the second wave of coronavirus infections.

Half the 22 local-authority areas in Wales — about two million people — are now under local lockdown, after new rules came into force in Cardiff and Swansea on Sunday. This means that people in these areas are not able to enter or leave without a reasonable excuse, form an extended household, or meet indoors with anyone outside of their household.

“There is a sense of growing anxiety again,” Archbishop Davies said on Tuesday. “One feels very much, of course, for people who have self-isolated before in vulnerable categories. . .

“Students from Swansea University have literally just arrived; they have had outbreaks there, and now there is this great uncertainty whether their course is going to continue, or be online — whether they are going to be able to go home at Christmas. It is really quite a traumatic scenario.”

People who had stuck diligently to the rules also felt “disappointment, when they see on the news, the press, or social media, how others are inclined to act rather less responsibly”, he said. “There has been not a sense of disbelief, but rather sad resignation, as different areas have gone into local lockdown.”

The clergy, too, were nervous that further restrictions might have an impact on public worship. “There is a sense of frustration because, across Wales, thanks to the understanding of the Welsh government, places of worship were opened a little while ago, and people are beginning to wonder now: will that change? It is a really confused picture.”

Congregation numbers can vary according to the capacity — with social distancing — of church buildings, although larger services can be held outdoors. Wedding ceremonies and receptions of up to 30 people are still permitted in Wales, even though they have been reduced to 15 in England (News, 25 September). Funeral numbers are also matched to capacity. Any funeral reception held is limited to 30 people.

In contrast with the Church of England, clergy in the Church in Wales have always been permitted to enter their churches to live-stream services during the pandemic, accompanied by helpers (News, 27 March). “That was an indication from the very beginning that the holistic view of people’s lives, spiritual as well as physical, was important,” Archbishop Davies said.

“And there have been really effective and useful conversations, meetings, and debates with Welsh government throughout. I have no indication that this is going to change, because they are satisfied that people in the faith community are taking this very seriously.”

He expressed empathy with the archdeacons who were responsible for conducting the required risk assessments. “Speaking to my own archdeacons, they have found that very difficult — not only because of the volume [of work], but the pressure people can be under to give permission in local parochial communities.

“I am aware, speaking to some of my local clergy, that there are those around who, now that a building is open, say it is ridiculous that we can’t sing. There is always more that people want, rather than, perhaps, appreciating the concessions that have been altered. The clergy and archdeacons are at the sharp end of that.

“People ask for things because there is a sense of entitlement, and propriety; but they have to understand the terrible risks.”

He referred to the experience of his wife, who returned to nursing in intensive care at the start of the outbreak. “She said: ‘If you see this virus face to face, it is grotesque.’ If people do not understand just how grotesque it is, they are missing the point.”

Archbishop Davies continued: “I feel a great deal of concern for those in both local and national government, who are faced with almost impossible circumstances, to try and discern what to do for the best. They don’t want to screw things down so tightly that you just can’t move, but, at the same time, they have to do something to convey their interpretation of the seriousness of the situation. It is very sad.”

The Archbishop was hopeful but not especially optimistic about Christmas services. “Obviously, one would really hope that we would be able to celebrate Christmas in the Christian sense with some normality. I have to say, the more I see and hear, the less likely it seems. . . That will be a huge blow to many people. . . I would like to see some flexibility, but not at the risk of a huge increase in infections. We have to temper enthusiasm with common sense.”

Local lockdowns appear to be effective. Cases in Wales have fallen to below 4000 a day again, having spiked at 6873 on Thursday of last week: the highest recorded since the 6200 cases on 1 May. Cases had fallen to below 500 in July.

The Team Rector of Eglwysilan and Caerphilly, the Revd Mark Greenaway-Robbins, said: “Our experience of being the first borough in Wales to be placed in local lockdown was unnerving. As a benefice, we responded quickly by adapting to the latest restrictions, and we maintained public worship with the eucharist and outdoor services during the season of creation.

“Parishioners have responded positively to the new guidance, like wearing masks. The response of our Member of Senedd [Welsh Parliament], Dr Hefin David, was invaluable and generous as he helped us to navigate the new restrictions.

“People in the town are shopping locally, and keeping their spirits up, often by practising gratitude for the simple things in life, often previously taken for granted. However, It is hard when we can’t see family and friends. In my pastoral encounters, I know that the mental health for some of us who live here is under strain due to the limitations on our social interactions and worries about livelihood.”

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