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Letters to the Editor

24 April 2020

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Uncelebrated eucharist, closed church, silent bells

From the Revd Andrew Lightbown

Sir, — I read the Revd Dr Julie Gittoes’s article “Why I am fasting from the feast” (Comment, 17 April) with interest and sympathy.

Of course, times like these cause us all to reflect on our beliefs, ecclesiology, and sacramentality. I think, however, that I have come to the opposite conclusion to that of Dr Gittoes: namely, that it is vital for the spiritual welfare of all in the community that the sacrament of the eucharist continue to be celebrated.

I have always reacted badly to the phrase “making my communion”. I believe that I am in some way receiving the body and blood of Christ alongside, with, and, to some extent, for others. I don’t think this is necessarily a priestly view, but an expression of the priesthood of all. In my own parishes, which are liturgical and sacramental in their ecclesiology, many have commented on how grateful they are that communion continues to be celebrated. Nobody has complained.

I have been very careful with the words spoken before the consecrated bread and wine is taken. Normally I use the words “The Body of Christ” and “The Blood of Christ”, consciously avoiding the addition of “given or shed for you” (I think, to avoid any notion of “my” communion); but now I have started to say “given” or “shed for us” to make explicit the point that, as a priest, I am receiving communion for “the priesthood of all believers”.

I am grateful to Dr Gittoes for the opportunity to reflect on this.

The Vicarage, Vicarage Road
Winslow MK18 3BJ


From Alison Baker

Sir, — Your report of the plans to ease Covid-19 restrictions in Europe (News, 17 April) does not accurately reflect the detailed situation across the continent, not least here in France, where churches have been open throughout le confinement.

It is true that public liturgical acts are suspended, as the Churches have worked ecumenically and in discussion with the Government to disrupt the spread of the virus. None the less, the churches remain open for private prayer with clear distancing and hygiene protocols in place.

Here in Paris, the Roman Catholic Archbishop, Mgr Michel Aupetit, is medically trained (specialising in epidemiology before going on to practise as a GP before training for ordination) and has been very clear from the outset that keeping the churches of his diocese open in this way poses less risk than shopping in a supermarket. Moreover, he has insisted that the best way he and his fellow clergy can stand in solidarity with the suffering and isolated is to offer the eucharist in their churches every day. Indeed, the Archbishop had broadcast mass (with musicians and full altar party observing social distancing but no congregation) from the church that serves as the temporary “Notre-Dame” every Sunday and throughout Holy Week.

There may be frustration in parts of Europe that public worship is suspended, but no other church leaders, as far as I am aware, have ever suggested that the Church can best serve their communities and nations by prohibiting entry to sacred spaces that have a sacramental quality and deep significance as signs of God’s presence in the world.

16-3 Rue de Balzunce
75010 Paris, France


From Mr Hugh Williamson

Sir, — Should churches be open during the coronavirus crisis? My experience in Germany suggests that it is possible. I live in Berlin, and the Protestant church that I attend, the Apostel-Paulus church in the Schoeneberg district, is holding no services, but is open daily from noon to 6 p.m. for visitors to pray or light candles. I’m part of the volunteer team that helps make this happen.

The volunteers and clerical staff keep social distance, of course, and we urge visitors to do the same. The church is one of the largest in Berlin; so this is not too difficult. Visitors also sometimes take the opportunity to have a more private conversation with one of the priests, also with social distance.

Not all Berlin churches are open in this way, but it seems that those with open doors are fulfilling a need. During the couple of three-hour shifts I’ve done, around 50 people visited, seeking a quiet moment at this difficult time.

Rosenheiemerstr. 40
10781 Berlin, Germany


From Mrs Elo Allik-Schünemann

Sir, — I think it is weak of the Archbishop of Canterbury to back off suddenly on Easter Day and embarrass all the clergy by saying that the request to close churches was only “guidance”. Where does it leave all the clergy and lay people who now feel like fools?

When Archbishop Welby says, “Our church buildings must now be closed. . .”, then the word “must” is not mere “guidance”: it is an “obligation”, which, according to my dictionary, means something that is “legally bound”. He must defend the closures to the end, and back all the clergy and staff who obeyed this order. This is the time to show strength, love, and guidance.

The Vicarage, College Road
London SE21 7HN


From Mr John Brydon

Sir, — If, as reported in the last edition of the Church Times, the Archbishops’ letter to clergy, approved by all the bishops, was not an instruction, but, rather, guidance, why, then, have I seen it reported that the Bishop of Rochester threatened clergy with disciplinary action?

As the guidance also states, “It may be reasonable for one designated person to enter the church periodically (frequency depending on the size and complexity of the building).” Why, as a churchwarden normally responsible for the building, cannot I agree with my incumbent that he or she, if willing, can take on that duty?

These questions to both the Archbishop of Canterbury and my diocesan bishop have met with polite responses, both reiterating the party line. Easter Day has passed. What a pity that clergy were not allowed to go into their church and ring their bells at an agreed hour. This might have sent out a more positive message.

Churchwarden, St George’s, Tombland
8 Daniels Road
Norwich NR4 6QZ


Holding the summer General Synod sessions

From Cllr Robin Lunn

Sir, — I was perturbed to see your headline, “Meeting of Synod in July hangs in the balance” (News, 9 April), primarily because it is surely premature to make such a decision.

The York General Synod meeting is still months away, nearly four weeks after the current 12-week isolation period for vulnerable people and the over-70s comes to a close. Under all current medical and scientific evidence, the peak of the virus will have subsided, and the country will, let us hope, be travelling back to a more normal position.

The General Synod is a legislative body. It is not a cultural or sporting event, and thus should try to meet if this is at all possible. It would appear strange if the Westminster Parliament, Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, and county councils were meeting again by this time, but the General Synod was not.

It is also to be emphasised that this is the last meeting to held in the current quinquennium, and not to hold it would deny those members retiring or standing down the chance to say goodbye. Your report refers to the fact that synodical elections due in September and October could be postponed, but at the moment there would appear to be no reason at all to make that decision, either.

Circumstances may change. I call on the Business Committee and all those making the decision, however, not to make any call around whether the Synod sits until early June, when the position with the pandemic will be much clearer. Waiting on events and not making decisions too early is often the most appropriate approach. It certainly is here. I pray that the Synod will be able to meet in July.

General Synod lay representative for Worcester diocese
Little Hambledon
10 Malthouse Crescent
Worcestershire WR7 4EF


Work of the Titus Trust should be continued

From Mr Robert D. Grieve

Sir, — I have read the latest report about the Titus Trust. I know that mistakes have been made and the appeals could have been handled better, with a much quicker response, but I was dismayed by the statement that the Titus Trust is “beyond reform . . . and its work should cease immediately” (News, 9 April).

Despite its faults, the Titus Trust cannot be held directly responsible for John Smyth’s evil deeds and abuse of boys, dating back to the 1970s. Smyth abused his position and violently treated trusting boys, not at any camp, but at Winchester. While boys were at the Iwerne camps, then, of course, the leaders and staff had a duty to care for each and every one of them. But once the boys left to return home, Iwerne had no more jurisdiction or legal care over them.

I myself was a regular “camper” at these camps in the 1960s. When I left my public school, I continued to help at the camps as a Leader (then called Officer). Later still, my wife and children joined me in leading at many junior camps. At no time whatsoever did I witness any form of abuse.

My heart goes out to victims of Smyth, and it is only right and proper that they should be compensated. But none of the current trustees of the Titus Trust was directly involved or responsible. These wonderful camps, my spiritual home, have provided amazing action holidays for thousands of boys and girls over decades. The Good News of Jesus has been presented as part of the provision of unforgettable holidays, where most campers return again and again, as I have.

No system is perfect, even connected with Christian events or the Church. It is absolutely right that those who, sadly, fell victim should be compensated. But I would plead for the Titus Trust to be allowed to carry on the excellent present-day work of organising these camps.

24 Alder Road
Folkestone CT19 5BZ


Death and resurrection

From Peter Rivers

Sir, — I was very pleased to find enclosed with the Church Times recently a little booklet produced by the Church of England, Prayers for Use During the Coronavirus Outbreak. My initial reaction was that it was good. When I came to look more carefully, however, I was dismayed to find no reference to death. Surely there should be some prayers to offer, for example, at the time of death, for the deceased, and for the bereaved.

This may be an accidental or a deliberate omission. The first could be forgiven, but the second would be incomprehensible. It is bad enough that the churches are closed at this time of need, but if the Church cannot talk about death, what can it do? Without death, there can be no resurrection, which is at the centre of Christianity.

25 Beech Cottages
Bishops Castle SY9 5JL

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