THE Rector of St Bartholomew the Great, Smithfield, in London, the Revd Marcus Walker, has defied the Bishops’ directive to priests to stay out of their churches during the coronavirus lockdown.
Fr Walker live-streamed the morning eucharist from the church on Sunday, after the Archbishop of Canterbury said on BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show that the Bishops had been giving “guidance, not instruction” when they directed clergy last month not to enter their churches (News, 17 April).
Archbishop Welby had been asked by Mr Marr about a Times article written by Fr Walker, which had stated: “We’re expected to say morning and evening prayer in our churches every Sunday and to celebrate communion — that’s the law. Do the bishops have a right to order us not to do our legal duty?
In a Facebook post linking to the service, on Sunday, Fr Walker wrote: “We are back! After three weeks of exile, a traditional Anglican choral eucharist is once again being celebrated from St Bartholomew the Great.”
In his sermon, he said that the Archbishops had “quite rightly” instructed churches to be closed to congregations to meet government guidelines, but that their decision to prevent clerics from broadcasting within their churches went too far.
“As the incumbent of this church, who, with the Parochial Church Council of this church, has the only legal authority to end worship here, I have taken the Archbishops’ guidelines very seriously. I have thought and prayed on them, and listened too to the voices of my flock, of my parishioners. . . I have received scores of letters and emails calling on services to be restored here in their church. . . I owe them my solidarity. . . And so here I am.”
The Church of England guidelines on church buildings were updated on Monday to reflect the Government’s decision to extend the coronavirus lockdown for a further three weeks. It states: “We know that in many cases it has been a very difficult thing to lock the church building. . . People have been told to stay at home and only make journeys that are absolutely necessary, such as shopping for essential items and to take daily exercise. The Church must take a lead in following this in order to slow down the spread of the virus.”
The C of E’s general guidance on coronavirus has also been updated to include confirmation that PCCs can meet by video link. It warns, however, that PCC members who are unable to participate must not be excluded from decision making.
“The Chair should take steps to ensure that they are able to participate so far as possible, including where necessary by means of the procedure for conducting business by correspondence set out in rule M29 of the Church Representation Rules. Decisions such as the authorising of expenditure, entering into contracts, or those that require a formal resolution of the PCC should be put in written form and circulated for formal approval.”