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Table service  

25 September 2020

IT WAS wise of the Government’s advisers to keep from the general public their conviction that a second spike in the pandemic was pretty much inevitable, based on the modelling and the experience of other countries. The Government, too, despite giving the impression at times that it was similarly in the dark, was expecting it, though a month or more hence. The psycho­logical effort needed to return to the tighter restrictions of the spring and early summer is great. It is not for nothing that some of the greatest martial exhortations are concerned with secondary action (“Once more unto the breach. . .”). The three factors that en­­couraged compliance in the spring: — novelty, un­­cer­­­tainty, and solidarity — are all absent now to some degree. It might be hoped that familiarity would prove a good substitute, but this supposes that people have been suc­cessful in finding ways to cope with the physical and mental stresses caused by the pandemic.

The inequalities in UK society — too often and too shamefully taken for granted in normal times — have been greatly exac­er­bated in the past six months. The chief factor now is employ­­ment. Those who have a job or a pension are likely to be able to cope with a new round of restrictions; those without one or the other are in serious danger of despair. Practical, financial help must be found for both the established worker suddenly unable to support a family and the school- or university-leaver un­­­able to get a foot on the jobs ladder.

­As for the new restrictions, we trust that, this time, church services will remain untouched. All churches that have opened have done so only after careful preparation, and can confidently confirm the Archbishop of Canterbury’s newly restored belief in subsidiarity. It remains an absurdity that wedding-guest numbers are subject to a blanket limit at all, let alone a reduced one. Register offices or secular venues might struggle to ensure safe conduct above the low numbers permitted, but churches could easily establish their own, higher limits based on the capacity of each. It might be viewed as discriminating in favour of religious institutions, and lead to some last-minute shopping around, but what of it? The assump­tion that a wedding cannot happen without extravagant catering and widespread mingling shows how little regard the rule-setters have for the actual marriage service — or, we fear, for services in general. The C of E, despite giving the impression at times in the spring that it was happy for churches to be in the dark, this time has an opportunity to assert the value of its services. As non-essential interaction is actively be­­ing discouraged, there ought to be no question about the es­­sen­­tial nature of worship for those who are able to attend.

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