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Second wave will be harder, Archbishops warn

23 September 2020

‘We will need to be more critical in our response to restrictions that are above and beyond government regulations’

Youtube/Church of England

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, pictured last year

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, pictured last year

DIVISIONS are deeper now — on the brink of a second wave of coronavirus infections — than they were six months ago when the nation first went into lockdown, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have warned in a joint letter to all bishops on Wednesday.

The letter speaks of the inevitability of further national and local restrictions as the winter months approach, and the responsibility of the Church to “avoid mistakes” and respond in the right way to a more complex situation than before. In March, the Church was criticised for going beyond the government advice at the time and ordering church buildings to close, even to clergy (News, 24 March).

“We will need to be more critical in our response to restrictions that are above and beyond government regulations,” the Archbishops write, “helping the Church at the local level, in parish and diocese, steer a course that is marked by responsible action towards each other, care for the most vulnerable, and witness for the poor and disadvantaged who are suffering disproportionately.”

The Prime Minister announced on Tuesday that weddings in England are to be limited to a maximum of 15 people, down from 30. While numbers for funerals will remain at 30, after this date other life-cycle events, including baptisms and ordinations, will no longer be exempt from the rule of six for social gatherings, which was introduced by the Government last week.

Updated guidance published on the Church of England website on Thursday afternoon, however, states that if these events “follow a pattern of communal worship — where all attendees arrive, worship and leave together in groups of no more than six people — then these services can continue to be attended by as many people as can safely accommodate in the Place of Worship while adhering to social distancing requirements.” 

The Archbishops’ letter continues: “Our national situation is much more complicated than it was in March. The divisions are deeper. There is public and reasonable concern about hunger — especially amongst children — and homelessness, with an expected rapid rise in evictions.”

Their short letter also refers to the “concealed” issue of domestic violence, cases of which have risen globally during the pandemic (News, 7 May); the impact on the national economy, on small businesses, and on unemployment; and the effects of further restrictions on the elderly and isolated, and people on low incomes.

They are particularly stern about the behaviour of banks, comparing them with the servant in St Matthew’s Gospel who, despite being forgiven his debts, turned on those who owed him money, and ended up being delivered to “the tormentors” (18.23-35). They write: “It will be for us and others to encourage the banks, who received such help in 2009, to be equally merciful to others as the nation was to them.”

Finally, the Archbishops acknowledge the “growing nervousness about Christmas” as well as mental health. The Church and its Bishops, they write, have a responsibility to use its networks to meet people with “hope and stability” where there is “weariness and tiredness”.

“We are called to be responsible, but we are also called to resilience and prophetic speech. We have the networks, long since mobilised, and the partnerships to serve especially the hungry and homeless. Our schools are a particular treasure.

“However, there will also be a sense of tiredness; the weariness which comes with dealing with yet another threat and difficulty. To face this, we must continue to encourage one another and bear one another’s burdens. We must in our meetings be transparent with each other, able to say difficult things in a way that avoids mistakes being made through unwilling acquiescence to the perceived view of the majority.”

 

The full text of the letter:


Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

It is clear that we now have to gear up for a second wave of the coronavirus. This is hard. Many people were starting to believe things could return to normal. They can’t. But neither are we in the same place as before. We have learned a great deal. In our leadership of the Church and in the witness we show to our nation we need to be determined, resilient and hopeful. We will need to be more critical in our response to restrictions that are above and beyond government regulations, helping the church at the local level, in parish and diocese, steer a course that is marked by responsible action towards each other, care for the most vulnerable, and witness for the poor and disadvantaged who are suffering disproportionately. All this is the nature of love.

Our national situation is much more complicated than it was in March. The divisions are deeper. There is public and reasonable concern about hunger especially amongst children and homelessness, with an expected rapid rise in evictions. Domestic violence remains a major issue which is concealed.

We are also in a situation which threatens the recovery from the huge decline in the economy in the second quarter. The most vulnerable to this second wave are the small companies who employ the most people, and especially those in the hospitality industry. It will be for us and others to encourage the banks, who received such help in 2009, to be equally merciful to others as the nation was to them. St Matthew 18:23-35 seems highly relevant.

The poor, the elderly and isolated are especially vulnerable. There will be growing nervousness about Christmas, about mental health and many other issues that cannot be considered in this very short letter.

We are called to be responsible, but we are also called to resilience and prophetic speech. We have the networks, long since mobilised, and the partnerships to serve especially the hungry and homeless. Our schools are a particular treasure.

However, there will also be a sense of tiredness; the weariness which comes with dealing with yet another threat and difficulty. To face this, we must continue to encourage one another and bear one another's burdens. We must in our meetings be transparent with each other, able to say difficult things in a way that avoids mistakes being made through unwilling acquiescence to the perceived view of the majority.

Most of all we need to draw close to Christ, and continue to offer the hope and stability of the gospel. It is this gospel joy, even in the darkest times, that alone can help us through this crisis, bringing hope and an eternal perspective to the very pressing trials of the moment. We are so grateful for our partnership with you in this work. Do feel free to share this letter as you see fit. And please be assured of our prayers.

In the peace of Christ,

The Most Revd & Rt Hon Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury

The Most Revd & Rt Hon Stephen Cottrell
Archbishop of York

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