The coronavirus crisis and the C of E’s response
From the Revd Andrew Welsby CMP
Sir, — On Tuesday evening, I, with other clergy in Liverpool diocese, received a letter from our Diocesan Secretary and the Chair of the DBF explaining the financial implications for parishes following Covid-19. I was astonished to read:
“We have been actively exploring — along with all dioceses — whether the national church will be able and willing to offer any relief or interventions around deferred payments or grant or loan support. Late last week the national church made very helpful provisions around liquidity, namely advancing our Lowest Income Communities Grant to support cash flow. We have yet to hear whether there is any significant structural support coming through. So we are planning on the basis that this is our problem to solve in the diocese, that no additional funding will be forthcoming.”
At the end of 2018, the assets of the Church Commissioners stood at £6.4 billion, net of the provision for the pre-1998 clergy pension liability of £1.5 billion. During that year, the Commissioners made “charitable donations” to the Church of £164.4 million (2.6 per cent of assets), of which £0.5 million was made to “national payroll for clergy”. Given the recent figures quoted by the diocese of Chelmsford, that equates to just over six clergy posts.
In the same year, 25 dioceses received Lowest Income Community funding totalling £24.8 million (Church Commissioners’ annual report for 2018). It must be remembered that the source of these assets is ultimately the parishes, whose endowments were appropriated in 1978.
So, who, what, where, and, above all, why is this “National Church”? Does the expression refer to the Archbishops? The Archbishops’ Council? The Church Commissioners? It has always been my understanding that the “National Church” is the people, clergy, and buildings of the 12,500 parishes in England rather than a supra-diocesan curia deciding, according to their own agendas and whims, the disposal of assets that belong ultimately to all the Church.
The Government has rightly recognised that it is the weakest and most vulnerable who must be supported the most. If the Church Commissioners and Archbishops do not respond to the present crisis in a like manner, they will surely be guilty of the most egregious dereliction of moral duty.
We, the clergy of the poorest diocese, are continually exhorted to spur our people into greater generosity. As I look at my congregation of pensioners and widows in this former mining community, I am amazed and humbled by their already sacrificial level of giving. For their sake, and for the generations yet to come, I beg the “National Church” to heed our Lord’s injunction not to lay up treasure on earth and to give us today our daily bread. Enable us to survive this.
St James’ Vicarage
169 Church Road
Haydock WA11 0NJ
From Canon Gordon Oliver
Sir, — The realities of work and ministry in responding to the coronavirus were brought home to me this week by a Christian friend who is a funeral director.
She wrote: “The biggest challenge this week has been the constant changes in regulations. As an example of how quickly things are changing, one our families had a service today, they were having a full service in church with committal at the crematorium afterwards, three limousines and two executive saloon cars for mourners to travel in, and approx. 200 people expected at both church and crematorium.
“Last Friday afternoon, we broke the news to them that they could only have a maximum of 25 people at the crematorium. On Monday morning, we broke the news that they could no longer have the executive saloon cars and they could only have three people traveling in each of the limousines instead of the usual six. By Tuesday morning, they could no longer have a church service. By Wednesday, they could no longer have the limousines, and by yesterday morning the crematorium had reduced the number of people who could attend to two.
“These are very hard conversations that we are having to have with people. I haven’t worked less than 14 hours a day this week and as managers we are now on call 24/7. And we know it will only get worse only the next few weeks.
“If I can bring even a little piece of God’s love and care to these people at this time, then it makes everything else worthwhile even if it is difficult at the time.”
God is indeed calling us to become communities of love, prayer, and selfless service.
112 Bush Road, Cuxton
Rochester ME2 1HA
From Canon Christopher Hall
Sir — In your leader comment last week, you argued that “priests can decide whether they can enter a church safely”, and urged the Archbishops to reconsider their ban (News, 27 March) — at least for the streaming of services. Deddington in Oxfordshire pioneered the installation of the technology so that all services are streamed.
Church House reported that in the week before the ban, 800 streaming services were added to A Church Near You, multiplying the opportunity thus to minister to countless isolated or isolating people. National or diocesan provided services lack the intimacy of the local relationship between the minister and the virtual congregants. Messages of appreciation already received bear witness to the value of that ministry, and open the door to a continuing pastoral relationship — highly unlikely where the minister is a remote dignitary.
Where the appropriate technology has been installed in church and perfected through experience, why not use it? So many buried talents are desperately needed. If foodbanks in churches are permitted to continue, why not allow the socially distanced provision of food from churches for those who are spiritually starving? The service streamed from a church setting adds familiarity as well as objectivity to the worship.
From the beginning of the restrictions, our vicar maintained the pattern of services advertised on A Church Near You. I deeply share her frustration at the edict from on high. No one’s health is endangered, as she is the only person in the building. Clergy are key workers ready and able to contribute locally to the healing of the nation, working from the spiritual home of their parishes.
The Knowle, Deddington
Banbury OX15 0TB
From Mrs Judith Niechcial
Sir, — I hope that Archbishops Welby and Sentamu will revise their decision to ban priests from their own churches. My understanding is that there is no epidemiology behind the decision. Public health is not compromised. It is, rather, a PR exercise, designed to show that priests are abiding by government guidelines on staying at home.
Priests could be seen as key workers in this time of crisis: supporting spiritual and emotional resilience is arguably as important at this time as physical well-being, and key workers are allowed to go to work. I cannot imagine that the public would be disturbed by seeing a priest walking a few yards to church, nor feel that, because he or she was doing that, it somehow let him or her off the hook. The somewhat defensive tone of the Archbishops’ letter of 24 March leads me to think that I am not alone in questioning the decision.
Locked doors of churches with forbidding notices on them give just the wrong message at this time when people are in special need of the sustenance and inspiration that the Church can offer. A great opportunity for outreach is being missed.
I am a clergy wife; so it is easier for me to question the decision than it is for my husband. He has spent long hours installing wiring, downloading software, re-arranging furniture, being his own lighting and sound engineer, etc., and has managed to live stream mass on YouTube from our dining room.
All very stressful; and, I feel, all this unnecessary effort has taken him away from his core concerns of arranging communications with his people , setting up support groups, phoning vulnerable parishioners, devising resources for our young people, and reaching out to others.
St Francis Vicarage
60 Willett Way
Petts Wood BR5 1QE
From Canon Peter Williams and the Revd Will Pearson Gee
Sir, — It is obvious that our individualistic society has been jolted into asking questions about purpose, responsibility, relationships, community, meaning, church, and God as never before. In that spiritual search, the order and beauty of church buildings and their furnishings inspire awe and wonder. Because live streaming greatly facilitates this, it is a precious missiological tool.
We are encouraged that Cardinal Nichols so enthusiastically commends live streaming without being prescriptive about its place of origin. Our Archbishops underline the need to take “a lead in showing our communities how we must behave”. But having to stream services from the Rectory is actually more dangerous for one of us, Will, and for the camera operator.
Instead of walking (no contact with anyone) and being inside a great a building with one other person to use equipment that is all set up and optimised for the task, Will has to have equipment delivered to his house; it all has to be disinfected and then set up; and someone has to come to operate it. It is, furthermore, monumentally disturbing to family life, as he loses the use of a room, while the three children, his wife, his mother-in-law, and his dog have all to be in silent mode.
23 Sandmartin Close
Buckingham MK18 1SD
The Rectory, 8 Aris Way
Buckingham MK18 1FX
From the Revd Dr John Caperon
Sir, — Canon Andrew Davison’s fine exposition of the significance of the eucharist (Comment, 27 March) is timely in our present crisis, and prompts two thoughts in particular.
First, how regrettable it is that the archbishops and diocesan bishops have felt it necessary to prohibit the use of parish churches for eucharistic celebration. It is difficult to see how a priest celebrating the eucharist for the people at the altar in their parish church could undermine the Government’s restrictions on social interaction. And what a declaration of Christian prayer and presence it would be if every parish-church bell tolled each Sunday to announce that the eucharist was being offered in the community’s sacred space!
Second, is it really necessary for us to continue to use the ancient language of blood sacrifice for the eucharist? “Sacrifice” as self-giving is well understood today: by the end of the Covid-19 epidemic, we may well have become accustomed to hearing that doctors and nurses have sacrificed — given — themselves that others may live. That makes sense as meaningful contemporary language; I’m not sure that “pleading the blood of Jesus” does any more.
Crowborough TN6 1YE
[Canon Davison’s article should have referred to Leo XIII, not Pius XIII. Our apologies. Editor]
From the Revd Stephen Tucker
Sir, — I am a self-isolating, high-risk, retired priest. I do not have responsibility for a congregation, but I can imagine something of what those who do are suffering in the present situation. What I cannot grasp is why their life and the life of their people is being made more difficult by recent church guidelines.
For some of us the possibility of at least seeing a priest still at the altar would provide a source of deep spiritual consolation and encouragement. In this situation, I find it hard not to feel angry with those who have set these guidelines
Wit’s End, 10 Beechcroft Road
Laverstock, Salisbury, SP1 1PF