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Ely clergy offered a Sunday off as burden of pandemic takes its toll

04 December 2020

James Billings

The 30-ft Christmas tree in Ely Cathedral

The 30-ft Christmas tree in Ely Cathedral

ALL incumbents and assistant curates in the diocese of Ely have been offered a day off on 27 December, the First Sunday of Christmas, or St John the Evangelist’s Day, so that they can visit their families on the last day when Covid restrictions are suspended.

The Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway has issued a dispensation. He wrote to his flock last Friday: “I am very conscious of the fact that parochial clergy are facing a very short window for celebration with family and friends between 23 and 27 December. For this reason, I am dispensing all incumbents and curates from the canonical obligation to provide public worship in the parish or benefice on Sunday 27 December.

“Those of you who wish to do so, may proceed as usual. However, the same narrow window affects SSMs and retired clergy and LLMs, too. I do not want any to be over-burdened or feeling guilty. I trust you to make local arrangements in your deanery or team.”

The different restrictions on numbers and households in the three government-assigned tiers mean that the arrangement of Christmas services is being left to individual dioceses and incumbents. The Church of England has since published guidance on how to manage worship and outdoor carol services over the Christmas period (see our story here).

The new tier system, a stricter version of the one before the second lockdown, was put to a vote in the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon, and was carried by 291 votes to 78. In an attempt to placate Conservative rebels, the Prime Minister said that the the tiers would be decided on a more “granular” basis in the mid-December review. Most MPs from Opposition parties abstained.

Most of the north of England has been placed under the highest level of restrictions, compounding already higher levels of hardship than in the south.

The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, posted on Twitter on Sunday: “As infection levels fall sharply (45% in 2 weeks) across our region, two vital demands for MPs to put before government this week — effective support for businesses plus a ‘meaningful’ review in 2 weeks time, to determine which tier GM (and other areas) are in over Christmas.”

Dr Walker told the Church Times on Tuesday evening that he “fully supported” the tier system, but that it was based on trust in the Government and their scientific advisers, which was “persistently very low”.

“We will maintain the best levels of compliance if the reasons why a particular area is placed in a specific tier are transparent, revisited in a timely fashion, and manifestly fair. This is particularly important as independent surveys show that levels of trust in government handling of the pandemic are persistently very low.

“Regaining trust, essential to keep us all safe, requires both political considerations and scientific data, are subject to the accountability of public scrutiny. Allegations that different standards are applied, for example to the capital in contrast to other parts of the country, are particularly damaging to that trust. Suspicion will continue to undermine compliance until consistently transparent, evidence-based decisions are able to dispel any whiff of double standards.”

In Liverpool, a mass-testing programme continues, whose results are provided in less than an hour. The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, has now had four tests. He said on Tuesday: “I strongly support these measures, and I regret that Liverpool has attracted its share of anti-lockdown demonstrators. I know that the tens of thousands of Scousers involved in the pilot are making their contribution to the common good, and along with hundreds from the churches in the city I’m proud to be one of them.”

The Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine has become the first to be approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for use in the UK. It may be available as early as next week for mass distribution.

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