PEOPLE shielding during the coronavirus epidemic could be overlooked as restrictions are gradually lifted and the rest of the world returns to normality, one priest has warned.
The Revd Laurence Powell, who is the Vicar of King Charles the Martyr, Tunbridge Wells, and the Priest-in-Charge of St Mark’s, Tunbridge Wells, and his wife, Caroline, are currently shielding their four-year-old son, Theo, who has cystic fibrosis. As a result, Mr Powell cannot go into his two churches and is relying on his two NSMs to carry out many of his duties.
“Even when churches do reopen, I’m unlikely to be able to lead any services in either of my two buildings,” Mr Powell said. He currently relies on Zoom and Facebook to conduct worship. He is one of 47 clergy in the archdeaconry of Tonbridge, in Rochester diocese, who are shielding themselves or others. His family is currently confined to the vicarage and its garden until at least the end of this month. The expectation within the cystic-fibrosis community is that the shielding period will possibly be extended even further — perhaps until a vaccine for the virus is found.
“There is that expectation from parishes that if the neighbouring parish seems to be going back to their church, and things are going well, why can’t they go back, too?” Mr Powell said. “I am also concerned that there may well be some clergy who have underlying health conditions they don’t want their churches or PCCs to know about, and they may feel under pressure to put themselves in a difficult situation.
“There are also a lot of elderly clergy who won’t be able to go back into their buildings, depending on what happens about the age limit.”
He welcomed the limited relaxing of restrictions last weekend. “I understand we need to begin the process of lifting the lockdown,” he said. “However, due care needs to be considered on how that will take shape for those who are shielding. I am 34, I am quite healthy, I would love to get back into my churches, but, morally, I can’t: the health of my son has to come first.
”I think there is a need for the Church to consider that, and I hope that it is being considered. We genuinely just don’t know how long this is going to go on for. It could go on until next March.
“I am concerned that anyone who is shielding could be left behind by society, as it gets back to a semblance of normality. If we are just told to stay at home, where does that leave us — particularly in terms of people’s mental health, jobs, or financially? Perfectly healthy people who cannot go to work could lose their jobs or be reliant on the State. There are huge questions around that, and I don’t think this is really being discussed at the moment.”
The C of E’s national adviser on health policy, the Revd Dr Brendan McCarthy, said: “Government advice is that a ‘shielded’ person should never be put under pressure to leave their homes for work or other purposes although they can voluntarily choose to do so. We are currently in discussion with Public Health England on a range of topics including the risk to various groups of exposure to the virus. Individual clergy are encouraged to discuss their particular circumstances with their diocesan bishop.”