Concern over emergency changes to Abortion Act
From the Revd Eric J. Lobsinger, the Rt Revd Michael Langrish, and 61 others
Sir, — We write as a matter of urgency to express grave concerns about amendments made to the Abortion Act 1967 under the temporary provisions of the Coronavirus Act 2020, announced by the Department for Health and Social Care on 30 March 2020.
Under the provisions of the Abortion Act 1967, abortions could take place only in hospitals or clinics approved by the Secretary of State. Under the new temporary policy, doctors will be able to prescribe abortion pills (mifepristone and misoprostol) over the phone or video, allowing women to perform their own abortions, and deal with their effects, at home and without medical supervision.
These amendments represent the most significant change to the provision of abortion since 1967. They have come about as a result of pressure from the abortion lobby to take advantage of this crisis, and go against the government’s initial assurances to Parliament that they had ‘no proposals to change the abortion rules due to Covid-19’. These changes are thus both morally concerning and politically unconstitutional. They remove essential medical safeguards and pose a health risk to vulnerable women, especially those at risk of domestic abuse or sexual exploitation. While the coronavirus crisis has required unprecedented action from all of us to protect our society, such measures should not come at the expense of some of its most vulnerable members.
The Church of England’s own position is that it is strongly opposed to abortion, that ‘the foetus is a human life’, and that it would like to see a ‘stricter interpretation of abortion law’ (press statement of the Mission and Public Affairs Council for General Synod, 30 August 2011). In the light of this teaching, as members of the Church of England, we urge the Bishops both to speak out publicly against these amendments, and to do all that is within their political power to revoke them.
ERIC J. LOBSINGER, MICHAEL LANGRISH, ANGUS BEATTIE, PETER SNOW, EDWARD MORRISON, GRANT LAMBERT NAYLOR SSC, T. E. JONES SSC, HARRI WILLIAMS, EDWARD J LEWIS, ALEX GARNER SSC,SIMON DOUGLAS LANE, BEN DRURY SSC, JOSEPH COOPER, NIGEL PALMER, MATTHEW CASHMORE, JAMES ELSTON SSC, GUY WILLIS, CHRISTOPHER SMITH, CHRISTOPHER PHILLIPS, GEORGE WESTHAVER, MICHAEL BEDFORD, NICOLAS SPICER, SAM MCNALLY-CROSS, DAVID BURROWS SSC, GORDON NEWTON, TOM BROWN, ANDY RIMMER, JEFFREY STOKOE, PATRICK HENDERSON, A. J. DELVES, HOWARD STOKER, PAUL MCLAREN-COOK, STEPHEN BROWN, STEPHEN GALLAGHER, MICHAEL VYSE SSC, YAROSLAV SKY WALKER, JOHN TWISLETON, JONATHAN BRANT (clergy), CAROL ELIZABETH SSM, MARY ANGELA SSM, ALICE LOBSINGER, CLARE WILLIAMS, TOM MIDDLETON, HANNAH PHILLIPS, STEPHEN PARKINSON, JOHN PILLING, SARA SNOW, MAUREEN HOWARD, GRAHAM HOWARD, MARGARET CLARK, SUSAN JOHNSTON (Reader), VICTORIA MOIR, PETER DAWSON, MICHAEL MOIR, CHERYL FAITHFULL, NICKY FANTHAM, RITA HEYMER, STEPHEN HEYMER, MAXCINE BEATTIE, ROSEMARIE LOFTY, JOSHUA KELLARD, ROSAMUND WARE, CHRISTINE MUTUKISNA
c/o St Mary’s Vicarage
9 The Fairway
Ruislip HA4 0SP
Coronavirus pandemic and the C of E’s response
From Mrs Kim Hearn
Sir, — In response to the letter from Judith Niechial (Letters, 3 April), I would like to make some points. I am also a clergy wife and am finding it difficult to appreciate her argument from where I am sitting.
First, of course there is an argument from epidemiology to ask priests to stay away from their churches. “Ban” immediately suggests unnecessary confrontation from the authorities rather than a vital safeguarding measure. The virus is passed by human contact, and that is why we are being asked to stay indoors.
Many of my husband’s parishioners are elderly and are not leaving their homes, including my mother. Everyone else is only supposed to be leaving for the reasons asked by the Government. It is not a question of the public being “disturbed by seeing a priest walking to church”: it is the potential danger of people going to the one open building in states of distress and wanting to talk. The potential for the priest to become infected and to then pass on the virus is obvious.
Second, this is not a PR job: it is asking clergy to follow the guidelines that are being set for everyone. I, for one, would like my husband and the rest of my family to be alive and well at the end of this. This is not about clergy putting themselves out there as some sort of superheroes; they are also husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers. My husband is a dedicated priest and wants nothing more than to help his parishioners; he also has the intellectual understanding to realise how serious the current situation is.
At the beginning of this crisis, I saw him being put under intolerable pressure by a few church members who could not accept that the church was having to be closed or that their regular activities were having to be postponed. I saw him really struggling with that pressure to “have faith” and put himself and us in danger. So, please, think before you advise against following the safety rules.
Third, yes, of course older clergy will struggle with technology. This morning, I heard about the sad deaths of two nurses in their thirties. Their families will struggle more.
St Paul’s Vicarage
Warwick CV34 6AS
From Tina Nay
Sir, — In response to letters and comments concerning the closure of churches, I would like to offer a different view, as a regular communicant and lay member of the Church of England.
Despite missing the fellowship of attending church and being unable to receive the sacraments in kind, I have found the experience of participating in the streaming-in of services very positive.
First, the priest is sharing society’s lockdown; so there is a mutuality of experience. Second, sitting at home praying intensifies the personal, and reinforces the centrality of prayer wherever we may be and allows us to make a spiritual communion.
Third, the Church has shown her adaptability and creativity in providing such a variety and wealth of streamed-in services. I have participated in services from Lambeth Palace, Bishopthorpe Palace, All Hallows’ by the Tower, St Peter’s, East Blatchington, and Chelmsford Cathedral, in addition to my home church, St Mary’s, Willingdon. All have strengthened my spiritual life in these challenging times and provided the needed rhythm of daily prayer.
I hope that the Church will recognise these new ways of worshipping have resonated with many of its lay members and will continue to utilise new methods of worship after the churches have reopened.
Synod member for Chichester
34 Baldwin Avenue
Eastbourne BN21 1UP
From Mr John Radford
Sir, — Since the suspension of public worship and the closure of churches, I have been watching the live-streaming of services from the Community of the Resurrection in Mirfield, West Yorkshire. I have found that joining the daily rhythm of prayer being offered by the Brethren comforting and reassuring during these strange and perplexing times.
CR have gone to great lengths: from overcoming technical problems to posting downloadable copies of their service books on their website to make their “invisible” congregation welcome. For this I (and many others) are very grateful.
I was, therefore, very shocked to read a post on their Facebook page on the afternoon of 1 April to the effect that: “The Archbishops have asked religious communities not to stream the distribution of Communion, as this could confuse watchers unfamiliar with religious communities and their life.”
I am baffled by this statement and would welcome clarification as to how viewers could be confused by a Christian act of worship.
Wimborne St Giles
Dorset BH21 5LZ
From the Revd Mark Bailey
Sir, — Well done, our brothers and sisters in South Africa who are going to continue to ring their church bells throughout the pandemic lockdown to remind people that they are not alone.
Churches stand at the heart of many of our communities, particularly so in the countryside, where the parish church is often owned by the whole village as sacred space.
I see no reason that the current restrictions imposed could not be relaxed so that a church bell could be chimed on a Sunday for five minutes. It would be a powerful reminder to many people that, even if the church door is locked, still the church continues to minister, prayers continue to be offered and the call to worship, whether quietly at home alone or online, has not been silenced.
One wonders why decisions made to impose the current restrictions excluded this pastoral opportunity?
The Rectory, 6 Green Close
South Wonston, Winchester
Hampshire SO21 3EE
From Jill Greer
Sir, — Perhaps we should not worry too much that our churches are locked at Easter. When he rose from death, Jesus met Mary Magdalene in a garden and then he appeared among a group of his followers in a room in Jerusalem, where they were hiding for fear of the authorities who had crucified him.
He walked alongside Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus, and ate with them at an inn (alas! that our pubs and restaurants are closed). And he shared breakfast with a group of his disciples on the shores of the lake of Galilee.
There is no record of any resurrection appearance in the temple or in a synagogue.
I wonder whether Jesus would have used skype, had it been available?
9 Rawlinson Close, Chadlington
Chipping Norton OX7 3LN
Bicentenary of three health reformers
From the Rt Revd Christopher Herbert
Sir, — You and your readers will be aware that 2020 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale . . . but it also marks the 200th anniversary of the births of two other great and pioneering health reformers, Joseph Rogers and Louisa Twining.
In the middle of our current health crisis, it would be good if the Church of England could turn its capacious mind away from itself for a while, and find imaginative ways in all our parishes and cathedrals of giving thanks for such remarkable and courageous people.
At the same time, if it could ensure that hospital and hospice chaplains and NHS staff were included in designing such celebrations, that would be excellent. Further, might the Church sponsor some serious and thoughtful conferences across the country drawing on the expertise and insights of NHS staff and carers to reflect together on our current health provision and to consider how health care might be delivered in the future?
Working closely with front-line carers, and especially with hospital and hospice chaplains, could well be surprisingly fruitful and energising for all concerned.
1 Beacon Close, Wrecclesham
Farnham GU10 4PA
Missing words of praise for Songs of Praise
From Revd Richard Rice-Oxley
Sir, — Your television critic (27 March) has clearly missed the undoubted merits of the BBC’s Songs of Praise.
- The presenters, including well-known musicians such as Katherine Jenkins and Aled Jones, are invariably warm, positive about the faith, and good listeners to those they interview.
- The music is usually a good mix of musical genres, and some of the solo songs are moving and brilliantly performed.
- Different seasons of the Church’s year are marked in imaginative ways, and help to keep them alive in the minds and hearts of a society that is increasingly forgetting them.
- We can learn a great deal about church history and current Christian discipleship from Songs of Praise. On Mothering Sunday, the programme featured the Mothers’ Union (of which I am proud to be a member). How many before the broadcast knew that the Mothers’ Union has around four million members in 84 countries? They do now.
- Songs of Praise song competitions, such as School Choir of the Year and Gospel Choir of the Year, give Christian people a chance to sing their faith, meet with like-minded musicians, and have the quality of their music tested by performing in front of distinguished professional musicians such as Gareth Malone.
- Perhaps the most powerful aspect of Songs of Praise is the interviews with Christian believers, who have a special story to tell. Recent interviews have included one with a woman who came from the brink of absolute despair after being the victim of an acid attack. Before each of her numerous reconstructive operations, she listens to the worship song “How great is our God” — what a testimony! And a recent Sunday’s programme contained two moving interviews with people who had kept their faith in a time of suffering: a D-Day veteran and a Grenfell Tower survivor.
For years and years, Song of Praise has been a spiritual lifeline for those at home and unable to attend public worship. Now that we are all in that situation, we need the programme more than ever. Long may it continue to give encouragement.
3 Bertie Close, Swinstead
Lincolnshire NG33 4PW
Dean who was a bishop
From the Revd Brian W. Harris
Sir, — The bishop in the photo (Comment, 3 April) with King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Westminster Abbey in May 1940 is, I suspect, Bishop Paul de Labilliere, then Dean of Westminster and formerly Bishop Suffragan of Knaresborough.
BRIAN W. HARRIS
2 Furness Drive, Rawcliffe
York YO30 5TD