CONGREGANTS in Italy will have to produce evidence that they are bona-fide worshippers to be allowed to travel to church at Christmas and Epiphany. Under the country’s Red Zone restrictions, roughly equivalent to Tier 4, they face fines if found to be travelling for other reasons.
In theory, no one can move outside their own local-authority area, even to worship. But, under an agreement brokered with the Ministry of the Interior, members of the smaller faith communities, which includes Anglicans, can travel to the nearest place of worship in their own tradition. Clergy are recommending that people also carry an official letter from their church confirming their membership.
The pandemic has hit churches hard. The Chaplain of the Anglican Church of the Holy Ghost, Genoa, in Liguria, Canon Tony Dickinson, whose church was one of the first to experiment with online worship (News, 6 March), reports much-reduced numbers attending, and a heavy loss of income with the loss of the summer boost that usually comes from holidaymakers and cruise-ship passengers.
The church has also been unable to let its building for a short time each week to the Evangelical Ecuadorian congregation, income from which paid the rent on the chaplain’s flat; and it has lost the weekday rental of a car-parking space by a local businesswoman. From the end of February to mid-May, when church buildings were closed, the church had no income at all.
“Even after the reopening of our church for worship, the finances have been in an extremely precarious state,” Canon Dickinson reported this week. “Weekly income is down to an average €90. Many members of the congregation who are not in regular employment, or whose jobs are insecure, still require support either from our foodbank or Neighbours in Need fund.”
That fund is supported by St Pauls’ Episcopal Church, Rock Creek, Washington, DC, and through other donations. In the three months after Italy’s first lockdown, it paid out more than €3000. The foodbank is still in daily use by church members and others.
Reserves are now down to what Canon Dickinson called “a worryingly low level”. In addition, essential repairs are needed to the roof and stonework of the Romanesque building, built in 1873 and designed by George Edmund Street.
Canon Dickinson said: “Although we are a congregation of the Church of England, the fact that we are in Italy rules us out from applying to the high-profile grant givers like the Heritage Lottery Fund.
“And, as may be imagined, an Anglican congregation in a 19th-century building, however renowned its architect may be in the UK, comes a very long way down the queue for funding from Italian sources, which even before the pandemic have not always found it easy to cope with their responsibilities for 55 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.”
The Friends group gives a yearly sum, and the Diocese in Europe website (europe.anglican.org) has a link to the church’s Just Giving page.
But the church is in good heart, Canon Dickinson said. “A favourite saying among church members is, ‘God sees and provides’, and what is being done here by way of pastoral care and nurturing people in Christian faith is little short of miraculous.”
Christmas services have already provided some surprises. There could be no mince pieces and mulled wine after the two hybrid carol services, but worshippers were all sent away with a small gift, generously provided by two yachts which had been trapped by the pandemic in the Porto Antico instead of heading off to the Caribbean. Both had made a significant contribution to the church’s foodbank, Canon Dickinson said.