18 March 2020
Further update regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Public Worship
I am writing to let you know that, as of yesterday, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have taken the difficult and extraordinary decision to suspend the Church of England’s usual pattern of Sunday services, mid-week gatherings and all other regular church activities until further notice.
I have also received reports from a couple of local households that the virus may be present already amongst some people who regularly attend our two churches. There are possible symptoms locally but no confirmation that it is COVID-19 because those people have not been tested.
Clearly, the decision to suspend activity in all parishes is not a decision to be taken lightly and it does not mean the Church of England has shut up shop. As the challenge of Coronavirus (COVID-19) grips the whole world, and as the British Government asks every individual and every organisation to rethink its life, the Archbishops are now asking the Church of England in all its parishes, chaplaincies and ministries to serve the people of England in a new way.
Here in our Benefice, several things will be happening with immediate effect.
- Both churches will remain open during daylight hours for anyone to visit and offer their own private prayers. Please observe all current hygiene recommendations.
- At 9.05 a.m. in Offham and 5.05 p.m. in West Malling I will be in church, I will ring the bell to symbolically let the Parish know I am praying and then say Common Worship Daily Prayer. Please don’t attend. However you may want to join in with me by saying the offices from home at the same time. Daily Prayer is available online from the Church of England website, or a copy of the book can be purchased online. You don’t have to join in every day, or twice a day. Join in when you can.
- I am preparing resources to feed your faith and spiritual life while at home. I am also preparing a Booklet especially for those who have been told to stay in self-isolation. Each Sunday, I will publish material on this website. I will provide written prayers, notices, a recorded sermon from me, and links to hymns to sing.
- We will also be taking steps to link people pastorally together. In particular I want to make sure those who are more elderly or vulnerable have support from someone younger amongst the church community who may be willing to offer help with shopping, picking up prescriptions, phone contact, encouragement and friendship. Even if we’re in isolation, we don’t need to allow anyone to feel isolated.
If you are under 70 years of age and could volunteer to help others, let me know or keep an eye on the website for how to sign-up to help. Likewise, if you are over 70, or if your immune system is compromised and you’ve been told to self-isolate, or you are unwell already, please let me know or use the website to let me know so that we can offer you assistance and help.
- Finally, in coming days, some of the ‘machinery’ of our parish’s life will need to continue. I will need to work on a plan with the Churchwardens and our PCCs to make sure we can continue in ministry and mission, decision-making, attending to the fabric of our buildings, and managing parish finances. Provided you still have an income in this extraordinary global situation and you have the means to do so, I would strongly encourage you to continue your giving to your parish church. If our churches see a sudden drop in income, it does present a significant risk in the medium to long-term. If you don’t already give by Standing Order, I would ask you to seriously consider setting up a regular gift with your bank. Even if you don’t want to leave it in place long-term, doing so while this situation continues would really help while we are all unable to put anything into the collection Sunday by Sunday.
- On the other side of that coin, can I also ask that if you are in financial difficulty as a result of the Coronavirus situation, please do let me know in confidence. We would like to help you as much as possible. There are places I can turn for help and I suspect our Churches Together Foodbank and our vestry charity Relief in Need may need to be very active in the days to come.
Theologically-speaking, the Church is the Body of Christ and that is true whether we are gathered together on a Sunday or dispersed in our daily life. Regardless of these times, we continue to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a broken world. For a while, being Christian and being Church together will simply look and feel different. We have a calling now to private prayer and to humbly serve those in. I would encourage you to play your full part in the days, weeks and months to come.
This will most likely be the last Pastoral Letter for a while since the situation is now clear and most likely won’t change until such time as we are given permission to worship together again. Perhaps, with such freedom taken from us from a while, we will gain a new appreciation for the blessing of our amazing buildings, and the blessing we find when we gather as a community to praise God and pray. What a day that will be when we can sing in worship together once again!
Please do keep in touch. Let’s keep doing community together and being church together. Pick up the phone, send an email, use the website, Facebook or Twitter, get creative where you can. Whether we are unwell or not, vulnerable or not, I suspect we will all need one another, let alone the Lord’s everlasting grace and love, in the days that lie ahead.
Please be assured of my prayers for you. Please pray for me too.
Yours in Christ
Rev David Green