To the Clergy, Readers and LMLs of the Diocese of Liverpool
Copied for information to Churchwardens, Deanery Lay Chairs and Bishop’s Council members
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:23)
First of all let me wish you all a blessed Christmastide. I hope that your Christmas celebrations, both in the churches and at home, have not been too greatly spoiled by the restrictions, and I hope too that you will have, or are having, some real rest despite everything. The promise that God is with us remains strong and true, no matter the circumstances.
In my last update I expressed the hope that I would not need to write to you again this year. I’m afraid I was over-optimistic!
You may have seen the announcement this afternoon from the Health Secretary about changes to the tier system for most areas of the country, including all of our Diocese. The Liverpool City Region will move to Tier 3 from midnight tonight(December 30). All other parts of the Diocese will enter Tier 4 at midnight.
The national church Coronavirus website has been updated in the light of today’s announcement, and as usual is available here: www.churchofengland.org/coronavirus.
Whichever tier you are in, public worship remains legally possible.
Tier 4 is new to us in the North West. Government guidance on this tier may be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/tier-4-stay-at-home. The Government guidance on meeting for worship in tier 4 is here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/tier-4-stay-at-home#places-of-worship.
In Tier 4 weddings are strongly discouraged except in genuine emergency, and in any case are limited to a maximum of six people, including the couple but not including “anyone working”, e.g. the minister, organist, verger. The number attending a funeral remains restricted to a maximum of 30. Again, details are here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/tier-4-stay-at-home#weddings-civil-partnerships-religious-services-and-funerals
The Tier 3 restrictions remain as they were: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/tier-3-very-high-alert.
I know that an increasing number of our churches have chosen to return to online-only meeting in the light of the latest sombre information about the spread of the virus and the strain on the NHS. The updated Church of England webpage notes this and reminds us of some of the national resources available to support online or telephone worship.
Others of our churches will have decided to continue to meet for worship in person. This remains possible in all tiers provided your risk assessments and careful precautions are in place.
As always, the decision as to whether or not to meet in person is for local ministers and church councils to take, provided they remain within the law.
However, you will all be aware of the increasing pressures on the NHS and of the increasing numbers of cases, hospital admissions, and sadly deaths. So wherever you are, if you decide to continue with public worship it is even more important to be careful. In particular I advise you to encourage your people very strongly not to mingle before and after the service so as to minimise risk.
Safer than a known way
I end this brief update with some famous words written by Minnie Louise Haskins in 1908 and used by King George VI in a Christmas/New Year broadcast in 1939 – a year marked perhaps by even more stress and darkness for the nation than the one we have just experienced. I find the words enormously helpful in these days, and so I share them here:
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.
And the poem goes on:
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.
May God, the God who is with us in Jesus, bless you and be with you at the gate of this coming year. Stay safe.