From Bishop Paul to the ministers of the Diocese: New Year update on the Coronavirus lockdown

January 5, 2021

To the Clergy, Readers and LMLs of the Diocese of Liverpool

Copied for information to Churchwardens, Deanery Lay Chairs and Bishop’s Council members

Dear friends,

Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. (2 Corinthians 4:1)

Let me begin by wishing you all a happy and a hopeful New Year. I hope that each of you has managed to find at least a measure of rest and refreshment in the past couple of weeks. Please remember, if at all possible, to be disciplined in taking an additional day off each week in January.

Our ministry rests on the mercy of God and the saving work of the Lord Jesus. As the Government’s instructions change again, God’s mercy and our salvation in Christ remain solid, and in them we ourselves can remain steadfast. That each one of you will draw on the truth of mercy and salvation is my prayer for all of you, and for your communities, as the world’s journey with the Coronavirus continues. In the same way, please continue to pray for and to encourage one another, so that together we may indeed not lose heart.

Lockdown and public worship

Government headline-guidance on the new lockdown is available here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/national-lockdown-stay-at-home 

Within this guidance, the detail on public worship is as follows: “You can attend places of worship for a service. However, you must not mingle with anyone outside of your household or support bubble. You should maintain strict social distancing at all times. You should follow the national guidance on the safe use of places of worship.”

The “national guidance on the safe use of places of worship” was last updated in December. It is available here, and I advise you to consult it regularly in case of further updating: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-for-the-safe-use-of-places-of-worship-during-the-pandemic-from-4-july 

Funeral and wedding guidance is little changed from the tier 3 or 4 guidance previously in force. In particular weddings (with a maximum of 6 people including the couple, plus “anyone working”) should only take place in the most exceptional circumstances. For details see https://www.gov.uk/guidance/national-lockdown-stay-at-home#weddings-civil-partnerships-religious-services-and-funerals 

Some further details may be found here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/949536/NationalLockdownGuidance.pdf 

National church guidance is, as always, available here: www.churchofengland.org/coronavirus.

It may be that the full Government regulations, or the Church’s national Recovery Group, will offer further advice; if so I’ll do my best to update you as and when these become known.

Local decisions, and local stresses

Consistently over the past months our watchwords have remained, and remain today: 1) Local decisions within the law for local situations; and 2) safety and assurance first. 

I know that for some the constant need to make local decisions has been stressful and difficult. But I remain convinced that local leaders understand their own situations best, and for as long as Government guidance remains as it is, I will continue to support the considered decisions of local leaders as to whether public worship should continue in your church building or buildings at this time.

However, if we are indeed to put safety and assurance first, I want to underline two things today:

  • Firstly to remind colleagues of the “big picture” as presented in the very first words of the latest Government guidance: “You must stay at home. The single most important action we can all take is to stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives.” 
  • Secondly to highlight some of the words quoted above in the section on public worship: “You can attend places of worship for a service. However, you must not mingle with anyone outside of your household or support bubble. You should maintain strict social distancing at all times.” 

With this in mind I will strongly support any local community that decides to suspend public worship at this time and to move again fully to an online or telephone-based ministry. 

If a local church decides to open its doors for public worship, then I will support this decision as long as two things are in place: 1) a fully thought-through, written risk assessment that recognises the need for strict social distancing in the light of the new (and highly-transmissible) variant of the virus; and 2) the most rigorous insistence to your people that they do not mingle with one another across household groups, whether before or after the service, whether in the church building or outside.

As always, Bishop Bev, the Archdeacons and I are available to give advice in specific situations. In particular let me emphasise that if members of your own community find your decisions difficult, and if in their anxiety they should make your own life difficult as a result, please feel free to refer them directly to me or to my Diocesan colleagues.

Message from the Bishop of London 

I believe that our approach in the Diocese reflects the national response of the Church of England. Bishop Sarah of London, who chairs the national Recovery Group, has written as follows on our national website:

“The Prime Minister’s words … underline the severity of the situation for the country, as the virus continues to spread rapidly. At a time like this, the Church is here to offer comfort and spiritual support to everyone. We have a duty to care for each other, but particularly those who are vulnerable or who may be most at risk.
“The Government has chosen not to suspend public worship in England at this time and we will continue to follow the guidance and ensure that churches remain as safe as possible. The Government guidance on the safe use of places of worship makes clear that those attending a place of worship must not mingle with anyone outside their household or support bubble.
“However, some may feel that it is currently better not to attend in person, and there will be parishes which decide to offer only digital services for the time-being. Clergy who have concerns, and others who are shielding, should take particular care and stay at home.
“I would urge everyone in our churches to pray for those on the front line in our public services – the NHS and those working in social care, for schools and many others on whom we depend; and for parents and carers of children at this anxious and stressful time.
“There is hope. The vaccination programme is underway and, as Christians, we have a deeper hope in God that comforts us beyond fear itself. As we have been remembering this Christmas Season, even in the midst of our darkest fears, that hope brings light.”

Light and love in the darkness

On the eve of the Epiphany I end this update with the collect for today. May God’s light and love continue to strengthen your heart. Stay safe.

            Almighty God,
            in the birth of your Son
            you have poured on us the new light of your incarnate Word,
            and shown us the fullness of your love:
            help us to walk in his light and dwell in his love
            that we may know the fullness of his joy;
            who is alive and reigns with you,
            in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

            one God, now and for ever.  

With every blessing as ever,

+Paul


The Rt Revd Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool. Bishop’s Lodge, Woolton Park, Liverpool L25 6DT. 0151 421 0831.