A letter to the clergy from Bishop Rachel and Bishop Robert

Published: March 20, 2020

A message from Bishop Rachel and Bishop Robert

 As you will appreciate, information and guidance continues to be developed at a rapid pace. Yet, in the midst of all this, God’s love, grace and mercy are unchanging.

We are deeply grateful for the way worshipping communities are ‘being church’ in their local contexts. If ever there were a time for fully grasping what it means to be the Church ‘gathered and sent’, this is it; and we continue to pray that amidst all the turbulence, there might be a fresh realisation that the Church is neither simply about a building, nor what we do when we gather for worship. In these strange and unprecedented times, we have a great opportunity to focus our worshipping communities on living ‘everyday faith’ Sunday through to Saturday as we enable and support one another to be ‘ambassadors for Christ’ (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Although we are not all able to gather together around the bread and wine, we have not ceased to be Eucharistic communities fed by Christ and sent out to nourish the world. We have wonderful opportunities to feed people spiritually as well as meeting physical need and ensuring everyone has access to the nourishment they need. Therefore, as we all continue to navigate how we worship in different ways and provide occasional offices, it is important that we do not lose sight of being the ‘sent’ Church. Not only do we want to ensure that vulnerable and isolated people are physically fed, we also want to feed people’s souls and minds with good things. There is a growing set of resources on the website. and our prayer is that as we encourage spiritual, physical and mental well-being among people of all ages, we might be those who reveal Christ’s love and hope in what we say and do.

 This comes with our thanks and prayers and please never hesitate to be in contact. We are here for you and praying for you.

 Latest guidance update

The Church of England have now released more guidance around weddings, baptisms and funerals. You can read the full guidance here.

Key highlight points –

 Weddings.

  • The number of people attending the ceremony must be limited to the legal minimum of five people: the priest, the bride and groom and two witnesses.
  • Apart from the couple themselves, everyone else should observe a physical distance as far as possible. The guidance makes clear that traditions such as the priest touching the rings or the couple’s hands as part of a prayer or blessing are not required.
  • It also clarifies that the reading of banns will not be possible as public worship services have been suspended. But couples can instead apply for a licence through a different procedure and those whose banns have already been read can proceed. Please read the guidance provided by the Diocese of Gloucester Registrar on common licences, which can be found on the front page of our website under – National guidance, resources to help you, and messages from our Bishops.
  • Sadly, those over the age of 70 and those with an underlying health condition are strongly discouraged from attending in the present circumstances.

Baptisms

  • The advice recommends similar measures for baptisms, with numbers limited to the candidate, their parents (or guardians or carers), the godparents and the minister.
  • It adds that only the clergy and parents should join the candidate at the font, with godparents maintaining a social distance.
  • There is also detailed guidance on hygiene, including making clear that the priest should not hold the child and that water should be administered with an appropriate implement such as a shell.
  • Incumbents have an obligation to baptise the children of parishioners, and in cases such as where a child is in danger, cannot delay doing so.
  • Sadly, those over the age of 70 and those with an underlying health condition are strongly discouraged from attending in the present circumstances.

 Funerals

  • Those attending the funeral will have to be kept to an absolute minimum – immediate family only.
  • Sadly, those over the age of 70 and those with an underlying health condition are strongly discouraged from attending in the present circumstances.
  • No additional people should be expected to attend the service, such as an organist, verger, sound system operator etc.
  • In keeping with the recommendations to limit social gatherings, there should not be a wake or other gathering after the funeral, although it may possible to hold a gathering at a later date.

 For all of the above, everyone attending services must adhere to Government guidance on physical distancing and hygiene practice.

 While naturally those present at any life event may wish to shake hands or hug, all present must refrain from doing so in light of guidance on physical distancing.

 Dreams and disappointments a blog by Sandra Millar is really worth reading, it’s about how we currently support families with weddings and baptisms.

 Daily patterns of prayer

Public acts of worship have now stopped. Our usual pattern of Sunday services and other mid-week gatherings must be put on hold. What we hope will continue, will be a simple pattern of prayer, led by those holding the Bishop’s licence. We envisage this being no more than two or three people, observing the physical distance recommendations. In addition, we would encourage you to think of new and creative ways of praying with and for people. Lots of digital resources and stories from across the diocese can be found on our diocesan website. We look forward to hearing your ideas and stories, please do email .

 The Eucharist

The Eucharist is, sadly, no longer a public act of worship. Therefore, only the priest and one or two others should participate, though the Eucharist itself is offered for the whole people of God and for the whole parish, and for the wider community.

Not receiving holy communion is a serious loss for the people we serve, and we must acknowledge this. There is information on the Church of England website about what is called ‘spiritual communion’. Please encourage people to use this service at home.

Schools and Key Workers guidance

The guidance released from the government says key workers include –

Those essential to the running of the justice system, religious staff, charities and workers delivering key front-line services, those responsible for the management of the deceased, and journalists and broadcasters who are providing public service broadcasting. Every child who can be safely cared for at home should be.

If you are a member of clergy or a Reader and have children, you may well have been contacted, or are planning to contact your school to register as a key worker. Our current understanding is that you should register for partial provision so that when you are caring for the dying or undertaking funerals and you have no one else who can provide childcare, then your child can be in school.

 APCMs
The Archdeacons will be contacting you early next week about delaying APCMs as we have now been given advice on how to suspend the legal requirements to hold these meetings.

Community support – Information needed urgently.

Please tell us how you are supporting your local community. We are hosting a hub on our diocesan website around what churches are doing practically to support communities during this time. Information received so far has included volunteers shopping, picking up prescriptions, and supporting vulnerable people, helping with meals and working with schools and families by creating packs for families to help keep their time off school fun.

In addition we have been asked by Gloucestershire County Council and all the district and borough councils to make this information available on a new online hub, which helps people find the support they need and for councils to know who they can call on to help as many people as possible. This is really important information and we know our churches are actively helping so please do tell us so we can help provide a coordinated response across our diocese.  Contact with how you are serving the community.

 Safeguarding

Brett and Becca (Diocesan Safeguarding Advisers) are fully set up to work from home. You can contact them in the usual ways if you have any queries relating to safeguarding.

Safeguarding concerns out of hours 07944 680320.

 Archbishop of Canterbury to lead first national virtual Church of England service

The service, including prayers, hymns and a short sermon, will be broadcast online by the Church of England and broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s Sunday Worship and 39 local BBC radio stations this Sunday as congregations across the country find new ways of sharing worship together after public church services were put on hold.

Churches of all major denominations will also be marking a National Day of Prayer and action this Sunday – Mothering Sunday – particularly remembering those who are sick or anxious and all involved in health and emergency services. We ask that you join in and light a candle at 7 pm and put it in your window, ring someone who is isolated and vulnerable, stay in touch with one another, buy an extra item and place it in your local food bank. Read more here

There will be a sermon from Bishop Rachel for Mothering Sunday available on the front page of the website, which we will also share over social media.

Bishop Rachel and Bishop Robert have been in conversation about the impact of the Coronavirus on their life and ministry and how the church is changing during this turbulent time. This video will made available on our website and social media. Do keep an eye out for stories and information on our website and through social media.

 

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