CAPTION: People have been observing strict social distancing in church services for a number of months

Bishop welcomes decision to keep churches open during lockdown

Posted: 6th January, 2021

The Bishop of Exeter has welcomed the Government’s decision to allow church buildings to stay open in this current lockdown.

Under the latest Government guidance, churches are permitted to remain open for communal worship and private prayer and people are allowed to leave home to attend church.

Funerals and weddings can also take place in church buildings, although weddings can only happen in exceptional circumstances.

Bishop Robert said “The fact that in this third national lockdown the Government is permitting church buildings to remain open both for private prayer and for communal worship is a tribute to how effectively clergy and lay leaders have risen to the challenge of arresting the spread of this disease.

“It is also a recognition by the Government of how significant our buildings are in the life of their communities for people’s mental health and well-being. They are holy ground where we learn ‘how to be human’.”

Although church buildings can stay open for worship and prayer they do not have to.

Bishop Robert praised clergy and others who had been working hard to keep church buildings as Covid-secure as possible

The Church of England has said it will be up to individual members of the clergy and the PCC (parochial church council) in each parish to carry out a fresh risk assessment and decide the wisest course of action based on  their own local context.

Bishop Robert said he would support whatever decision was made locally, whether churches decided to remain open or to close temporarily.

A number of churches in Devon already broadcast livestreamed or recorded services online, or hold regular services using conferencing software like Zoom.

Some churches in the county are likely to offer online-only services at the moment, while others will offer a mixture of both online and in church.

Writing in his Epiphany message to clergy in Devon, Bishop Robert  said he was not complacent about the current risk from the virus:

“This pandemic continues to mete out painful lessons about our mortality and vulnerability, but as we face another national lockdown it is also teaching us lessons about neighbourliness and community.

“Too often society is a place of strangers whereas what we need is an extended family of friends.

“A community is where we create the things we cannot buy in the shops and which no Government can legislate for like friendship, generosity, loyalty and trust. By their very nature, these things exist only as they are shared.

“Community is society with a human face. It a place of belonging, the place where we learn ‘how to be human’ and discover that we are not alone.

“At its best, the Church of England is a great community-building institution.

“We have a lot of experience to bring to the table as our communities cope with this lockdown and, in spite of the grim litany of statistics flooding social media and our television screens, this should give us confidence and hope.”

Bishop Robert also quoted a section from the poet W.H. Auden’s poem For the Time Being, written in 1941 during some of the darkest days of the Second World War:

At least we know for certain that we are three old sinners,

That this journey is much too long, that we want our dinners,

And miss our wives, our books, our dogs,

But have only the vaguest idea why we are what we are.

To discover how to be human now Is the reason we follow this star.

He said ” Set against the backcloth of the seemingly unstoppable rise of Nazism, Auden’s poem stands as a powerful expression of the meaning of Christmas.

“The wise men follow the star in order ‘to discover how to be human’ in a violent world immersed ‘in thick darkness’ that had lost its moral compass and seemed bent on self-destruction.

“We too are discovering ‘how to be human’ though in very different circumstances.”