As we approach the 19th July, I wanted to share with you an update that the Bishop of London, Rt Revd & Rt Hon Dame Sarah Mullally DBE has shared with the Diocese of London.
‘St Paul wrote to the Ephesians: ‘Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us’. (Ephesians 5:1-2a)
I want you to know, as we approach the 19th July, how deeply I appreciate the ministries of all of the clergy of the Diocese of London, together with the work of our lay ministers, churchwardens and PCCs. The past eighteen months have been demanding, exhausting and unsettling in so many ways. In your parishes and chaplaincies you are doing an amazing job of continuing to ‘be church’ and to serve your communities with imagination and courage.
I do hope that all of you will be getting a good break soon. The Psalmist reminds us that God heals the broken-hearted and binds up our wounds: however you spend your time off this summer I hope that some of that work of healing can begin to happen.
I also want you to know – with all of the anticipation and anxiety which the lifting of restrictions raises – that I continue to hold you all in my love and in my prayers. This is a time of great hope and of deep uncertainty, when some are delighted with the anticipation of new freedoms and others are terrified of what that might mean. Some can’t wait to get back to singing together; others see that as the reason they won’t be able to attend church in person. Some will receive again from a common cup with deep rejoicing – others still don’t feel safe to do so. Some are desperate to ‘return to normal’ and some simply don’t have that option because the risks are too high. In this time, we must do our utmost to live in love as God’s beloved children.
The undoubted success of the vaccine rollout doesn’t mean that we can ignore the continued risks. Many people with compromised immune systems have no antibodies against Covid-19 in spite of being double vaccinated. 14 million under 18s cannot yet be vaccinated at all.
Advice from the national church will be published soon which will reflect the government guidance, but the focus on taking responsibility means applying that guidance wisely and with great care for one another. Practical suggestions about ongoing precautions can be found on the website of the initiative called ‘You Belong’ in a blog post which explores worshipping together safely.
Clergy, wardens and PCCs exploring these questions will need to do so in a spirit of gentleness, respect and love for one another, giving one another space to make choices which take full account of people’s different circumstances and that of their households. We must also consider carefully what we do with our digital doors as our physical doors are widened. Many have joined us online during the pandemic who were previously unable to engage with church life, and many will only ever be able to access worship safely this way.
Taking personal responsibility means responsibility for our neighbour, not just for ourselves, and taking precautions to protect those more vulnerable than we consider ourselves to be. Public Health advice is to be very cautious in our social interactions beyond 19th July and we will need to continue to translate this into the way that we organise our worship and pastoral care.
As Dr Naomi Lawson Jacobs – a Disability Researcher and Disability Equality Trainer – has said, there are those who are inherently vulnerable because of existing health conditions; there are those whom we disable and make vulnerable if we fail to take account of their circumstances. She reminds us that in this new phase we must stand with those who continue to be disproportionately impacted, challenging the gap between the privileged and the disadvantaged. She concludes, ‘it is human decisions that create environments where justice or injustice flourishes. Churches are places of power, where our choices create justice or injustice’.
May our lives together be shaped by love and by justice as we witness to Christ in these uncertain times.’
Bishop Sarah Londin
Further to Sarah’s words, I want to advise you that we will be proceeding cautiously here in Pennington. I recognise that there are a wide variety of ways that people are viewing the risks in this season, and individually we are all making different decisions about what to do and how to approach this season.
For the next few weeks we will continue to implement the guidance exactly as it has been prior to the 19th July. During these weeks, starting next weekend we will share a questionnaire with you all, to find out your thoughts that will guide us in these decisions. I will be meeting with Standing Committee to review and discuss this, and to update our risk assessments. The responsibility for making the decisions about how to proceed lies with me, and these decisions will be made carefully and prayerfully. I look forward to each of us having this time to reflect and consider our feelings and experience, and to each be a part of thinking this through for our church.
I encourage you all to pray too, for how we, as the body of Christ, may find our way through this together, caring for and respecting each other.
The full guidance from the Church of England is here.