Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
This is following up the letter earlier from the Archbishops and Bishops to clergy.
We are acutely conscious of the sheer weight of the COVID-19 crisis on us. It was perhaps inevitable that there have been so many twists, turns and developments in what has come to us over the last week or so. The Government has wanted us all to show a voluntary restraint, and have consequently changed their positions gradually. We have all found this frustrating, but there has also been a consistent theme: we should take responsibility for one another – and as Maundy Thursday reminds us, that’s at the heart of Jesus’ gospel. Perhaps we should also be grateful that we live in a society that seeks to encourage in this kind of scenario, rather than dictate.
There will doubtless be further developments, but there will eventually come a time when these become more freeing rather than more restrictive. Meanwhile, we need as the Church of England to play our part as graciously as we can; following the guidelines and directions set by government and the national Church. We know that you will do so, and we thank you for that.
Please follow the national Church guidance and FAQ available here. If any of these, or indeed any future, guidance seem unclear or difficult to make sense of in any particular pastoral context, do please get in touch with the bishop or archdeacon in your area. Please ask us anything you need to.
As many people have observed, this is unprecedented in all kinds of ways – not least in the range of new technologies and methods of communication now available. Bishop’s Staff has now had its “baptism” into a Zoom meeting. Such styles can be draining to those of us who are novices, but they do enable things unimaginable at previous times of national emergency.
Our focus of ministry will be very different – it is already. We have been very struck by the imagination and dedication so many across the Diocese are showing. They don’t all need whizzy technology (as many of you know, between the three of us such skills are not uniformly plentiful!), but what they do have in common is a continuing commitment to God in Christ, and trust in him, and a continuing commitment to all his people in this Diocese.
We can pray, all of us, and in the coming weeks there may be greater time to give this a new emphasis. We can also find ways of demonstrating a deep care for one another in a range of different ways, but with a spirit of kindness and loving service at their core. Please play to your strengths – in a year’s time we will be remembered for the quality of our pastoral care.
In particular, and in the weeks ahead this may become increasingly important, we can help our people bury their dead. We think Funeral Directors and Crematoria are beginning to bring their guidelines together, and we are seeking ways to liaise directly with them. Sally, the Bishop’s Chaplain, and Archdeacon Karen are taking the lead on this and trying, as a fall back in case key people are taken ill, to establish a central point of contact to make sure we always have funeral takers available (clergy and Readers). You will hear more about this in days to come.
His Holiness Pope Francis, together with the Archbishop of Canterbury and leaders of member churches of the World Council of Churches, has called for people across the world to stand on their doorsteps and pray the Lord’s Prayer at 11:00 GMT tomorrow (Wednesday 25 March), the Feast Day of the Annunciation. We will be joining in that and encourage you to as well. This day is one of significance for us all, as Mary assented to the part she was called to play; one of us was consecrated bishop at this exact hour six years ago, and another ordained priest on this day in 1977. It will be a poignant moment for us all.
We want to say a huge thank you for all you are doing, and we pray that God will continue to keep us under the shadow of his wings as we seek to be a Church of Living Hope, continuing to pray for all, to practise and encourage kindness, to stay and to keep others as safe as possible, to support with our own responses those charged with national responsibility, and exercise the pastoral care we are charged with within the strange parameters we are currently set.
God bless you and yours,
Bishop of Thetford ~ Bishop of Norwich ~ Bishop of Lynn