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Bishop Graham gives permission for local decisions about physically present acts of worship

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The text of the letter is as follows:

As Norfolk and Waveney enter Tier 4 from Boxing Day I am conscious that many people will be asking what this means for public worship.

In Tier 4, places of worship can remain open for individual prayer and for acts of worship. You must not mingle with anyone outside of your household or support bubble. You should maintain strict social distancing at all times and have covid safety as a primary consideration, following the Church of England’s guidance.

Infection levels and hospitalisations in Norfolk and Waveney are very concerning with steep increases. The most worrying increase in case rate is seen in Breckland, with an increase in cases of 106% since last week. Rapid increases are also seen in Broadland (90%) and North Norfolk (71%). The case rate in people 60 years and older is highest in Kings Lynn and West Norfolk at 153 per 100,000 and Breckland at 138 per 100,000. This is likely to spread across the county in the coming days.

People should stay at home as much as possible.

I am conscious that some clergy and churchwardens are concerned that continuing with Christmas services, and worship over the next few weeks, risks bringing elderly and vulnerable people together. Many people may feel it is currently better they do not physically attend public worship. Clergy and others who are shielding should certainly feel no compulsion.

Our priority must be to look out for our neighbours and protect the vulnerable. I urge you to be exceptionally careful.

Thus, I give permission to incumbents, in consultation with their churchwardens and PCCs, to cancel services from today, and for the duration that we are in Tier 4 if that is what is determined locally. I would hope that an online alternative could be provided.

We know that public worship – both in person and through remote means – has brought comfort, hope and inspiration to so many. My hope is that most church communities can still celebrate Christmas together both physically and online. I am looking forward to being at the Cathedral for Midnight Mass and at Sandringham Parish Church on Sunday – both with very clear Covid safety measures in place.

As we enter these new restrictions, we must commit ourselves more than ever to looking out for those who are alone and caring for those in need. That is why yesterday I launched a social media encouragement to LOOK OUT, LISTEN IN, and LOVE KINDLY during the Twelve Days of Christmas. Please do multiply this message if you are on social media.

The constant changes to our emotions are deeply draining. I hope that there will be ways in which you can have a gentler few days next week. We all need some downtime.

At this time of year – even this year – we celebrate the birth of Jesus with joy and hope. Jesus came to bring light that shines in the darkness. We need that light now and always. My prayer is that it will shine on each of us and on those we serve.

+Graham Norvic:

Christmas Eve 2020