Following the Prime Minister’s announcement today we can turn our attention to resuming public worship from 4 July. To be able to gather again for worship, even whilst socially distancing, will be a joy and solace for many, though I am also acutely aware of those who will continue to need to self-isolate and shield in their own homes. Many others will continue to be very cautious. Our sharing in worship with them remotely will need to continue to be part of our planning.
The Government’s announcement is permissive rather than prescriptive. My clear advice for the Diocese of Norwich remains, as it has at each stage of the unlocking, that we move forward slowly, steadily and safely.
Opening for worship will not happen everywhere immediately. There will be much to consider, and further guidance will be issued in the coming days once the Government publishes its detailed response to the Prime Minister’s speech. Particular care will need to be taken with social distancing, working out the safe capacity of our different church buildings, and aspects such as singing (research is currently being reviewed) and the administration of Holy Communion. Current national COVID-19 guidance can be found here, and this will be updated in the coming days.
Weddings can also resume from 4 July which will be very welcome news for those couples preparing to be married. The Prime Minister stated that the number attending weddings must be limited to 30 people (which I understand is due to keeping numbers down at the subsequent reception). Again, I expect further guidance will be issued by the Church of England in the coming days once the Government’s detailed position is clear.
My hope is that within a few weeks each benefice will be offering a pattern of public worship each week in one or more of their church buildings, in addition to having at least one church building open at some time(s) each week for individual prayer. As the Archdeacons said in their letter of 22 May, it may not be sensible to try to return to the same pattern of services as it was before the lockdown, and I encourage you to have the discussions at parish and deanery level that will enable you to begin in a safe and sustainable way. The Bishops and Archdeacons expect to offer you further material to help you with these discussions shortly and remain available to talk through the local decisions to be made if you would find that helpful.
This is the next step on what is likely to be a long journey. We must continue to do everything we can to limit the spread of the virus to protect each other, especially the most vulnerable, as we seek to ‘love our neighbours’.
I am acutely aware that change unsettles us and this lifting of restrictions will bring joy for some and anxiety for others. I hope that we can move to this next stage assuring each other of our support and looking out for those who are struggling; bearing each other in Christ.
With my continued gratitude for all that you have been doing during the pandemic.
The Rt Revd Graham Usher
Bishop of Norwich