Chiswick clergy support move to re-open churches for online worship

More than 500 clergy, churchwardens and parish council members have signed a letter to The Times, urging Church of England bishops to let clergy resume online worship from their churches – not just from their homes. They include the vicars of St Michael & All Angels, Bedford Park and St Nicholas, in Old Chiswick, and the associate vicar of St Peter’s Acton Green.

They support Bishop Peter Selby, who argued in the Tablet that clergy should be designated as “key workers”. He has called on the bishops to change the policy that prevents clergy from visiting their churches to pray or broadcast a service, maintaining that the present approach marked a retreat of the Church from the public to the private realm.

In their letter to the Times the clergy and other church members say: “domestic settings cannot replace the church buildings that represent the consecration of our public life”.

They are not calling for churches to be re-opened for public worship.

Fr Kevin Morris, vicar of St Michael & All Angels, Bedford Park, announced his support yesterday in his Sunday sermon, saying:

“Bishop Peter Selby, formerly Bishop of Worcester, has penned a stinging attack on the current lockdown policy of the House of Bishops which does not allow clergy to enter their churches for personal private prayer or to live-stream services. He has no argument against closing churches for public worship at this time, but he makes the case for clergy as key workers doing essential work at this time – something the government has recognised.

He writes, “Clergy are key workers, exercising an essential public function, one rooted in the architecture and layout of their churches and the liturgical function they carry out within them… livestreaming from these sacred buildings would have reassured the wider public that the fundamental fabric of our common life and history – of which our large and small churches, including the historic Lambeth Palace chapel, are an integral part – had not succumbed to coronavirus fear. The C of E has instead retreated to the kitchen.”

Fr Kevin concluded: “I am in full agreement with that view.”

The letter in Monday’s Times is reproduced here:

LET US USE OUR CHURCHES

Sir, As the bishops of the Church of England meet to consider their next steps in response to the pandemic, we call on them to change the policy that prevents clergy from visiting their churches to pray or broadcast a service. Bishop Peter Selby spoke for many laity and clergy when he wrote in The Tablet that the present approach marks a retreat of the Church from the public to the private realm. We regard what has happened to be a failure of its responsibility to the nation, stifling our prophetic witness and defence of the poor. We ask for open discussion and accountability regarding the processes and thinking that led to the decision. It is widely agreed that the temporary closure of churches for public worship is necessary in the present crisis but the broadcast of services from a closed church is permitted by the guidelines. Without detracting from the excellent worship offered by many clergy in their homes, domestic settings cannot replace the church buildings that represent the consecration of our public life. Moreover, Church of England clergy have also been prevented from ministering in schools educating the children of key workers and to the sick and dying in hospitals. As the government is talking about easing the national lockdown, the Church must now offer similar hope.

Among the signatories are: the Rev Stephen Stavrou, St Michael & All Angels, Barnes; The Very Rev Michael Sadgrove, Durham; Dr Emmanuel Adesioye, St John the Divine, Kennington; The Rev Mae Christie, All Saints, Tooting; The Rev Canon Kathryn Percival, Portsmouth Cathedral; Sir Roger Gifford, former Lord Mayor of London.

Clergy from Chiswick: Fr Kevin Morris, vicar of St Michael & All Angels, Bedford Park, Fr Simon Brandes, vicar of St Nicholas in Old Chiswick and Fr Fabrizio Pesce, associate vicar of St Peter’s, Acton Green.

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