Dear Sisters & Brothers, 

‘I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel’ (Phil 1.3-5)

We have been so thankful, during this Eastertide, for the many life-giving stories we have heard of the impact of your hard work and compassionate service during this current crisis. The imaginative ways in which you and your church communities are continuing to serve the most vulnerable in our communities has been inspiring.  Relationships are being sustained with the shielded, those living on their own and the vulnerable; foodbanks are continuing to feed those with few resources, shopping is being done for those who are unable to out, and care in the name of Christ is being offered in so many practical ways. Worship and prayer continue to be offered. Simple and creative ways are being found to include as many as possible whether through phone conferencing, delivery of service sheets, recorded services, live streaming, WhatsApp groups or simple phoning and texting. Small groups are functioning, and Alpha courses running; some are reporting increased numbers engaging with prayer and worship.  Many of you who do not need to self-isolate are leading funerals, a ministry that is always demanding but at this time particularly costly as you support the bereaved.  Whatever your particular shape of ministry at this time please be encouraged and know that your hard work, care and deep playfulness are making a difference to the lives of many.

Having spoken of our thankfulness for all you are doing we also all know that there is a long haul ahead as even when there is the start of the longed-for easing of the shut-down it will be small and careful steps. Those being ‘shielded’ will still be in the ‘stay safe’ situation until at least the end of June.  All of us naturally want to see things change but patience and care are going to be the watchwords for months to come. Tiredness at times is inevitable so too are moments of boredom and frustration. So gentleness and attentiveness to our own health and well-being even as we care for others continues to be very important.

UPDATED GUIDANCE
You may well have seen that following today’s House of Bishops updated guidance is going to be produced on a range of matters related to the use of church buildings. The full statement can be found here:
https://www.churchofengland.org/more/media-centre/news/house-bishops-backs-phased-approach-revising-access-church-buildings

But the core of the statement is this:

While church buildings remain closed for public worship, in line with Government advice, the Bishops agreed in principle to a phased approach to lifting restrictions, in time and in parallel with the Government’s approach, with three broad stages as infection levels improve: 

  1. An initial immediate phase allowing very limited access to church buildings for activities such as streaming of services or private prayer by clergy in their own parishes, so long as the necessary hygiene and social distancing precautions are taken
  2. Subsequently access for some rites and ceremonies when allowed by law, observing appropriate physical distancing and hygiene precautions
  3. Worship services with limited congregations meeting, when Government restrictions are eased to allow this

 
The Bishops agreed that the decision on the timing of when to revise advice on ministers or worship leaders praying and streaming from their church buildings should be made by individual Diocesan Bishops, depending on their local situation.

So we will now be working on all three of these but initially the first. It is very limited and advisory. We will produce clear guidance in the next day or two and will work with our neighbouring Dioceses and our ecumenical partners, to seek to offer consistency across the region. We will also be writing to offer some theological images and resources to help our reflection on this significant time and hope you will share yours with us.

Very immediately though we want to commend to you to help our focus in our journey through these next weeks through to Pentecost:

VE Day – May 8th
You may have been planning a local event that has had to be cancelled, or drastically changed. While that is naturally disappointing there are still evens to be part of. At 11 am there is to be a national 2 minutes silence. The Cathedral will be live-streaming around this silence. The Cathedral is also putting out a pre-recorded service that can be followed by people in their homes whenever is convenient. This will be available from 2 pm. There will be a series of VE Day programmes on both radio and TV with the Queen addressing the nation at 9 pm.

Christian Aid Week  May 10th -16th
Christian Aid Week is happening virtually. Do use their resources
https://www.christianaid.org.uk/appeals/key-appeals/christian-aid-week, encourage people to join in, and encourage people to give. Please make it as widely known in the community as possible. The needs of the poorest in our world have largely fallen off our TV screens and out of our newspapers.

However, the need has not diminished in any way. Plagues of locusts, bad weather, poor harvests continue alongside those seeking to protect people from the Coronavirus (thankfully with much success in some of the poorest nations, but at a deep cost).

Thy Kingdom Come  May 21st – 31st
Prayer and Care is the new theme for this year’s Thy Kingdom Come. There are many resources available on the TKC website
https://www.thykingdomcome.global/. We are working with our ecumenical colleagues so that an ecumenical church leader will release a brief daily reflection for TKC each day. Then on Pentecost Sunday, a special service involving leaders from many churches across the region will be available to watch from the early afternoon that day but we will be encouraging everyone to try and watch at the same time late afternoon. Further details will follow soon.

Faith at Home and Growing Faith
Faith at Home is a national initiative flowing out of Growing Faith and Everyday Faith. There are resources being posted on a regular basis to help households explore faith together in the home – https://www.churchofengland.org/faith-action/faith-home.

Then Sharon Pritchard and Catherine Simpson have put together our own Growing Faith https://www.growingfaithdurham.com/ information with plenty of great ideas too.

As we close we want to assure you of our ongoing commitment to pray for you all and support you. We, with the Archdeacons, are continuing to try and phone clergy and wardens (where there is a vacancy) every 2 weeks. Soon as bishops we will switch round Archdeaconries for this. It is a stretch for us to keep this up, so when we slip we beg your forgiveness. Please though feel free to give us a call if you need to chat about something, or just because you haven’t heard from us. Staying in touch is a critical part of helping us all serve God together in these unusual times.

May the Lord bless you and keep you and renew you daily with his Spirit.

+Paul & +Sarah

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