‘Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy. The one who goes out weeping bearing the seed for sowing shall come home with shouts of joy bringing their sheaves with them.’

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

The announcement from the Prime Minister today of the permission to recommence public services of worship in our church buildings, from July 4th, is deeply welcome. It brings some joy after times of weeping. It is a positive sign of returning life to our communities.  It has come much earlier than anyone expected or we had anticipated.  This is good news but we are conscious that while welcome many of you, with your PCCs, have already been working on the safe opening for individual private prayer, and for funerals. You now also have to prayerfully consider when and how to recommence public worship. We recognise that all of these changes create a lot of work, and indeed anxiety, for you and your PCCs. This new phase will still include some sowing in tears to enable a joyful future.

It is important to be clear that this is permission and not prescription. You have permission to conduct public worship once again in your church buildings, from July 4th. This includes marriages (with a limit of 30 currently) and baptisms. It also means that the Eucharist can once again be celebrated together. The current guidance must be followed.
Links to that guidance on the Church of England website is here:
https://www.churchofengland.org/more/media-centre/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-churches – please check back over the coming days as the Church of England updates its guidance based upon today’s announcements.

All the health and safety measures relating to handwashing / sanitising, social distancing, shielding, cleaning of the building, use of books and paper materials must be followed. This we know is demanding. It all requires careful local decisions and action. Please do not hesitate to seek advice from the Archdeacons.  The right time for the resumption of public worship will differ from parish to parish but this provides us all with a pathway forward.

As Bishops, we wish to support you in any way that is helpful while keeping within the government advice. We welcome the opportunity to be out and about with you where we can. So do feel free to invite us to share with you in forthcoming public worship where you would value that support.

We are naturally concerned for your own health and wellbeing especially as we have heard how drained and tired some of you are feeling.  So we want to encourage you to take your holiday during the summer. We really hope that you will be able to get away somewhere. If not that you will make as much use as you can of the beauties of our region. There is a weariness that has come with the enforced lockdown, the learning of new skills, the emotional pressures of not being able to do what we feel called to do by way of pastoral visiting, leading worship and so forth. There is also a tiredness that comes through large amounts of screen time. So please care for yourselves, and your families. This may itself impact planning for the recommencement of public worship in the church buildings.

Clearly, the return to the use of buildings will pose fresh challenges around how to run a hybrid service. We all know that there will be a significant number of people who will still decide to shield for their own health reasons. There are those who are fearful of coming out of their homes, and of mixing with groups of people. Continuing to provide for those people will be important. This in itself may mean more time is taken before returning to the buildings.

It may well be in multi-parish / church benefices, or a deanery, that deciding to open just one building for public worship is the best way to recommence. Please be creative; use your imaginations and always act safely for the sake of those who will be attending. Care of those who come must be at the heart of all we do as we proceed.
Once again our thanks for all you have been doing. We truly do, ‘give thanks to God in all remembrance of you’ and we pray that you ‘may be strengthened with all power, according to God’s glorious might’. There will now be both a fresh adrenalin rush and a fresh sense of overload. May the Spirit lead us as we take these next steps.

+Paul and +Sarah

LINKS

An adapted Waymark Prayer
Loving God
Guiding the people of Durham Diocese
faithfully through the years:
We thank you for saints who have marked our path,
Young and old, known and unknown
From all places and in all walks of life.
Help us to find your way through these uncertain times:
Guide us how to hold on to the best of both old and new
That we might be transformed by your truth,
Share your life and bless our communities.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord who both wept and rejoiced
Amen.

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