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The Bishop of Portsmouth
The Rt Revd Christopher Foster
To: All licensed clergy, all churchwardens
6th May 2020
You will have read or heard reports of the House of Bishops' statement last night about preparations for the gradual recovery, only as safety and the law allows, of the use of our church buildings as we continue to minister and serve the people of our parishes and our congregations. Press reports are inevitably not complete. The full statement is available at https://www.churchofengland.org/more/media-centre/news/house-bishops-backs-phased-approach-revising-access-church-buildings.
This initial note is to let you have a ﬁrst indication of my thinking and expectations so that you can begin to consider how you wish to respond to the formal advice I expect to give later in the week.
It may be helpful to add:
The further considerations, - numbered 2 & 3 in the press release referring to rites and ceremonies, and worship with limited congregations - require a change in the present law and are not yet possible.
I reiterate my advice that no one should feel it is required that they must visit the church building for prayer or worship; it is now permitted in the way detailed above but not expected, and it must be for the parish priest to decide, in consultation with churchwardens, the best way to pray for and serve the parish. If you do use the church building then you should please take care and be aware that the building has been unused for some weeks. I am seeking further advice but, for instance, I recommend that for now you do not drink water from taps and supply which have not been in operation for a period.
If streaming you will need to weigh for yourselves the benefits of being alone in an empty building with the solidarity of being at home - perhaps with more creative digital opportunities - as members of congregations must be. I shall continue to stream Sunday worship from Bishopsgrove.
We must continue to give a clear and strong lead that it is right for the wellbeing and health of our parishioners that they and we observe official advice and follow the law to save lives. Pushing or stretching the limits of what is legally allowable are, simply, an abuse of our responsibility to God and his people. Our Christian calling is to to serve them, shield them from harm and hurt where possible, and to put their interests, wellbeing and the common good above any personal or particular interests. Special pleading is not right when thousands have died and remain at risk.
I expect to supplement this initial advice in Friday's eBulletin.
With many thanks and prayers for your ministry,