Church of England Diocese of London St. Alphege, Edmonton

Pastoral letter from Fr Stephen

14 Jun 2020, midnight

A letter to all parishioners of St Matthew, Ponders End and St Alphege, Edmonton

12th June: St Alphege Vicarage, 020 8374 8205

My dear friends,

It’s now 3 months since we were able to worship together in our parish churches, and although some of the restrictions imposed to protect us from the Covid-19 infection are beginning to be eased, all our lives remain a very long way from normality.

So, my first hope is that you are all remaining safe and well, not only in body, but in mind and spirit too. I think the greatest sadness has been not being able to meet together to travel with our Lord during Holy Week, and then to celebrate with collective joy his glorious resurrection on Easter Day. I can only tell you how much I was looking forward to my first Holy Week, first Triduum, and first Easter with you all – all firsts that will now have to wait until 2021!

Many of you will have heard that the Government has now agreed that places of worship can reopen from tomorrow (13th June) but only for private prayer by individuals, and under strict conditions. Opening for public worship will not be permitted until 4th July at the earliest.

I have been reflecting on these changes with the Standing Committees of both parishes. Even if the date of 4th July is confirmed, church services would at first be nothing like what they were before the ‘lockdown’. A maximum of perhaps 20 or 30 would be imposed on the number of worshippers, and those few would have to sit at least 2 metres from one another (unless they are members of the same household); all chairs and door handles, etc., would have to be disinfected after the service; communion, either of the Body or of the Blood, would not be possible; singing would not be permitted as it is believed that singing spreads the virus more widely than ordinary breathing or speech; the Peace could not be passed with any sort of physical contact; and hand sanitisers would have to be used by all worshippers as they enter and leave the church.

In addition to all these constraints, we would need to have a rota of volunteers to help clean and disinfect the church after each service.

One of the most worrying aspects of the pandemic is that it appears to have more serious consequences for those of African or Caribbean heritage, and for those above the age of 70. The Standing Committees and I were especially concerned because a majority of our regular worshippers belong to one or other of these categories, and many of course are in both. After much reflection and prayer, we have concluded that it would be an unacceptable risk to reopen our churches at the moment. The gains would not be great, given that Holy Communion would not be possible other than by ‘spiritual reception’, and that way of receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord is already possible without any risks via the livestreamed services on Facebook.

We are very much aware that not all of our parishioners can take advantage of the Facebook services, and we also know that some who could do so have not been aware of them. We are hoping that this letter, which we intend should reach all members of our flocks, will make more of us aware of the masses that are livestreamed every Sunday morning at 0930, and every Wednesday evening at 1930. If any of you would like to be able to participate in these services, but are not sure how to go about it, please feel free to contact your pastoral leader who has been keeping in touch with you during the pandemic, or else contact me on the phone number at the top of this letter, or by email at [email protected]

Finally, in a few weeks’ time it will be one year since I became your parish priest. Despite the difficulties of the last 3 months it remains a great joy and privilege for me to be your priest. Perhaps, when the ‘lockdown’ is finally over, we can all meet up to celebrate – or maybe to commiserate with each other! – the first year of my ministry amongst you.

Please be assured that you are all in my prayers. May our Blessed Lady pray for you, St Matthew, St Alphege and all the saints in heaven intercede for you, the Holy Angels watch over you and protect you, and may Almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Your parish priest and friend,

Fr Stephen