The Church continues to be alive and active - and more creative than ever - but our buildings must close in the Diocese of Guildford
Here in the diocese, we have already suspended public worship and are rapidly having to find new ways of living, worshipping and serving our communities.
Following the announcement by the Prime Minister Boris Johnson of sweeping restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus, the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of England have urged everyone to follow the instructions given by the Prime Minister to stay in their homes in a national effort to limit the transmission of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
It means all Church of England churches will close with immediate effect in line with the Government’s instructions. There will also be no weddings or baptisms in churches, regardless of the number attending. Funerals at the graveside or in crematoriums can still take place, but only in line with the Prime minister’s Statement.
All this is in the recognition that - should our attempts to distance ourselves physically from one another be ineffective - more people will die.
In the light of this, the time has come for us in Guildford - in common with every English diocese - to close our church buildings entirely, given how important physical distancing is in saving lives. This includes all associated rooms, facilities, parish offices and halls. So as to counter any message that the church is simply giving up shop, we are also asking you to put up notices wherever you can fix them (e.g. on doors, noticeboards, websites and other social media channels) explaining ways in which people can continue to join with the church in worship and prayer remotely and without gathering, providing an emergency contact telephone number where you can.
The doors of our churches should now be closed, even for private prayers. Celebration of the Eucharist by Parish clergy should be conducted in their homes rather than the church. Further guidance is expected today and we will share what is available at our 4pm brief.
Our most profound desire remains to stand alongside our neighbours with the faith, hope and love that Jesus inspires within us, using every tool available from the humblest pen and paper to the cleverest of technological gizmos. We may well feel a sense of profound loss in all this, maybe appreciating the wonder of our normal church life all the more now that it's been temporarily taken from us. We may be discouraged, frightened or worried. But given all we're coming to understand about COVID-19, and in the light of our God-given commitment to love our neighbour (and especially our most vulnerable neighbour) there is really no other option.
Although our buildings will be closed, the Church continues to be alive and active, and I for one have been massively impressed by the ways in which clergy and laity alike have adapted to such extraordinary changes, and at such a speedy rate. Please continue to commend tools for worship, bible study and devotion at home; please continue to live-stream as you are able (but please do this from your homes and not in the church, whilst also avoiding the need for more than 2 to gather - we'd recommend filming pieces separately and then editing them together) or find more traditional ways to teach, encourage and pastor all God's people; please check out the latest news and resources on our diocesan website; and please continue to pray for one another, and for us - as we do for you.