The Bishop of Lichfield says hope is more important than ever as we prepare to enter a second national lockdown.
In a letter to all clergy and ministers, the Rt Revd Dr Michael Ipgrave urges churches to continue to "reach out to our communities in loving care in many ways – simple or innovative, online or ‘in person’, big or small" as 'people of hope'.
While disappointed that public worship will not be able to continue, Bishop Michael also encourages churches to open regularly for private prayer where it is possible and safe, and to join the national movement of prayer called for by the Archbishops during lockdown.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I send you my heartfelt greetings as we continue to travel through these uncertain days together. As we enter another period of national lockdown tomorrow, we need to hold before ourselves our vision that calls us to be a people of hope. Hope is more important now than ever, both in our churches and for our communities. Amid so much pain, anxiety and despair in society at present, I thank God that we continue to reach out to our communities in loving care in many ways – simple or innovative, online or ‘in person’, big or small. This is so important as more and more people wrestle with mental health issues, struggle financially, or feel isolated as we approach winter.
The hope that is ours in Jesus Christ is renewed every time we gather together for worship, and it is a great disappointment that, without consultation, the Government is set to impose a ban on public services in our churches. Our archbishops, with leaders of other churches and other faith communities, have written a powerful letter urging a reconsideration of this decision. I fully endorse their argument that public worship should represent an ‘essential activity’, not least at a time like this. Nevertheless, we must as citizens abide by the rule of law, and of course we will all want to play our part in protecting public safety at a time when Covid-19 levels are rising across our diocese and nation.
Where it is possible to do so safely, I encourage you to arrange for churches to be open regularly for private prayer; this will be welcomed not only by our congregation members but also by many in the wider community. Government proposals also allow for churches to be used for broadcasting services. Our current understanding is that people who have been involved in leading worship at public services in recent weeks can continue to go into church buildings to record and live-stream services, without having to wear face coverings. There will be more practical guidance available from the national Church shortly which we will highlight on our website; this will be regularly updated, and I urge you to check the latest situation here.
Our archbishops have also called us all to mark the period of lockdown by repeated and sustained prayer for our nation. From tomorrow, Thursday 5th November, there is a particular invitation to every Christian to pray daily at or around 6pm. Simple prayer resources for individuals and churches during this time are available here, and I encourage you to make full use of these to hold our communities and our nation before the mercy of God. Within this diocese, we are also planning to post a series of daily video prayers on Facebook during the season of Advent. We are also screening again our weekly 15-minute online show, The Ministry Shift, which sees clergy and lay leaders in our diocese explore the challenges and opportunities of ministry at this time.
As days become ever shorter, the prospect of Advent points us to the light which shines in the darkness, never to be overcome. As we seek to reflect that light in our own lives in these dark times, be assured that you are in my prayers, and please pray for me and my brother and sister bishops.