Diocese of Sheffield
Re: Coronavirus Ad Clerum 26 March 2020 Dear sisters and brothers in Christ Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all day long. Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you. ’ (Psalm 86.3-5) It was as a student that I first learned the value of memorising portions of Holy Scripture. But it is only much more recently that I have discovered the benefit of reciting small sections of Scripture to myself, meditatively, in prayer. One of the portions I have committed to memory to use in this way is this short passage, from Psalm 86 — one of the Psalms appointed to be said at Morning Prayer today.
As part of the process through which I try, each morning, to be ‘still’ as I present myself before the LORD in prayer, I spend a minute or two quietly repeating words from the Psalms, savouring each line in time with my breathing. Personally, I find that the quieter I am within, the stiller and calmer I am in my soul, the more attentive I am able to be to the Word and Spirit of God. And since at present my innermost self is if anything even more anxious and frantic than usual, I am having to focus all the more intently on a process of becoming still before God!
Many of you will be thoroughly familiar with this practice and will be much more adept at finding your inner stillness than I am. But I commend the practice to you. All of us are living under unusual stress at present and it will be surprising (especially during this period when the public worship of the Church is suspended) if we do not need to compensate, by taking greater than usual steps to cultivate a strong sense of the presence of God. The investment is of course worthwhile, if it means we can live and act each day out of a more lively sense of the One who is ‘good and forgiving and abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon him’. There are five things I would like to draw to your attention today: 1. Canon Sophie’s Licensing — ‘Welcome, Sophie!’ A small and representative online ‘congregation’ was duly able to gather yesterday morning to ‘see’ Canon Sophie licensed as Bishop-designate of Doncaster and Principal Commissary of the Bishop of Sheffield. She is now able to begin a public ministry in the Diocese and will increasingly become visible to us if only remotely for now! Meanwhile, huge thanks to LJ (our Comms Manager) who has managed to post online a recording of the licensing which you can follow here. 2. Conflict between Government advice and House of Bishops’ Advice As I mentioned yesterday, there is an unhelpful and confusion conflict of advice at present, whether or not it is permissible for clergy to enter their church buildings in order to livestream worship. A paper posted on an official government website is saying ‘yes’ (you can see that here) and the House of Bishops’ letter says ‘no’ (you can see that here).
As I also mentioned yesterday, the Bishop at Lambeth has been working hard to resolve the matter and I am expecting to be able to update you all tomorrow with clarity. Meanwhile, I am asking priests in this Diocese to maintain the present discipline of keeping our church buildings closed to all people. 3. Funeral Ministry in the coming weeks To start with, a reminder: Given that churches are now closed, the only available options for Church of England funerals are the following: a short service at the crematorium, with or without a very small congregation, which may only include spouse/partner, parents, and children of the deceased; or a short service at the graveside, under the same conditions. a) Funeral Resources To this end, the Liturgical Commission has this week produced some new materials — namely, simple orders of service for us at a crematorium (link here) or at the graveside (link here), together with a simple form of meditation and reflection for use by family members and other mourners who are unable to attend the funeral itself. I know some of you are already offering mourners the option of a service of thanksgiving and memorial after the present crisis has passed, and are even exploring the possibility of live-streaming or video-recording the funeral. b) Funeral Logistics You will perhaps have seen reports yesterday that the Chief Medical Adviser to the Government has estimated that the medical crisis will be at its peak in about two to four weeks from now. In other reports you will have seen that a vast body of volunteers has been called into being to assist in responding to the crisis, and that every effort is being made to find hospital beds and ventilators in the numbers that are likely to be needed. These indications, together with the experience in Italy and Spain, should give us pause. It is very likely that in within a few weeks the demand for funerals will be very high, just at the moment when lay and clergy ministers licensed to officiate will be low (on account of illness and enforced self-isolation). We need to ready ourselves for this pressure point, emotionally and practically. In practical terms, as I indicated yesterday, one element of our preparation is to create a single point of contact for the whole Diocese to enable us to help funeral directors quickly and efficiently to find a priest or reader to officiate at a funeral. We will of course be seeking to prioritise the local parish connection as far as we can and to involve Area Deans in our communications. Secondly, we may find that funeral directors are forced to move increasingly to funerals which move direct from the hospital to the crematorium/cemetery, without returning to the home of the person who has died. This might in time require us to create a rota of clergy and readers on duty at the crematorium. Emotionally, it will be vital for us to put boundaries in place to defend our own wellbeing in a situation which might well prove truly traumatic. c) Funeral fees The Chair of the Liturgical Commission has urged Diocesan Boards of Finance ‘to consider waiving all funeral fees that would otherwise be payable to them under the Parochial Fees Order.’ Obviously, this is a big decision to make at a time when the DBF’s income streams are already much reduced, but I shall be commending this step. At such an extraordinary time the pastoral and evangelistic priority for us is to provide a tender, dependable and accessible funeral ministry and my own instinct is that it will assist us in achieving this end if, for the time being, we waive fees. (Of necessity, this will mean all funeral fees for the time being and not just deaths caused by Covid-19) However, there is a decision-making process to go through (not least so that we gauge carefully the likely financial impact), which I have not yet negotiated, so for the time-being fees remain in place as usual. 3. Coronavirus crime Sadly, but predictably, we are hearing reports of malicious attempts to exploit the present crisis. Please be especially vigilant in two regards:
a) Cyber crime: please be careful, as always, about opening attachments received by email from a source you do not recognise — you might unwittingly infect your computer with another virus. Cybercriminals around the world are taking advantage of the pandemic by using the terms ‘coronavirus’ and ‘COVID-19’ as clickbait. The attacks are conducted through various means - often emails - and monetised through ransomware. Please do not open emails you receive from an unknown source concerning Covid-19 or Coronavirus.
b) Doorstep crime: please be careful, and gently warn vulnerable members of your congregations to be careful in opening the front door to strangers or admitting them into the home. You can find advice from the National Safeguarding Team about this here. 4. Good News Stories Here are two little bits of testimony to encourage you: a) The first is from the Revd Amanda Barraclough, Rector of Sprotborough and Dean of Women’s Ministry. She set up an e-mail contact group of church family members which has grown from around 50 last Tuesday to 68 as of yesterday, and it is growing every day, with folk asking to join it. Each day Amanda shares a thought for the day and a prayer for the day, and finish with updates. Others have offered their own and, she says, ”this in a congregation which is not used to articulating their own faith responses easily! I feel as if I am watching them growing by the day... I feel confident that God is using this time for the growth of his church.”
b) The second is from Dr Sue Gentle, Lay Chair of the Attercliffe Deanery and a member of St Catherine of Siena on Richmond Road, Sheffield. She reports that ‘On a solitary walk on Sunday, I found myself visualising the congregation at St Catherine Siena's and prayed my way around the church, taking time to hold each person in prayer.” A simple idea, worth copying! Do keep the good news stories coming by emailing CRT@sheffield.anglican.org 5. Two Usual Reminders Meanwhile, please do continue to let us know via CRT@sheffield.anglican.org if you have received specific instructions from the NHS to self-isolate for the next 12 weeks, or if you become unwell or have come into contact with the COVID-19 virus, so that we can monitor the impact by deaneries. And please do continue to review the national guidance, which is updated daily and which you can find here. Meanwhile, with every blessing The Rt Revd Dr Pete Wilcox Bishop of Sheffield