Church services stop
– prayer continues (March 2020)
Last updated: 29 March 2020
All churches now need to cease from meeting in person for their normal services and other gatherings. Churches will now be closed, even for private or solitary prayer, as well as for worship and liturgy. Read the measures here.
Churches Together in England is monitoring the advice and directions being given by Member Churches.
The Anglican Archbishops in England, Justin Welby and John Sentamu in a joint Pastoral Letter have said 'Public worship will have to stop for a season. Our usual pattern of Sunday services and other mid-week gatherings must be put on hold.'
The Assemblies of God (National Leader update), the Catholic Bishops' Conference, the Church of God of Prophecy, Elim, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church have issued similar guidance.
Churches are already finding imaginative ways to bring worship and prayer into the homes of those prevented from gathering together. Examples of this will be made available on CTE’s website in coming weeks. A minister of religion may go to their place of worship to broadcast an act of worship, but this is strongly discouraged, and it is preferable that they do so from their home. This is only permissible in order to stream a live service to and on behalf of their congregation. Maximising the protection of others in our society is our current priority, so as to fulfil the command of Jesus to ‘love our neighbour as ourselves’. No other person who is not part of the household should be present. Gatherings of musicians or other assistants at a live worship broadcast is not permitted, nor is the production of recorded services using similar groups of people, as the central purpose of limiting the spread of the coronavirus should be our priority. This ensures that churches comply with social distancing requirements from those who do not live in the same household.
Our churches understand how costly this is in terms of our normal patterns of worship, but at this time of national crisis this should be a sacrifice we make, in order to fulfil our duties as citizens, and, as a demonstration of our obedience to Jesus Christ’s command to ‘show the other cheek, and walk the extra mile.’ It also shows solidarity with those church communities already being devastated by this disease. Disregarding this advice will weaken our mission to our society, and portray us as self-absorbed. By our loving actions we can preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, but by the same token, if we seem to be concerned merely for our own interests, we open ourselves up to the perennial charge of hypocrisy.
Creative ways of being the Church
Whilst church buildings are closed, even for private prayer, this does not mean the Church is closed for business. In fact this is an opportunity for creative ways of being the Church.
The only exceptions are for the purpose of hosting essential voluntary or public service, such as food banks, homeless services, and blood donation sessions. Social distancing should be maintained at all time.
Churches Together in England has enabled the National Ecumenical Officers to consult one another, and a pattern of ecumenical daily prayer is being developed, drawing on a wide range of traditions. As agreements are reached this site will be updated.
In the morning, the forms of prayer familiar to each tradition is being encouraged, and resources can be found in many places for this, starting with denominational websites. The Salvation Army is promoting midday prayer, and the Orthodox churches are encouraging prayer at the end of the day (10.00 pm is the time they are observing, but for others this can be flexible). A pattern of praying at 7.00 pm every Sunday, accompanied by the lighting of a candle of hope, (always abiding by all fire safety measures, such as not leaving a candle lit if absent from the room, and ensuring it is properly extinguished at the close of prayer) is becoming a widely adopted practice.
Here is an opportunity to join together across our churches and share in prayer together, even if physically separated.
The Church for everyone
Church services might be suspended, but discipleship is not! We are gathering many examples of Christians serving with others in their local communities to shop for, care for, and keep in touch with elderly and vulnerable who are self-isolating. We can truly be the Church for everyone, bringing compassion in the form of care and light in dark times in the way we proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ as the one great hope for our world. Just ensure that good safeguarding procedures are in place.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have said 'we can certainly offer practical care and support. Please do carry on supporting the local foodbank and buy extra provisions for it … There are many very encouraging schemes happening right across our country in communities to focus on caring for the most vulnerable and do continue to play your part in those. Then by our service, and by our love, Jesus Christ will be made known, and the hope of the Gospel – a hope that will counter fear and isolation – will spread across our land.'
The family of fifty churches in CTE agree with the Archbishops, 'We urge you sisters and brothers to become a different sort of church in these coming months: hopeful and rooted in the offering of prayer and praise and overflowing in service to the world.'
All of this was symbolised in the lighting of candles this Sunday at 7.00 pm in thousands of homes, accompanied by prayer across our four nations, a practice many want to continue while the crisis continues, while attending carefully to fire safety advice (see above).
Find a range of guidance, resources and stories in our Coronavirus web hub.