The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has urged Church of England clergy to embrace the spiritual practice of prayer as England heads into a second national lockdown.
In a joint letter, Welby, along with the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, and the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, wrote that as leaders seek to serve their congregations during these challenging weeks, God will "give us the courage and humility we need to be faithful witnesses to the gospel of peace".
"A second lockdown will be upon us on Thursday," the trio wrote. "It is going to be different from the first one. The days are getting shorter and colder. We are anxious for ourselves, for those we love, especially those who are vulnerable and elderly, and for our families.
"We know that this pandemic is having a devastating effect on our economy and on people’s mental health. Thousands of people are dying. The National Health Service is being stretched to the limit. We also know and must continue to bear witness to the fact that the poorest communities in our nation are suffering the most. We are in for a long haul. It is going to be a hard winter. But this second lockdown will also be different in other ways."
They added that there is "much that we have learned from the first lockdown and there is much to celebrate and be proud of".
"Of course we are full of gratitude and respect for the amazing courage and commitment of all key workers, especially those working in the NHS. Their contribution is rightly and widely recognised. We also applaud the many creative ways that churches up and down the land have been serving their local communities and working with others to make sure that the hungry are fed and the vulnerable cared for.
"We have managed to maintain and, in many cases, extend our outreach by streaming worship online and by developing other ways of building community online."
The leaders went on to call the church into a season of prayer to coincide with this latest period of lockdown: "Bearing in mind our primary vocation as the Church of Jesus Christ to pray and to serve we call upon the Church of England to make this month of lockdown a month of prayer. More than anything else, whatever the nation thinks, we know that we are in the faithful hands of the risen Christ who knows our weaknesses, tiredness and struggles and whose steadfast love endures for ever."
The trio urged Christian leaders to return to "the fundamental spiritual disciplines that shape our Christian life" during the upcoming lockdown. "How we do this is up to each congregation and clergy person," they wrote. "We will publish resources to support you before the first day of lockdown. During the first lockdown we cheered for the NHS every Thursday. During this second lockdown we invite you to fast in a way appropriate to you as well as pray for our nation every Thursday, for its leaders, its health and essential services and all those who suffer."
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is today expected to tell parliament that there is "no alternative but to take further action at a national level" and enforce a fresh lockdown to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
In his speech on Monday afternoon, Johnson will add that unless the lockdown is implemented immediately, we could see deaths over the winter that are "twice as bad or more compared with the first wave".