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Church of England churches can open for clergy for private prayer and broadcasting immediately

by Cara Bentley

Dioceses can start opening church buildings to live stream services straight away and each Diocesan Bishop is to inform parishes of the specifics. 

The House of Bishops met on Tuesday over Zoom and agreed to a plan which would see congregations eased back into normal life but also obey government guidance. 

The next two stages after that are being planned, which will allow funerals and then small worship services, observing social distancing rules and only when government allows it. 

The Church of England have now allowed: "an initial immediate phase allowing very limited access to church buildings for activities such as streaming of services or private prayer by clergy in their own parishes, so long as the necessary hygiene and social distancing precautions are taken."

This follows requests from many clergy who felt the Church of England had gone beyond government advice by closing the buildings entirely while many other denominations are still broadcasting from their familiar spot. 

"Subsequently," the Bishops say, there will then be "access for some rites and ceremonies when allowed by law, observing appropriate physical distancing and hygiene precautions."

The Bishops agreed that the decision of when to implement the revised advice on ministers or worship leaders praying and streaming from their church buildings should be made by individual Diocesan Bishops. 

Bishops across the country have therefore outlined their own guidance, with some devolving that decision further. 

The Bishop of Manchester, Rt Rev David Walker, released a statement saying clergy in his diocese could enter their buildings from Friday 8th May to live stream or pray on behalf of their community. Clergy must do this alone, unless with members of their household, but musicians, camera operators or technicians from other households are not allowed to attend. 

The Bishop of London, Rt Rev Sarah Mullally, told churches in the capital that they could come to their own conclusions within each deanery "to determine what is suitable and possible locally, bearing in mind that what is right for one parish may not be right for another."

In a letter to clergy the London College of Bishops acknowledged that differences will occur: "for a while, some churches may be physically open, some online only, others will do both."

The Bishop of Norwich has highlighted to his diocese that where there is not a single minister per parish, the rules allow for the allocated person to be a licensed minister, churchwarden, or - failing that - a member of the PCC (Parochial Church Council), trusting them to "follow the spirit of the guidance. Bishop Graham has also stated that one bell may be rung to mark events, such as clapping for carers or the VE Day anniversary. 

Rt Rev Graham Usher added that clergy should "feel under no obligation to switch back into the church if you are content with leading worship from home for the time being."

The House of Bishops advice adds that eventually they will allow: "Worship services with limited congregations meeting, when Government restrictions are eased to allow this," with the London College of Bishops suggesting this could be no more than 50 people.

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