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Church News

Public worship put on hold

by Ruth Sax

Following the Government's advice to stop public gatherings the Church of England and the Baptist Union of Great Britain have announced churches are going to put public worship on hold and become a "different sort of church" in the coming months to face the challenge of coronavirus.

In a joint letter, Archbishops Justin Welby and John Sentamu said it was now necessary to put public services on hold until further notice.

But they said that far from having to "shut up shop", the Church of England must face the challenge by becoming a radically different kind of church rooted in prayer and serving others.

It comes after the Government announced unprecedented peacetime measures to try to control the spread of the virus, with restrictions on public gatherings, transport and working.

The Archbishops expressed the desire that church buildings may, where practical, remain open as places of prayer for the community, observing social distancing recommendations.

They also invited clergy to maintain the ancient pattern of daily prayer and, where possible, the eucharist - live streaming their worship if they have the resources to do so.

They urged congregations to be at the forefront of providing practical care and support for the poorest and most vulnerable during the crisis.

"Being a part of the Church of England is going to look very different in the days ahead," they wrote.

"Our life is going to be less characterised by attendance at church on Sunday, and more characterised by the prayer and service we offer each day.

"We may not be able to pray with people in the ways that we are used to, but we can certainly pray for people. And we can certainly offer practical care and support. 

"Please do carry on supporting the local foodbank and buy extra provisions for it. Ensure the night shelters wherever possible are kept open. 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 can counter fear and isolation - will spread across our land."

They added: "This is a defining moment for the Church of England. Are we truly are a church for all, or just the church for ourselves.

"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."

The archbishops have joined other church leaders in calling for a day of prayer and action this Sunday (Mothering Sunday) particularly remembering those who are sick or anxious and all involved in health and emergency services. 

The Baptist Union of Great Britain statement reads on their website: "Sunday services should not now take place and the move to online meetings, wherever possible, will need to be developed. There is advice on the Baptist Together website to help with this and we will continue to post throughout today."

Both the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church are recommending services are cancelled.

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