The following are the main points from letters received today (Friday June 26th) from the Metropolitan Archbishops in England, and from our own Bishop, addressed to you the people:

From Bishop Terry:

“You will note from the tone of the Archbishops’ letter that there is still an atmosphere of caution as we take these small steps forward to celebrate the Eucharist and the Sacraments.  As I write to you, we are still awaiting clarification and endorsement from Public Health England regarding the Bishops’ Conference guidelines for the celebration of acts of worship in our Churches.  So although the date of 4th July has been assigned as the day when Public Acts of Worship can be celebrated, it may take longer for this to happen in your particular church.”

From Archbishops Nicols, McMahon, Longley and Wilson:

“With the easing of restrictions on worship with congregations, we tread carefully along the path that lies ahead.

“It is important to reaffirm that, at present, the obligation to attend Sunday Mass remains suspended.  A significant number of churches may remain closed as they are unable to meet the requirements for opening for individual prayer.  Fulfilling these requirements is a precondition for any church opening after the 4th July for the celebration of Mass with a congregation.

“Please be aware that there will be a limit on the number of people who can attend Mass in our churches.  This will be determined locally in accordance with social distancing requirements.  We therefore need to reflect carefully on how and when we might be able to attend Mass.  We cannot return immediately to our customary practices.  Our priests may need to consider whether it is possible to celebrate additional Masses at the weekends.  Given there is no Sunday obligation, we ask you to consider the possibility of attending Mass on a weekday.

“There will still be many people who cannot attend Mass in person.  We therefore ask parishes, wherever possible, to continue live-streaming Sunday Mass, both for those who remain shielding and vulnerable, and also for those unable to leave home because of advanced age or illness.”

And some additional considerations from me:

As I mentioned before, there have been no offers to help as stewards or as a member of a cleaning team and therefore we cannot even begin to consider opening our church even for private prayer.   The size and design of our church makes it very difficult to devise a workable one-way system for entry and exit and so we have therefore been unable to submit a floor plan and Risk Assessment to the Vicar General for approval.  Therefore for the time being our church must remain closed.

Without all the required precautions in place, and without a letter of approval from the Bishop, not only are we unable to open our church for private prayer, but we are also unable to celebrate funerals and other services in church.  In the event of a request for a funeral, it would therefore have to be either a graveside service or a service in the crematorium depending on a family’s choice, with the number attending determined by the guidelines in force at the time.

I feel somewhat helpless at the moment because I can do nothing about even the basic requirements that are preventing our church from reopening unless people in the parish come forward to facilitate them.  That said, stewards to direct people in church, and teams of people to deep clean the church after every Mass or service and at the end of every day that the church is open cannot be in the “at risk” category.  Until this situation is resolved, or until researchers come up with an effective vaccine, unfortunately this is how things will be and I thank you for your understanding.  In all of this I think you will agree that we need to err on the side of caution.

With best wishes – stay well, Fr Neil