Letters from Bishop Of Ebbsfleet

PASTORAL LETTER

 

Concerning Public Worship and the Celebration of the Sacraments

in relation to the current international pandemic

 

20 March 2020

St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne

 

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord

 

In three short weeks, here and in many places around the world, life has been radically changed.  Our daily patterns of life and work are being changed to protect the greater good;  the institutions and services of our common life are under unprecedented pressure;  and the lives of the world's most vulnerable-the elderly, the poor, the homeless and those with health conditions-are threatened.  Little surprise then that the Church should find itself deeply affected, and having no choice but to find new and untried ways of living through this time and looking to the future.

 

I am sure that you will all recognize the wisdom of Her Majesty The Queen's appeal yesterday that as a society we should come together 'to work as one', concentrating our combined efforts, focusing on our common goal. 'We all have a vitally important part to play', she said 'as individuals.' Paradoxically, at a time when our individual lives are being pushed apart by the absolute necessity to maintain universal good hygiene and a safe physical distance from one another, we are discovering that only acting in a really collaborative way will have the impact that we all need.  We are all being taught by this experience to recalibrate the connections between our individuality and our community, between being one and being many - whether as people, as families and as nations.  

 

Of all people on earth this should come as least surprise to the disciples of Jesus, whose profound sense of calling and responsibility as the Son of God was entirely shaped by the love of his Father and the salvation of his brothers and sisters.  So Christians can recognize in our present crisis not just that human generosity which appears in times of danger and trial, but the reality of what it means to be human, and to be created in the likeness of God.  To be human is to be one and many.

 

And that should remind us Christians of a second reality:  that our life together as Christ's Body is not for the sake of ourselves but for the life of the world.  If in these coming months the Church has to experience being forcibly pulled away from the consolations of our routine life and worship-forced for the first time that any of us can remember, into a kind of collective eucharistic fast-it may be so that we can rediscover the mission God has given us: to be real witnesses in this world-currently so fearful and anxious-of the joy and peace of the world to come, God's kingdom.

 

Plainly none of this will happen if we do not use the time that we now have on our hands to learn afresh how to pray.  Not just prayers for all the different ways in which people are caught up in the present crisis;  but prayers that turn our hearts toward God.  The Psalms frequently exhort us to praise God's mighty power and his loving intimacy.  We may have to be physically distant from one another, but God is not distant.  'He is', says St Augustine, 'nearer to us than our innermost parts'.  (Confessions 3.6.11)

 

In recent days, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, together with the bishops, have implemented changes in how we must practice our faith for the coming months.  I too have written to all the clergy of parishes under my oversight setting out the necessary changes that need to take effect in the pastoral and liturgical ministries we share.  Your parish priest can provide you with copies of the archbishops' letter and mine.  I ask every worshipper to embrace these arrangements. They will be kept under review in the light of expert health and hygiene advice.

 

Of course the most dramatic change is the suspension of all public acts of worship, and thus the lack of access to celebrations of the Eucharist.  All clergy and lay officers will however strive to keep our churches open wherever possible so that, especially on Sunday mornings, those who wish to can visit to pray before the Blessed Sacrament.  I do not underestimate what a loss this will be to you all.  Nonetheless the clergy have been encouraged to celebrate the Eucharist and to pray Morning and Evening Prayer, in church without a congregation.  Some churches will make arrangements for live-streaming of these acts of worship to support the laity:  I hope to do so myself.  But above all I encourage you to keep Sunday carefully as the Lord's Day, to read slowly and prayerfully the readings for that day's Mass; to pray the Rosary, the Litany, the Jesus Prayer;  to prepare in your home a shrine or prayer station, with a crucifix and images of the Lord and the saints;  and to expressing to the Lord in prayer your desire to receive Holy Communion even while you can't; desiring to be united to him, and filled with his Holy Spirit.  It will be a blessed and joyful day, when we can assemble again to celebrate Mass together!

 

Thank you for everything you will do to support your parish, and its wider community in the coming months. Please show a special care and concern for anyone who might struggle.  And do not be afraid to ask for prayerful support yourself.  Shop responsibly; be generous to charities helping the most vulnerable; encourage your families as often as you can with words of faith and hope; pray for those afflicted by the virus; and those who risk their lives to help them.

 

Two prayers for you to use at home before Passiontide begins:

 

Almighty God, it is you who made the heavens and the earth by your great power, and by your outstretched arm.  Nothing is beyond your power.  We turn to you in our need, to ask your protection against coronavirus which has claimed lives and affected many.  We pray for those afflicted. May they soon be restored to health. Grant this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

Almighty and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities, and in all our dangers and necessities stretch forth your right hand to help and defend us, through Christ our Lord. Amen.           

                   Collect for the Third Sunday after Epiphany

 

 

With love and every blessing:

 

+ Jonathan Ebbsfleet

 

17 March 2020

 

To all Ebbsfleet Clergy, Church Wardens and Parish Congregations

Dear Fathers, dear brothers and sisters

1 The Church in the midst of our current crisis

I have not been in touch with you until now because it has been important to give prominence to official advice both from the government and central church authorities. Nonetheless I write now as your bishop and pastor. The key points of online information remain:

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

http://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/coronavirus-covid-19-uk-government-response

http://www.churchofengland.org/more/media-centre/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-churches 

The Archbishops, on behalf of all the bishops, have circulated a pastoral letter and practical guidelines.

Like so many across our Continent and the world, our society now finds itself in a situation that forces us to limit drastically our personal contacts and meetings, causing a huge impact on our common life and welfare. Inevitably that impacts on the common life of the Church too: our worship, our witness and our service. My own ministry as bishop, moving day to day from locality to locality, across a large part of the country, is, like that of the other PEVs, also impacted.

Just as we have to find new and better habits-both personal and social -in order to meet the challenge, to support one another, and to give priority to the needs of the most vulnerable, so too we shall all have to find new ways of expressing the Church's presence in our increasingly fearful communities - praying, proclaiming and serving a message of hope. The situation is a challenge to the whole Church-our own church and our brothers and sisters in other churches-and we shall need to work hard to keep the relationships between us alive, prayerful, supportive and strengthening.

2 Chrism Masses, Holy Week 2020

I shall write again in the light of the Archbishop's Pastoral Letter, but I want at this moment to mention this year's Chrism Masses.

Given the daily increasing incidence and distribution of the virus, and with it increasing limitations on physical movement and upon any assembly that cannot observe the 2-meter physical distancing rule, I have decided that, despite being among the most solemn and significant liturgies in the Church's year, all three Ebbsfleet Regional Chrism Masses must be cancelled. Please share this news with all clergy and laity connected with our Ebbsfleet parishes.

But all is not lost. The Chrism Mass has three distinctive features. First, for centuries it was the service at which the Holy Oils were blessed by the bishop in preparation for baptisms and confirmations in Eastertide, as well as for use throughout the year in the life of the Church. As a consequence and so that oils could be distributed to local communities, it became, second, an iconic assembly of the local church, clergy and laity around their bishop. And (third, and only in the last sixty years) it has become (for the Roman Catholic Church, and many Anglicans too) an opportunity for the renewal of ordination promises by the clergy in the presence of the bishop and the people.

This year we shall have to make separate provision for these three aspects of the service.

1. Assembly is the most affected. Not for some months yet will Christians be able to assemble and celebrate the Eucharist in the way that is normal, especially on the great holy days of the coming months. That is the main limitation upon us.

2. But the clergy can-and should-still renew their ordination promises-either alone, or in one another's presence in small groups, before the Blessed Sacrament. To that end I shall be circulating widely to the Ebbsfleet clergy the form of prayer which I send out each year to those who for reasons of ill health or immobility are unable to be present at the Chrism Mass. Although Holy Week worship will be much curtailed, such a renewal of ordination promises could be made publicly.

3. Finally, the blessing of the Holy Oils is something for which there needs to be special provision. Some of you may have oils remaining from last Holy Week; others, myself included, may require fresh supplies. Since the bishop must bless the oils, if suitable arrangements can be made here in Reading in Holy Week we will arrange for their distribution thereafter. If not, we shall arrange a celebration to bless fresh oils later in the year when restrictions are lifted. In either case I shall prepare and distribute a Chrism sermon in the usual way.

"Beloved", says the apostle, "let us bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." (Gal 6.2) I want now to assure you of my love and solidarity with all of you, and my frequent prayer for you, particularly the elderly, both ordained and lay. I want to thank you for all that you are doing, and will be doing, to ensure that the face of Jesus Christ is clearly recognized in our common life and in our neighbourhoods in the coming months.

+Jonathan