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Coronavirus ad clerum - 5 January 2021
Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ

When we wrote to you yesterday, we had no idea that events would accelerate such that we would need to write to you again today but given last night’s announcement it is with heavy hearts that we do so. Yesterday’s letter expressed the tension between the passive reception of external events and our responsibility to pursue carefully worked out plans. The arrival of a third period of ‘lockdown’ throws this tension into sharp relief. What follows is intended to guide you as you seek to work out your own response now, both as individuals and for those in your care.

Like us, you may well say these words on a daily basis as part of our Diocesan Vision Prayer:

‘Give us courage, wisdom and compassion, that strengthened with the grace of the Holy Spirit, we may as the Diocese of Sheffield, both flourish and grow.’

Once again, we are being directed to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. To do this well, we will continue to need the courage, wisdom and compassion of our God. Courage to act well in the face of testing times. In the Old Testament ‘courage’ can be translated, ‘to be alert, quick and agile both physically and mentally’. That kind of agility may not feel to be within our grasp after all these months of plans changing, but we are reminded that our God continues to supply all our needs, perhaps most especially in our time of weakness. God’s wisdom is in one Bible dictionary defined as, ‘The right use or exercise of knowledge; the choice of laudable ends, and of the best means to accomplish them. This is wisdom in act, effect, or practice.’ We have heard much in recent months about the impact of the choices we make. Choosing to act wisely now will, we trust, serve to protect the most vulnerable and help us all progress through to a time of greater safety and wellbeing for ourselves and for all those in our care. The Bible defines compassion as ‘having mercy’, ‘showing sympathy’ and ‘having pity’. There is a danger that we may become weary and experience ‘compassion fatigue’ towards others, to those who have authority, influence or control and even perhaps towards ourselves, after these many months of Covid 19. Fortunately, God’s compassion is not limited as we are and it is in him we find our strength renewed. The Message version puts it like this ‘But you, O God, are both tender and kind, not easily angered, immense in love, and you never, never quit.’ (Psalm 86:15)
So, may you know his courage, wisdom and compassion in the days ahead as we stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.

Government Announcement
The Prime Minister’s announcement of this period of national lockdown makes clear: ‘You must stay at home. This is the single most important action we can all take to protect the NHS and save lives. You must not leave your home unless necessary. Stay 2 metres apart from anyone not in your household or bubble.’

Church of England statement
In response to the Prime Minister, The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, who chairs the Church of England’s Covid Recovery Group made a statement outlining the responsibility we all share to protect public health and to take wise action in response to the current spread of Covid 19. You can read the statement in full here

Guidance on Public Worship
Though the Government has chosen not to suspend public worship in England we recognise that many of our clergy, lay officers and congregations are among the most vulnerable groups. In the light of this, many may choose to offer online or other worship opportunities (whether from home or from the church building) in place of ‘on site’ public worship.

Please know that you have our full support in making this decision. For our awareness and prayers please ensure that you adopt the following process: Propose a PCC resolution as follows ‘This PCC resolves to suspend ‘on site’ worship for the foreseeable future and this decision will be reviewed on x date’. Communicate this by email to Wendy Whitfield to seek the Bishop of Sheffield’s permission, you will then receive a response from the Bishop’s office to affirm your decision.

Should you make the decision to continue with ‘on site’ worship we would urge you to be extremely careful as the new variant of the virus is now known to be even more transmissible and we know that even when significant care is taken, there have been outbreaks linked to acts of worship offered in places of worship in other parts of the country.
If you decide to continue with ‘on site’ public worship you will need to ensure the following:
  1. A revised risk assessment is completed. The current Church of England template can be downloaded as a Word document here. Please be sure to review every section and state the date of review.
  2. Put measures in place to ensure no mingling at all between households/ bubbles before or after the act of worship asking people to disperse safely and with all the precautions in place relating to hands, face and space.
For the latest guidance please see these documents are regularly updated by the Church of England as the situation unfolds.

Licensing services and Sunday Commitments
In view of the message to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives, as Bishops, we will sadly not be honouring our ‘on site’ worship commitments previously arranged for the forthcoming Sundays though we are more than happy to offer pre-recorded sermons or join in a service on Zoom instead.

In addition, we have made the decision that all upcoming licensing services will revert to an online format in order that they may go ahead safely and not delay the start of new ministries. We have contacted all those who will be most directly affected by this decision today and are sorry for any disappointment that this may cause. We do fully believe that acting in the public interest now will be part of the answer towards achieving the flourishing Diocese we long to become in the coming months and years.

Occasional Offices
At present the government guidance states that occasional offices are permitted:
‘A wedding or equivalent ceremony may take place in exceptional circumstances (for example when one member of the couple is gravely ill) and only for up to 6 people attending. For funerals - up to a maximum of 30 people. Wakes and other linked ceremonial events can continue in a group of up to 6 people.’ Please be aware that this is the current advice and may be subject to change in the future.

Shielding Clergy and Lay Officers
Though there is good news in terms of the prioritisation of those who are ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ in the scheduling of the vaccine rollout in England, the clear guidance from the government is that those who were shielding during the first lockdown must do so again. If that applies to you, please ensure that you do not put yourself at greater risk and take seriously the request to stay at home. If you need further assistance to cover areas of particular responsibility outside of the home that you cannot resolve within your own context, please do contact your archdeacon in order that he may help you.

Given the events of recent days we are also mindful of our schools and our school staff teams. We are so conscious of the weeks of planning you will have done in readiness for this term, the anxiety that may have arisen from mixed messages and the exasperating experience of returning to school for one day, only to then encounter the changes wrought by last night's announcement. We are aware of the school leaders and staff who had to start working at 8.00pm last night on changing their plans for the coming days and the challenges you will have faced. We would just, once again, state our gratitude for all you are doing. We are hugely mindful of the wellbeing of our staff teams at this time and will be holding you in our prayers.

As ever, should our school leaders face a situation where the Diocese can be of help, whether it is a conversation to be had or some advice sought or just a listening ear, then our Diocesan Director of Education, Huw Thomas, has asked us to remind you he is ready and waiting for any call you need to make,

Families and other caring responsibilities
There is a particular form of courage required at a time like this. Families will be hard pressed by the changes to work and school and it can take a degree of courage to depart from the expectations that others have of us and that we may have of ourselves. For clergy, the closing of the building on a Sunday morning can be a painful decision. For families who are now home educating, rearranging the diary can also involve shifting or cancelling commitments. For some of you the coming weeks will include a meeting you now cannot make because you will be teaching phonics or multiplication. Making such changes can require some tough prioritisation and present challenges to our sense of self-esteem. At times like this a degree of inspired courage is needed to say, ‘I can't do that, because of this.’. Older children and young adults in our families and networks may need greater support than usual in view of the uncertainties around examinations, college and university courses and the immense and continual disruption they have had to endure in relation to their future plans. Please do take the time you need to give to these important people in your lives. Please also be kind to yourself and to others, resisting the urge to judge and offering a greater measure of compassion in this extended time of Covid 19
A reminder that even the most resilient among us are being tested by the prospect of this third lockdown. Please do not suffer in silence if this is in any way affecting you negatively beyond what you feel to be reasonable. We commend to you the resources already mentioned in previous Ad Clerums and you can also contact the Bishops Advisor in Pastoral Care and Counselling (Pat Hunt) for further support.

As ever this comes with the assurance of our prayers, our gratitude for your continued ministry and our concern for your wellbeing as together we seek to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.

With every blessing,
The Rt Revd Dr Pete Wilcox
Bishop of Sheffield
The Rt Revd Sophie Jelley
Bishop of Doncaster
Copyright © 2021 Diocese of Sheffield, All rights reserved.

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