A letter from Bishop Martin

 Dear Brothers and Sisters

The Church is called to bear the good news of Jesus in every circumstance.  As we face the coronavirus pandemic bearing good news means our care for others and especially those who are most vulnerable, and sustaining our life of prayer and worship.  We will need to be doing this in different ways following the national guidance and the decision to suspend public worship which is conveyed in the letter found here from the Archbishops issued earlier today and which I ask you to read.

Care for Others

In Suffolk the Diocese, through Gavin Stone, our Director of Strategy and Communications, is part of a county-wide coordinated response to ensure the care for those in need and who are most vulnerable.  I am enormously encouraged by the messages of actions people are already taking for this at the very local level.  We each need to think of ourselves as hubs of “micro-communities” working out as individuals and congregations whom we know in our immediate vicinity or our acquaintances who may need help, and reaching out to them.  There are different ways this can be done, but we each can play our part. Even if we are self-isolating, if we are able, we can reach out on the telephone.

There are a number of people involved in sharing practical help – shopping, assisting at food banks, visiting those on their own when they are not in self-isolation.  What is paramount is that we think through the way we do this and observe the handwashing, hygiene and physical distancing that will protect people from infection. Specific advice is available here on the coronavirus advice pages on the Church of England website.

We know already the food banks are half empty because of the high demand after the supermarkets began to empty of essential items.  If you can help to restock one in your area, please do so.

Prayer and Worship

It is going to be a huge adjustment to us not to gather together for public worship, not least because that is precisely what we want to do in a time of crisis.  We must however observe this strictly, because of the risk of communicating infection.  There are four ways at present that we are encouraging you, and for you to encourage your congregations, to sustain a life of prayer and worship in these weeks ahead. 

  1. Clergy should continue to say daily prayers where possible in their churches, and if it is your pattern, daily eucharist, not as services open to the public but as acts of prayer and worship offered for our nation and world. These can be shared in by a few invited participants (for example, members of the ministry team) who with you observe protocols of hygiene and physical distancing – sitting two metres apart, for example. 
  2. Churches should be kept open where possible for people to come in and pray on their own, each using hand sanitiser as they enter and leave.
  3. Families and individuals should be encouraged to join in their own daily prayers using resources such as those on the Church of England website here, including joining in live streaming of acts of prayer and worship. I am acutely aware that access to the internet is not available to everyone so ask you to help people secure paper resources – observing hygiene protocols in doing so.
  4. Morning Prayer is being livestreamed from my Oratory every morning at 8.30am, Monday to Saturday, on the Bishops’ Facebook page @BishopsCofEsuffolk. You may want to follow these daily offices in the Common Worship Daily Prayer book, or on the App “Daily Prayer”

Evening Prayer is being livestreamed from the Cathedral Monday to Saturday at 5.30pm on the Cathedral Facebook page @Stedscathedral

Sunday morning eucharist will be celebrated just for the cathedral team every Sunday,  under strict protocols, and will be livestreamed from 10.30am, again on the Cathedral Facebook page. 

Many of these services will also be available after they have taken place on the diocesan website where all links in relation to the coronavirus situation are on the home page.

Many of you will come up with your own approaches, and I encourage you to do so.  I am awaiting further guidance about how we might make communion available and will pass that on as soon as I hear.

 I know you will have further questions and Bishop Mike and I will continue to work with the national church to find solutions to some of the legal issues surrounding APCMs, banns of marriage, Archdeacons’ Visitations etc. I am grateful for your patience as we work though some of these complex questions.  Please keep checking the Church of England website page where you will find liturgical resources, advice about baptisms, weddings and funerals, and about community and neighbourly engagement.  We have to recognise that we are working out these procedures as we proceed.  When in doubt, please use common sense, focussing on the safety of all.

Bishop Mike and I will continue to make a weekly video blog where we will offer reflections on what we are going through in the light of the gospel reading for each Sunday, and offer that as another resource to sustain us spiritually.  I would urge us all to realise we are in this for the long haul, so let’s pace ourselves and not feel we have to sort everything out at once.

As the Archbishops say in their letter, “by our service, and by our love, Jesus Christ will be made known, and the hope of the gospel – a hope that will counter fear and isolation – will spread across our land.”  It is indeed our calling to bear the good news of Jesus Christ in every circumstance.

With love and prayers

Bishop Martin