by Giles Fraser
Friday, 1
May 2020
Reaction
11:19

The C of E has retreated to the kitchen

The Church has lost confidence in its own values
by Giles Fraser

When bishops retire they get braver. Freed from collective responsibility when they hang up their mitres, in retirement they find their prophetic voice. To be fair, Peter Selby, former Bishop of Worcester, is an exception that proves this rule. Never a member of the awkward squad, he has always been resolutely independently-minded. And long respected in many quarters of the church.

So when someone of Bishop Selby’s stature pens a stinging rebuke of the current lockdown policy of the House of Bishops — and in the Roman Catholic magazine The Tablet — one can be sure that many will sit up and take notice. Indeed, when he writes that “many in the C of E feel let down by the official response,” he is possibly even understating the matter. There is deep discontent with the church at the moment, and even with the House of Bishops itself.

The “official response” that he refers to is the policy of not allowing clergy to enter their churches on their own for personal private prayer or to live-stream services. This is not a Roman Catholic policy — only a C of E one. Selby has no argument against closing churches for public worship.

But when a priest lives right next door to the church, or when their vicarage is even physically attached to the church and connected by an internal door, even then the priest is not allowed in to pray or to record worship on behalf of the community.

Of course, he or she is asked regularly to go into church to make sure everything is OK for insurance and safety purposes. But absolutely not for prayer or to broadcast prayer. Even when the Vicarage is stuffed full of screaming stir-crazy children, that is still where we are supposed to be Zooming our peaceful, meditative services from. As Selby argues:

Foremost among the reasons given why clergy could not enter their churches was the need to “set an example” of clergy as law-abiding citizens staying at home. The case was never made that clergy are key workers, exercising an essential public function, one rooted in the architecture and layout of their churches and the liturgical function they carry out within them, especially in Passiontide and Eastertide.
- Peter Selby, The Tablet

It is clear that Bishop Selby sees this as an historic moment in which the church reveals how much it has lost confidence in its own distinctive values, looking instead to the government to set the moral tone. This loss of confidence could well be related to the churches’ historic failure to deal with internal safeguarding issues.

But whatever the reason, a criticism that the current church leadership sees itself as little more than the perfect prefect of the bureaucratic (secular) state is now growing. Selby goes on:

Livestreaming from within our churches and cathedrals would have showcased their message to a wider public, reassuring them that the fundamental fabric of our common life and history – of which our large and small churches (including the historic Lambeth Palace chapel) are an integral part – had not succumbed to coronavirus fear.
- Peter Selby, The Tablet

The Archbishop of Canterbury could easily broadcast from the historic Lambeth Palace chapel. No one would be at risk if he did that on his own. And all he has to do to get there is to walk downstairs from his flat. But instead, he conducts national services from his kitchen. And so, Selby concludes, the Church of England’s bishops:

…seem to have accepted the idea that Christianity is a matter for the domestic realm, that our cathedrals and parish churches are just optional when useful and available, no longer the eloquent signs of the consecration of our public life and public spaces. The conviction that the ministry of Word and Sacrament in the places of beauty set apart is an “essential work” undertaken by “key workers” will have become a wistful “BC” [Before Coronovirus] memory.
- Peter Selby, The Tablet

Over at The Critic magazine, Fr Marcus Walker, Rector of St Bartholomew’s, Smithfield, puts it even more succinctly: “Church buildings narrate the development of a community more than any other. … But this time round the church has written itself out of the story.”

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SUSAN HILL
SUSAN HILL
2 years ago

I am not a massive fan of taking the law into one’s own hands but this is one of the rare occasions when I think it is not only OK to do it but that it is absolutely the right thing to do. I can see not one single argument for the H of Bishops’ rule on this and many against. So go on, clergy, grow some, break the stupid law, get into your church ..or one of them, as so many clergy are in charge of several…and pray, sit, think, be with God, by yourself, because nothing will do you more good, your family and friends and neighbours and parishioners more good. I would say ‘what are the Bishops thinking ?’ Except that I fear they very often don’t think at all

thomasgcarver
thomasgcarver
2 years ago

The Church of England, our national church, should have insisted on remaining open all through the emergency as a point of principle; the government would have certainly acquiesced. After all, with the numbers of people who typically go into churches there would have been no problem with keeping people apart.
But the CoE couldn’t wait to get into full lockdown and this, unfortunately, illustrates the current state of a church which has ceased to believe in itself and does not believe its own message.
Do we look for the Resurrection of the dead, And the life of the world to come, or do we put our faith in social distancing? The CoE has made its decision.

ferryhillbilly
ferryhillbilly
2 years ago
Reply to  thomasgcarver

Why should churches be different to anywhere else?

thomasbcarver
thomasbcarver
2 years ago
Reply to  ferryhillbilly

Because one of the functions of the Church is to provide consolation in times of crisis. Although a church building is not an absolute necessity, they are an established part of our social fabric and therefore offer people reassurance. An open church would also demonstrate that the CoE is with us alway, even unto the end of the world.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
2 years ago

At the danger of insulting the Bishops and clergy, there is the very alarming underlying concept (as expressed by Archbishop Welby and also, singing from the same hymn sheet, my local bishop when I protested about this policy) that the church is about people, not buildings. But for some of us, it is the other way round; our current church leadership lets us down sadly with its urge to pursue every modern trend, its adoption of the trendy, the abandonment (it often seems) of grace and faith and spirituality.

But the buildings stand signal as to the holiness of the church, peace, calm, a place to reflect and pray, a long lasting faithful congregation through the ages, that here the spirit has been present in good times and bad. Until now, when the Archbishop ordered the church doors locked against the faithful and retreated to the kitchen.

john071145
john071145
2 years ago

My concern is not with the article but with the implications of what it reports. These implications have been evident for too long.
The church, by which I mean the Christian faith, is nothing if it’s not supernatural. If it has nothing to say and prove in a time of crisis for the nation, then the doors should stay closed for ever. It is occupying beautiful buildings under false pretences. Unfortunately, what it says to the cameras from archbishops’ and bishops’ kitchens under the circumstances is immaterial, at least for the most part. If it only offers politics in a dog collar, accompanied by limp sermons which can’t be remembered by lunchtime on Sunday, then it most certainly is irrelevant.
One can be accused of being a fundamental Christian, but if one is not fundamental why bother to be a Christian at all? In fact, whatever label we attach to ourselves, if we don’t believe what the scriptures say, if we reason them away according to the diktats of the age, then it is doubtful we were ever Christ’s. What a pointless exercise and what a waste of a career elsewhere because it surely isn’t a calling.
The collective church seems not to really believe its creeds or confessions. It reasons that wine should not be offered at Eucharist to protect communicants from infection ““ as if any germ, bacteria or virus would last for a microsecond in the presence of the Blood of Christ consumed in faith with a tender heart. But then if clergy don’t preach the gospel and don’t really believe, it makes sense to ban the communal cup in favour of the superior nature and power of a pandemic.

johndcharmley
johndcharmley
2 years ago

I am glad to see that Giles, like Marcus Walker and other priests, have not lost faith in the distinctive Christian voice.

Tim Gardener
Tim Gardener
2 years ago

“… it [the church] has lost confidence in its own distinctive values, looking instead to the government to set the moral tone. ….”

What absurdity have we reached! This Prime Minister takes his morality from Ancient Rome – he has no affinity for Judeo-Christian values.

More tellingly, the CofE has lost its faith in God, offering a moral therapeutic deism rather than a call to repent and enter into the righteousness, joy and peace of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the World.

Philip Watson
Philip Watson
2 years ago

‘Lack of confidence’ certainly covers the outward appearance of the C of E’s behaviour in this; but sadly I fear that the root cause lies much deeper, in an institutional lack of faith in its own mission. Too many of the heirarchy give the impression that they are mere administrators in fancy gowns, and their woeful leadership sows despair, not inspiration, within their congregations.

pettibone.3
pettibone.3
2 years ago

I’m a Protestant in America. We also seemed to have succumbed in my church to the notion that meeting away from our physical buildings or campus is fine, short term, as we have also done with our public schools and universities. We conduct our lives from home. But not for much longer. The public is restless as cabin fever has taken a wearying toll on our civic life and especially on our personal, family, and work relationships. The state motto of Vermont, “Live Free or Die” is echoing in our collective consciousness, but for Christians there is our Lord’s mandate to, “Go into all the World and preach the Good News.”
We are not sure how much more of this lockdown we can take. Children need to run out and play with their friends in the sunshine and fresh air. The science now tells us the Swedish herd immunity model was best. Patience is a virtue, but so is going back to school and work, to worship services, and in actively reaching out and participating with others in maintaining a free society for ourselves and our children. When it comes right down to, do we allow God or the secular State to tell us what is “essential” activity? How do we, “Live Free or Die”, when going about our normal daily lives is viewed by many as being, dangerous and immoral?

nigel roberts
nigel roberts
2 years ago
Reply to  pettibone.3

Not to quibble but “Live Free or Die” is the state motto of New Hampshire. Vermont’s is “Freedom and Unity”.

johntshea2
johntshea2
2 years ago

“When bishops retire they get braver.”
Not just bishops! Retired medics like pathologist Dr. John Lee have proved refreshingly candid regarding the current Corona-Crisis. And amen re celebrating services in churches! If the Catholic Mass could be broadcast from the still-damaged Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, why not from, say, St. Paul’s, which famously defied and survived the Blitz?

patrickparsons15
patrickparsons15
2 years ago

So the C of E is having a lack of in its ‘values’ and is becoming nothing but a department of the secular state. Awww diddums. The C of E has been a department of state since Henry VIII went all heretic and dragged the Church out of Catholic Christendom. As for its values, I take it the piece actually means ‘Christianity’? You know the C-word other than Covid-19. Again it has not exactly been at the forefront of preaching the Gospel. It has become nothing but a SJW branch of social work. Sadly it looks like the Catholic Church is going down the same road under the Bergoglians, becoming less Christian (yes Catholics are Christians, and the very first), more subordinate to the secular powers, and don’t really believe in God, resurrection, salvation, Hell or even poor old Jesus, but Pachamama and Gaia they absolutely adore. The difference is that there are more Catholics who are still fully Catholic and Catholic clergy (from Cardinals down) beginning to fight back and ensuring the Catholic faithful have access to the Mass and the rosary. In a time of pandemic, where our mortality is in full view, where mankind stands stripped of its overbearing confidence, God begins.

cjhartnett1
cjhartnett1
2 years ago

Since the days of Lewis, Muggeridge and Barclay etc, Christianity has had no theology, meaning or intellect in this nation.
Basically, just collects old batteries for the ecoloons, puts former witches into diosceses , virtue signals for Channel 4 and fills boxes for food banks, not allowed to pray or even talk of Jesus
Anti Semitic supporters, hating Brexit and vilifying Trump. Who at least still has his mum’s bible and has read the Ojd Testament. And turns out to know it better than the Dalai Papa in Rome.
Of course, I feel for the old and lonely who had a connection with their parish church, and Welby’s rush to flee from the scene at the first wave of a white tissue was disgusting dereliction, cowardice and lazy. But they’ve said nothing since Temple, so Asia Bibby and those hounded out of the NHS for praying or wearing a cross know how effete, pathetic and irrelevant the church now is.
Hope it does like the Labour Party. Both long gone as any use.

Clay Bertram
Clay Bertram
2 years ago

Very interesting article.

ferryhillbilly
ferryhillbilly
2 years ago

Why do you HAVE to pray in a church? isn’t God supposed to be everywhere? What about pubs are landlords allowed to drink in the bar, even if they live on the premises? Why should there be separate rules for churches, or a church goers better than us?

lorrainemcavanagh
lorrainemcavanagh
2 years ago

Why does this discussion revolve almost exclusively around clergy? What, in the view of most people, are churches there for? To mark life’s great transitional moments, but also, though this may seldom be acknowledged, as a sign of the enduring presence and love of God. There are many people who may value them as a sacred space, somewhere to go and simply be in a space that has perhaps been prayed in for centuries, to experience consciously or unconsciously something of that prayer, to sigh and yearn and weep into that great presence. Churches should remain open for the people. Some may never have prayed, or felt the need to do so before. They need that sacred space. I think we could trust them to respect social distancing, especially if a polite sign at the door reminded them to do so, while also making them feel welcome. They are unlikely to turn up at any one church in droves. Time to get our priorities right.

rosalindmayo
rosalindmayo
2 years ago

I live next door to my church: I miss the bells, the choir,the singing the coffee mornings and Yes mass- and i wish it were open for private whatever, although it does tend to gather in others looking to sleep somewhere, and so on- but it is a very large church- I wonder how and when things will begin again.
However, I do take issue to some extent with the ‘kitchen’ (often the heart of many homes) having enjoyed ordinary bread and wine- in many a small and large kitchen, which gives an ‘ordinariness’ and every-day-ness to the celebration.
But I get the point.

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
2 years ago

Sadly the subject of this article is very much beside the point.
I don’t think 99.9% of the population will be concerned at all about whether their parish priest is able to access the church or not. What some might be interested in are the attempts of the priest to offer ministry using the online opportunities. For instance the zoom services I participate in are attracting more than the regular congregation. The potential for preaching the Gospel, teaching the Faith, involvement in worship, pastoral care and church growth is enormous as we look to the future.
I also think that rather than moaning about church building lockdown we clergy ( including retired bishops) would be better used in encouraging people to use this crisis as a time of reflection on mortality, our personal relationship with God, and the state of our nation which has lost its way largely because it has turned its back on Him.

Su Jo.
Su Jo.
2 years ago

As a committed Christ-Follower I have been in awe of the way that local church leaders have stepped into the community to serve and to lead. The oft-used anacronym WWJD applies – our church leaders are where it matters right now and – I believe – where they are supposed to be. I absolutely accept that for some the buildings are important but please let’s not squabble about that now…

As a busy full-time worker using all sorts of new online technologies to connect with others I have been struck by a new authenticity of communication that Covid-19 has created: people of all disciplines in their homes, no room for airs & graces, focussed on making a difference and getting stuff DONE. Sweeping away obstacles wherever they can.

Right there in the midst of it all is the church.

Hallelujah

revdvictoria
revdvictoria
2 years ago

If the church can’t survive without a building, it’s a very sad and irrelevant church indeed.

ferryhillbilly
ferryhillbilly
2 years ago
Reply to  revdvictoria

Exactly

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
2 years ago

If a kitchen is better than a cathedral, then presumably the next step is for the CofE to knock down all its churches. Think of the money they could make selling the land to developers!

ferryhillbilly
ferryhillbilly
2 years ago

Then would they stop begging off us when we have to pay to go into a cathedral?

thomasgcarver
thomasgcarver
2 years ago

Our national religion used to be the C of E, but now it’s the NHS.

Charles Rogerson
Charles Rogerson
2 years ago

I joined the CoE when I lived in England — I ventured inside the Anglo-Catholic church across the street and was immediately at home. Back in the States, I became an Episcopalian. My parish and diocese are very liberal, but our priests, deacon, lectors, etc. are at least allowed by our Bishop to conduct Mass in the empty church, and we attend via Zoom.

We do get more attendees via Zoom than we usually had in person, but it’s not really the same. I feel the Spirit more when I say the Daily Office than I do during a Zoom service. And I miss taking communion and being with my fellow parishioners terribly.

I find it hard to believe that the CoE is forbidding priests to enter their church or to conduct services from their church. This is ridiculous! Like closing beaches and arresting surfers, which we are doing here in California.

However, rebellion is stirring. Folks have realized how power-mad and totalitarian our bureaucrats actually are — this has been very educational. When the dust settles and the numbers are added up, there will be a lot of people angry that we have trashed the economy with little to show for it.

Jill Armstead
Jill Armstead
2 years ago

Can the ABC be impeached or something? I mean he is giving Satan a field day.

john071145
john071145
2 years ago

This is beautiful

https://youtu.be/LvHQAVOwEDc