This email communication has been sent to all licensed Active Clergy, clergy who hold the bishop's Permission to Officiate, Retired Clergy, Readers, Authorised Lay Ministers, Churchwardens, Lay Chairs, PCC Secretaries, and the members of the Bishop’s Council of Diocesan Trustees.

Dear colleagues 

As we suspect you are by now aware, the House of Bishops met on Tuesday afternoon to consider its advice concerning access to church buildings. A statement was then issued, which focused on a phased approach, dependent upon government decisions, and which is attached for your information

We both want to thank you for observing the current guidance.  We realise that has not been without cost, for many people, and in different ways, and we are grateful for your adherence to it in this diocese, which has meant we have been able to offer a coherent approach to the people of Greater Lincolnshire. However, it is clearly right, in the light of changing circumstances, to review and revise as appropriate any position and we believe that now is the time to do that. First, because there is an improving trajectory in terms of new cases and hospital admissions, but also because the government is beginning to show some change in its language and as you will be aware is planning announcements on Sunday. 

In coming to a revised position, however, we urge us all to remember that the virus itself has not changed: it is still the same, it can still transmit, we do not yet fully understand its behaviour, and measures to control its effects, whether anti-viral treatments or vaccines, that are still in the earliest stages of development. We are therefore reliant on expert advice and criteria on which to make any decisions as we begin to move from the suppression to the co-existence phase of the pandemic.   

While our church buildings, at this moment in time, therefore remain closed, in line with Government advice, the House of Bishops has agreed a phased approach with three broad stages as, we pray, infection levels continue to improve, and as we move towards being able safely to open buildings fully again. Please notice that there is no specific timeline for the three stages.  The House suggests:

  • An initial immediate phase allowing very limited access to church buildings for activities such as streaming of services or private prayer by clergy in their own parishes, so long as the necessary hygiene and social distancing precautions are taken
  • Subsequently, access for some rites and ceremonies when allowed by law, observing appropriate physical distancing and hygiene precautions
  • Finally, worship services with congregations meeting, when Government restrictions are eased to allow for social gathering, but bearing in mind potential restrictions on numbers, the vulnerability of congregants and the activities undertaken.

The House at its meeting affirmed that it is for individual diocesan bishops now to offer guidance on the first of these phases, as is right for the context of the diocese they serve. We are therefore able to issue the following permissive guidance with regard to the first of the phases, for the Diocese of Lincoln:

  • Incumbents, or rural deans where there is no incumbent, can in consultation with their churchwardens and bearing in mind their specific location, appoint one person for each church in their benefice to enter that church building.
  • The appointed person should be the incumbent or a licensed or authorised minister, minister with permission to officiate, churchwarden, or, where there is no churchwarden, one member of the PCC.
  • The appointed person should be entering the church building for any or all of the following (i) pray the Daily Office and/or celebrate the Eucharist on behalf of the community they serve, (ii) live stream or pre-record worship, (iii) ring one bell (where that is safe to do) to mark prayers being said or mark events (e.g. Clap for Carers, VE day anniversary), (iv) check the fabric of the building.
  • The appointed person may enter the church building together with members of their household with whom they are living.
  • Clergy and lay leaders, especially those with underlying health problems, or who are shielding people in their household with such problems, should not feel under any obligation to do this themselves, nor should anyone be asked to do so who is in one of the government’s risk categories.
  • Only the appointed person (and any of their household) should enter, and the door should be locked.
  • Consideration should be given as to what cleaning will be needed to make our churches safe (e.g. bat, mice and rat faeces, mould spores, dust, legionella disease in water systems, as well as disinfecting gates and door handles etc).

Please also read the more detailed national advice that is attached to this message, which the above attempts to summarise, and which should be carefully followed.

We want to emphasise that this is permissive guidance, and that it is for each incumbent to decide on the appropriate response for their locality and their own particular situation. With regard to the timing of any decision that you may make, this is for you to decide, as is appropriate to your context, but we would strongly suggest that you first complete a simple risk assessment to satisfy that you are able to work within the attached national guidelines, and that you keep a secure record of this. If you are content with leading worship from home for the time being, and are now set up to do that, you should feel under no obligation to switch back to church. Likewise, it is perfectly acceptable to continue offering services which are recorded or which are streamed by colleagues.

If you do decide that it is now appropriate to make this very limited ‘return’ to your buildings, either for prayer or for streaming of a service, and you are in a multi-parish benefice, you might also want to consider which of your buildings it is most appropriate to return to first, bearing in mind the next two phases to come.  

If you were only able to open safely some of your buildings in these stages, which would they be in your particular situation? This is a sensitive but important issue and one that we are actively also beginning to think through alongside you, as it were.  We hope, therefore, to be able to talk with you further on this subject, so that we can give good advice and guidance, and so that potentially we might reach mutually agreed decisions that will be helpful into the future.

Our priority in this must be to act responsibly to safeguard ourselves and other people from infection, and always to do this as servants of Christ and ministers of the gospel. We have reflected deeply on conversations that we have had over the last weeks, including with many licensed clergy, and on what we have read online and in the press.  We understand that ministers have representative roles and that someone going in to a building to pray or to lead worship on behalf of others who are still not able to be physically present with them has a very particular representative ministry.  We understand that this person is doing something 'on behalf' of others, and that this 'on behalf of' ministry is valued by so many in our congregations and in wider society.  

There are, surely, echoes here of Jesus stepping away from people to pray, which we understand to be an act of service as potent in its own way as the times when he stepped towards people to wash their feet or extend his healing hand.  This 'on behalf of relatedness' is intrinsic to our Anglican identity and it is one that we also feel in our ministry among you as bishops - a 'relatedness' which has, equally, been affected by the impact of Covid-19.  

As we begin the gradual process of re-entering our church buildings, we urge us all to continue to reflect on the messages that we are conveying by all of our actions, and on the impact of our words and opinions as we express them in whatever media, and on the fact that what we do now will have resonance for many years ahead.

We hope that If you have any questions or concerns relating to the advice set out in this message you will please contact your archdeacon or the bishop’s office who will be very happy to try and give advice. 

Once again, our gratitude for all that you are giving to your communities in these extraordinary days. We are incredibly grateful for all that you are doing and are, and we rejoice to have you as our colleagues. 

With our thanks 

Bishop David
The Right Reverend Dr David Court
Bishop of Grimsby
Acting Bishop of Lincoln

and

Bishop Nicholas
The Right Reverend Dr Nicholas Chamberlain
Bishop of Grantham