On Wednesday, Parliament approved legislation which means that for the foreseeable future, public worship cannot take place at the University Church. The government has insisted that this is to ensure public safety in the face of the continuing threat of the current pandemic. I know that many people will be sorely disappointed that St Mary’s will not be open for public worship. The measures that we have put in place since the beginning of July, with limited numbers at services, two-metre distancing, face-masks, hand sanitiser, and careful stewarding to ensure that people arrive and leave safely, had created a real sense of confidence that the risks associated with attending the Eucharist were minimal. While our knowledge and understanding of the impact of Covid is still limited, we have a much better understanding of the risks of transmission than we did in early March. With the help of our staff and our stewards, we are committed to ensuring that the church remains a safe environment for all who visit.
One important concession in this lockdown is that churches can remain open for private prayer. St Mary’s will be open from 12noon - 2.00pm Monday - Friday. You are welcome to come into church to pray if you happen to pass by. We are committed to ensuring that the doors of the church are open over the next few weeks, and to ensure that everything is safe and everyone feels welcome, we will need to ensure that the church is properly staffed and regularly cleaned.
While we accept the guidance of public health professionals, we should not for a moment underestimate the costliness of not being able to receive the sacraments. As the Archbishops have said in a recent letter to the clergy, ‘worship online… means that the people of God do not have access to the sacraments which are so central to our life in Christ. This is a huge loss and since we were not consulted about the lockdown provisions, we fully intend to speak with government about why certain exemptions are made and not others…The sacramental life of the church cannot be seen as an optional extra’. In the Eucharist, we discover the fullness of life in Christ. The sacrament is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. It is food for the body and the soul.
We look forward to the day when we can welcome you back to St Mary’s, so that once again we may be honoured guests at Christ’s table. In the meantime, worship will be offered online. There will be a Videocast offered each Sunday, and we hope that this, along with the daily round of Morning Prayer (Monday - Friday) on Zoom, will offer you some of the spiritual resources that you will need as we face the challenges of the weeks ahead. As I said on Sunday, we want you to know that we are here to support you and to care for you, and that it will be important for all of us to care for and support one another.
The Archbishops have invited us to pray for all those affected by the pandemic during this lockdown period. As the clock of St Mary’s chimes at 6.00pm each day, perhaps you might join me in saying this prayer:
Keep us, good Lord,
under the shadow of your mercy
in this time of uncertainty and distress.
Sustain and support the anxious and fearful,
and lift up all who are brought low;
that we may rejoice in your comfort
knowing that nothing can separate us from your love
in Christ Jesus our Lord.