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Bulletin no.27 - Friday 30 October

1 month ago

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We hope that you are keeping well and able to find some space and time to take care of your own well-being. Please do be in touch with you Archdeacon if they can assist you or offer support in any way. 

  1. Remembrance

As we move into Remembrancetide we thought that it might be helpful to remind you of the material which we sent in the last bulletin concerning remembrance. There was a letter from Bishop Christopher as well as some material from the Bishop’s Advisory group on Liturgy. It can be found at:  https://southwark.anglican.org/news/press-releases/2020/bulletin-no.-26-friday-16-october

We are aware that many of you are usually involved in Remembrance Sunday services at War Memorials in the Church yard or local community. If you are still hoping to go ahead with such a service then care must be taken to ensure that the service complies with all local authority regulations. These can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/local-authority-preparations-for-remembrance-sunday/local-authority-preparations-for-remembrance-sunday 
It might be sensible to also check if your Local Authority has any specific requirements.

  1. Baptism

In addition, when we sent out the last bulletin we had not yet seen the new guidance on baptism. It is now attached and can be found at: https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2020-10/COVID%2019%20advice%20for%20Clergy%20Conducting%20Baptisms%20v4.4.pdf 
You will see that the limit on the numbers at baptisms which are not in the main service has now been revised. The limit is now the number of people who can be in the church taking account of the proper social distancing.

  1. Bell Ringing

We have also received some advice from the Central Council of Church Bell. This guidance was sent out to bell ringers by them and they have asked us to share this information more widely:

Many towers have already come to the conclusion that ringing needs to be suspended in the Tier 2 (High) and Tier 3 (Very High) regions. This is also the view of the CCCBR and the Church of England. The headline situation for Tier 2 is that "No person may participate in a gathering in the Tier 2 area which consists of two or more people, and takes place indoors.” Tier 3 adds private dwellings to that as well. 

The Tier 2 and Tier 3 restrictions published by the UK Government are not guidance - they are law, with enforcement provisions. There is no exemption for Places of Worship although places of worship do remain open. The Church of England's own interpretation of the Permitted Activities in their buildings can be found here. You will see that both Tiers 2 and 3 say of public worship "Permitted as an organised gathering provided any person attending is: alone or part of group all from the same household or from two linked households; and must not join any other group or mingle with any person from another group." 

The chances of a policeman entering the tower and deciding on whether or not a band of three or four people is considered to be a 'gathering' or not is of course very slight, but we should still consider the spirit of what is intended. The government clearly wants us to reduce our contact with others to try and get infection levels back down again. The room from which we ring doesn't become safer because it is inside a church building. The Council's view is that we should show leadership in keeping people safe. 

Fortunately for many towers, we are now able to move away from the 'one size fits all' approach that has seemed so unjustifiable in the past. Towers in Tier 1 can continue as they are now, and we are working on the guidance that will enable further consideration of setting and personal risk. We will also be able to work on revised risk assessments for towers in Tiers 2 and 3 so that when infection levels fall again and the regions drop back to Tier 1, we can take advantage of what will essentially be pre-approved guidance. Furthermore, we are working with ART on a "Survival and Recovery Toolbox" to help bands recover from this. 

You can study the Statutory Instruments and study the Church of England's interpretation thereof, and find ways to convince yourself that your band is not a gathering, that staying 2m apart with face coverings on does not constitute mixing, that if the church is open then it means the tower is open - legislation cannot cover every eventuality or define every term. If you or the rest of your band have a different view, or believe other considerations carry greater weight, at least agree that view with your incumbent and/or churchwardens, who may then share the responsibility with you. 

  1. Reminders

We have had a number of questions from around the Diocese about some of the rules and under which we are all living now and so we thought that a few reminders might be helpful.

Much of the Diocese is now in Tier 2: if you are not sure which Tier your parish is in then please simply put your postcode into the Government Covid Tier section on their COVID-19 website. This can be found at:
https://www.gov.uk/find-coronavirus-local-restrictions?priority-taxon=774cee22-d896-44c1-a611-e3109cce8eae

Singing

The CTG realises how hard it is for congregations not to be able to sing, especially if small choirs or recorded hymns are played in the services, however we do want to re-iterate that congregational singing is not allowed. We regret to have to confirm that this includes even quiet humming even if people are wearing masks.

Masks

We know that some churches are finding it hard to enforce and ensure that everyone who is not exempt from wearing masks is doing so. The CTG suggests that it might be helpful, if you have not already done so, to put notices up around the church reminding people of the need to wear masks. There are some helpful examples on the Church of England website at: https://www.churchofengland.org/more/media-centre/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-churches/coronavirus-covid-19-banners-and-posters .

 Social Distancing      

Further to this it is important to make sure that your churches are prepared for services that take account of social distancing. It is helpful to remind people not to move the chairs as they have been purposefully set.  

 Track and trace

We want to remind you to print out the track and trace QR code and to encourage people to use it when they come to the church. You can download the QR code here: https://www.gov.uk/create-coronavirus-qr-poster In case there are some who cannot use the barcode please make arrangements to have some paper lists that people can fill in with their name and mobile number and assure them that the information will be held only for 21 days.

Communion in one kind        

Finally in this group of reminders it is important that we continue to administer communion only in one kind.

We know that you do not really need to be reminded of all these matters but it is so important that we do everything that we can to ensure that our churches are allowed to remain open no matter the course of the virus. In order to do this we need to endure that we are doing all that we can to follow the rules and be as careful as we can to ensure that we do not help to spread the virus.

  1. COVID-19 Tests

We have been asked about whether clergy are able to obtain COVID 19 tests as key workers. We can confirm that this is the case. However, we also want to make it clear that tests should only be taken on the basis of need and that those who are involved in leading services are not routinely required to take a Test before doing so. Doing so would run the risk of taking away tests from those who are showing symptoms and in need of a test.

  1. Job Support Scheme

David Loft the Director Human Resources writes:

Last week, the Chancellor announced amendments to the new Job Support Scheme, which replaces the furlough arrangements under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which ends on 31st October 2020. From 1st November, it will be possible for organisations to apply for support for the payment of wages for staff who are not required or able to carry out their roles because of ‘reduced demand’ so they may need extra support over the winter to help keep their employees attached to their workforce, as an alternative to redundancy. To be eligible for the government support, employees must work a minimum of 20% of their normal hours, and the government will provide support for up to 61.67% of the pay for the unworked hours, with the employer having to pay a minimum of 5%. This is to enable the employees to receive a minimum of 66.67% of their normal pay for unworked hours that are not required by the employer. The full criteria for the scheme can be found in the government guidance, Job Support Scheme guidance, which should be read carefully, and further details are expected by the end of the October.  

With our very best wishes to you all,

The Coronavirus Task Group

(Bishop Christopher, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn, the Venerable Alastair Cutting, Ruth Martin and the Revd Canon Wendy Robins)