This week the House of Bishops agreed a phased approach to revising access to church buildings. It was also agreed that the timing of when changes are implemented would be made by individual Diocesan Bishops, depending on their local situation. The Bishop’s Staff Team are reviewing this decision and we will be issuing revised guidance to parishes in the Diocese next week, following the latest information expected from the Prime Minister on Sunday.
Tomorrow parishes across the Diocese will celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day which brought peace to Europe. We will remember the service and sacriﬁce of those who fought for peace and we will pray for all nations still devastated by war, for all refugees and displaced people, that they might come to know peace, security, and freedom. Although we are not able to gather in person, we will be able to mark this special anniversary together, united in hope. The Cathedral will be offering a VE Day act of worship on Friday through the Cathedral website , which will include reflections, prayers and a special service for the day.
We know that the advice limiting the way in which funerals can be conducted has been particularly difficult for many offering pastoral care to the bereaved. Canon Ed Pruen, from Alton Deanery, has offered the following reflection on funerals during a time of lockdown:
The Christian answer to suffering and grief is rarely an explanation but a presence. As any parish priest will know, ministry is more about being present with those in our care, than anything we say or do. In normal times, the phone rings and the Funeral Director gives us the contact details we need. We then arrange to visit the family, drink a cup of tea together, and hear the story of the life that has been lived and lost. As we listen, it is our presence, our body language and our empathy that builds a relationship of trust in preparation for the funeral.
In these times of severe limitations in the way we care for the bereaved, many of us have struggled to show the compassion we would normally offer. The Funeral Director phones, we then phone the next of kin who may either live round the corner, or perhaps hundreds of miles away, locked down and inaccessible. We talk on the phone, we email, we plan the simple service for the Crematorium. It may be that the deceased has died of the virus – either way, the death seems untimely and there are moments of deep grief at the end of the phone line.
The day comes for the funeral, and we stand well apart from the crematorium staff. Just two members of the family arrive – perhaps people we have not met or spoken to – the journey too much for the next of kin. We say hello, but cannot touch their hands. Our presence seems distant, almost cold. It seems inappropriate to stand behind the lectern, and so we step closer to the family, but hold back. We then find within ourselves a gentleness and a sensitivity we did not know we had as we genuinely grieve with this tiny congregation. There are moments of silence – and as we all know, it is often hard to improve on silence – but the music helps, although we do not sing. We are told the curtains must close – no one must touch the coffin. We close them at the very last moment. And all the time, we have been present, slightly apart, but there. We speak of memorial services to come, and we wonder whether the moment will have passed by then. Afterwards we feel more exhausted than a funeral with a congregation of 200 people. Why is this? Perhaps because we gave more of ourselves, we were vulnerable, we were more present than we have ever been. The compassion of Christ was truly close.
With our prayers for you all,
Bishop Tim, Bishop David and Bishop Debbie
And the Bishop’s Staff Team:
Andrew Robinson, Diocesan Chief Executive
Catherine Ogle, Dean of Winchester
Peter Rouch, Archdeacon of Bournemouth
Richard Brand, Archdeacon of Winchester
Mat Phipps, Bishop’s Chaplain