Diocese of Portsmouth

    Church services on hold – but our churches remain open

    17 March 2020

    CHURCH services within the Portsmouth diocese are to be put on hold – but churches will remain open for prayer as much as possible.

    The national Church of England has suspended public worship services, but has urged Christians to embrace being a “radically different sort of church” during the coronavirus outbreak. Archbishops Justin Welby and John Sentamu have urged worshippers to become a church rooted in prayer and serving others.

    It came after the government announced unprecedented peacetime measures to try to control the spread of the virus, with restrictions on public gatherings, transport and working.

    The Archbishops expressed the desire that church buildings may, where practical, remain open as places of prayer for the community, observing recommendations on people keeping their distance from each other.

    They also invited clergy to maintain the ancient pattern of daily prayer and, where possible, the Eucharist – live streaming their worship if they have the resources to do so. And they urged congregations to be in the forefront of providing practical care and support for the most poor and the most vulnerable during the crisis.

    In our diocese, Portsmouth Cathedral and St Mary's Church in Fratton are among many churches that are live-streaming some services via Facebook Live. Holy Rood Church in Stubbington and Harbour Church in Portsmouth also did so last Sunday and will continue to do so.

    This Sunday is Mothering Sunday, when flowers would typically be given to mums at church services. Instead, at St Mary's Church in Fratton, a small team of volunteers will leave the flowers on people's doorsteps with a card expressing God's care for those who are vulnerable and isolated.

    The Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Rev Christopher Foster, said: “Our Christian faith will be important over the coming weeks as we face this challenging time together. It will be important to root our faith in our personal prayers and what we do to help those in our neighbourhoods during this time when we won’t be able to worship together on a Sunday.

    “Worshippers are already offering practical help to those who are ill, self-isolating or vulnerable in their local communities. They will do so as individuals, as church groups and by joining forces with other community groups.

    “And we’ll try, as far as we can, to keep open our church buildings, so that people can pray privately, spend time in quiet, and light candles. We’ll ask people to observe hygiene and guidelines about public gatherings while in church, as elsewhere. And we want funerals and weddings to go ahead, even if the number of people who attend has to be smaller than it would have been.

    “We have always said the ‘the Church’ is really the people, not the buildings. These next few months will, I hope, prove that the vital work of the Church in serving our communities will go on, regardless of whether we meet on Sundays for worship.”

    His comments echoed those of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, who wrote in their letter: “This is a defining moment for the Church of England. Are we truly are a church for all, or just the church for ourselves? We urge you sisters and brothers to become a different sort of church in these coming months: hopeful and rooted in the offering of prayer and praise and overflowing in service to the world.”

    The Archbishops have joined other church leaders in calling for a day of prayer and action this Sunday (Mothering Sunday), particularly remembering those who are sick or anxious and all involved in health and emergency services.

    Further information on what the suspension of public worship will mean are available on www.churchofengland.org/coronavirus. Details of what that might mean across Portsmouth diocese are being posted on www.portsmouth.anglican.org/coronavirus.

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