All Church of England churches are to close with immediate effect, including for private prayer, in an effort to help limit the transmission of the coronavirus COVID-19.
The archbishops and bishops of the Church of England have written collectively to clergy, through their dioceses, urging them now to close all church buildings - other than where they are needed to keep a foodbank running, but even then under strict limits.
There will be no church weddings until further notice; funerals will not take place inside church buildings and the only baptisms will be emergency baptisms in a hospital or home.
It follows the announcement by the Prime Minister last night of wide-ranging restrictions as part of a national and international effort to help limit the spread of the disease.
“These are unprecedented times,” the bishops write.
“We are all having to get used to being the Church differently.
“It is not easy. However, our belonging to Christ has never been measured by the number of people in church on a Sunday morning (though we long for the day when this way of knowing Christ can return) but by the service we offer to others.
“Therefore, and despite these very harrowing restrictions, please do all that you can to minister to your people safely, especially to the sick, the vulnerable and the poor.”
The letter also seeks to provide clarity that churches will now be closed for all private prayer – including by priests.
Clergy live-streaming worship should do so from their own homes and are being urged to be as creative as possible with streaming services and other resources.
“We must take a lead in showing our communities how we must behave in order to slow down the spread of the Coronavirus.
“We must also do all that we can to provide resources and support for those who are isolated, fearful and vulnerable.
“But we have to do this from our homes.”