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The Queen’s Christmas message this year was particularly relevant to a year filled with the coronavirus crisis.

Whatever our thoughts might be, Her Majesty provided a religious message from the outset, referencing the Light of Christ in these dark times, interspersed with short clips of the many acts of generous giving throughout the first lockdown. I could be mistaken, but it seems as if she had re-examined John 1 in preparation for her address. This was one of the Queen’s best Christmas addresses. Don’t miss the end, which features the exquisite Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir, offering splendid Christmas carols at the end.

I’m offering two formats so that you can share one or both with friends and family:

The photo on her desk is of Prince Philip. That was the only photo. In past years, there have been several, as you will see below.

Sixty-three years ago, in 1957, the first of the Queen’s televised Christmas messages deplored the discarding of old values, including those of the Church, for ideas that were new and trendy at the time. Two colonies had declared independence that year, signalling a further break up of the Empire but also the growth of the Commonwealth. That year, she and Prince Philip had visited several countries, among them the United States and Canada. She had opened the Canadian Parliament’s new session. The Queen ended with a reading from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Although she was a young wife and mother, she was already full of wisdom. She understood that people felt she was a distant head of state and she expressed her wishes that, for a few brief minutes, Britons would feel welcome into the ‘peace’ of her home via the broadcast. She said that she was their public representative, and indeed she is as our head of state. This, too, is a splendid video:

I wonder if she wears the same pearls for each year’s broadcast. One can see that in the 1957 one, photos of Anne and Charles are on her desk.

The Queen is our British treasure — and our Defender of the Faith. Long may she remain so.

Forbidden Bible Verses will return next Sunday.

December 13 is the feast day of St Lucy, virgin and martyr:

St Lucy led a short but courageous life. The story of her martrydom in the fourth century spread quickly throughout Europe, from her native Italy to England and Sweden.

Sweden still has the best commemorations and celebrations of this young martyr’s feast day. Before the Gregorian calendar was established, December 13 was the shortest day of the year. As the name Lucy comes from the Latin lux, or light, a young Swedish woman represents the saint and her symbolism by wearing a wreath of lit candles on her head:

This year, December 13 also happens to be Gaudete Sunday, the Advent Sunday of rejoicing at the prospect of Christ’s birth:

St Lucy’s story appears in the fifth century book, Acts of the Martyrs.

Lucy was born to nobility in 283 in Syracuse, Sicily. She died in 304.

Her father, a Roman, died when she was five years old. Her mother, Eutychia, was likely to have been Greek, given her name.

Eutychia never remarried after her husband died. She was also in poor health, suffering from a bleeding disorder.

Lucy devoted herself to the Lord and made a silent vow of chastity. Eutychia was unaware of this and, for her daughter’s future security, arranged for her to marry a pagan nobleman.

Meanwhile, Eutychia was urged to seek a cure at the shrine of St Agatha, who had been martyred five decades before. Her shrine was in Catania, 50 miles from Syracuse. Mother and daughter made the pilgrimage together.

While there, it is said that St Agatha appeared to Lucy in a dream. St Agatha told the young woman that her mother would be cured and that Lucy would be the glory of not only Syracuse but also Catania.

Once Eutychia was cured, Lucy encouraged her to give their wealth and possessions to the poor.

When Lucy’s betrothed discovered the news, he was furious. He went to Paschasius, the Governor of Syracuse, and denounced her.

Paschasius ordered Lucy to burn a sacrifice to the emperor’s image, but she refused.

Paschasius then ordered her to be defiled in a brothel.

When the guards came to take Lucy away, her body had miraculously become too heavy to move. The guards tried to burn her body by heaping wood on her and setting it alight. However, the wood would not ignite.

Lucy died only when a guard thrust a sword into her throat.

Lucy is often seen holding her eyes or with her eyes on a salver. This part of her story did not enter her biographical details until the 15th century. There are two versions of what happened to Lucy’s eyes. One says that she made various predictions to Paschasius about the Roman emperors that angered him such that he ordered that her eyes be gouged out. The other version says that Lucy gouged out her own eyes in order to discourage a persistent suitor who admired them.

Whether the story about the eyes is true, St Lucy is the patron saint of those suffering from eye disorders, especially the blind.

Her relics were sent throughout Europe and are resident in a few important churches. Most of these churches are in Italy, but others are in France, Germany and Sweden.

St Lucy is also the patron saint of Syracuse, of those with bleeding disorders or throat infections as well as of authors, cutlers, glaziers, laborers, martyrs, peasants, saddlers, salesmen, stained glass workers, and of Perugia, Italy.

Her feast day is commemorated not only in the Roman Catholic Church but also in the Anglican and Lutheran Churches.

Source: Wikipedia

Forbidden Bible Verses will appear tomorrow.

The results for the 2020 US presidential election have never been so confusing.

In 2000, when Al Gore ran against George W Bush, life was so much simpler: Florida was the only state where the results were in dispute. Those were the days of the hanging chads.

On Tuesday evening (US time), November 10, I checked election maps in the Telegraph and at Real Clear Politics. The Telegraph had Pennsylvania, with 20 electoral votes, going to Biden. Real Clear Politics, based in the US, had the state undeclared.

At the time I checked both maps, People’s Pundit Daily tweeted:

Neither map had this result posted.

Additionally, I could not find where North Carolina’s State Board of Elections called the result.

Even so, Thom Tillis’s opponent conceded that day:

There are two more maps I looked at that night (as it was in my time zone) — People’s Pundit Daily‘s and the one at Power Elections:

Note that, on the night of November 10, the Power Elections map was showing Wisconsin and Minnesota still undecided — along with Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, People’s Pundit Daily showed only Arizona and Georgia still in play.

As far as electoral votes go, Power Elections had Biden up by one. People’s Pundit Daily had Biden up by 50 (279-229).

I’m not blaming any of these outlets for confusing the issue, but, until this year, maps were pretty well unified after the election.

Rudy Giuliani, incidentally, seemed satisfied that Real Clear Politics changed their result for Pennsylvania (note Twitter’s response):

Just as bad is this — the coronavirus crisis:

So, what happens when an election result is in dispute across the nation?

A. S. Haley, better known online as Anglican Curmudgeon, explained what the constitutional course of action is in his November 8 post, ‘Down to the Brass Tacks’.

My fellow churchman wrote an excellent article. A big tip of the hat goes to another fellow churchman, Underground Pewster, for the link.

Excerpts follow. Emphases mine, except where noted otherwise.

First of all, for my readers who are not American, please note (emphases in purple mine):

the rush to “call” a winner of the 2020 election has been driven by the major news networks, who are unanimously biased against President Trump. But the media have no power under the Constitution to declare anyone as “President-Elect”. That title may be bestowed only upon the winner in the Electoral College vote of December 18, or if not there, then upon the candidate selected by the new House of Representatives that convenes on January 3, 2021. 

The Electoral College will meet on December 14 and the results will be available on December 18.

The US Constitution and pursuant Congressional statutes make the following provisions:

By Congressional statute (3 U.S.C. § 7), enacted pursuant to Article II, Sec. 1, cl. 5 of the Constitution, the Monday after the second Wednesday in December of a given Presidential election year has been specified as the date on which all State electors are to meet in their respective State capitals and cast their ballots for both President and Vice President. In 2020, that date falls on December 14.

Normally, the electors for any given State are those persons who (first) have been nominated beforehand by a registered political party or independent candidate within that State (or Congressional district), and then (second) who have the fortune to have their Presidential candidate receive the highest number of votes cast in that State (or district) in the November election. But when is it determined that a given Presidential candidate has received the requisite highest number of votes?

Ay, there’s the rub. Again normally, the vote tallies in the various counties and districts of the State are completed within a day or two of Election Day, and are clear enough so that there can be no dispute about which candidate got the most votes. But occasionally, as happened in the Presidential election of 1876, and as almost happened in the Presidential election of 2000, there were disputes about which candidate prevailed in various States, so that the slate of electors entitled to cast votes for their respective candidate was rendered uncertain. The Constitution specifies that in such cases, as well as in any case where no candidate receives a majority of the Electoral College votes, the final selection of the President goes to the newly elected US House of Representatives, and the selection of the Vice President goes to the newly elected Senate.

That last sentence is very interesting. If Nancy Pelosi remains Speaker of the House presiding over a Democrat majority, Biden would be president. Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader, and the Republican majority could select a Republican VP. Talk about fireworks.

A S Haley compares and contrasts 2020 with 2000:

As regards the election results in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and Nevada, we are witnessing a repeat of what happened in Florida in 2000.  You may recall that the then Democratic Party candidate Al Gore contested the official count in certain counties of that State in favor of the Republican Party’s George W. Bush. Gore, however, was under a deadline to have the recounts he requested resolved in his favor before the Florida Secretary of State certified the official count to the Governor, who would then sign the certificates attesting selection of the Republican slate of electors to the Electoral College.

Again, Congress has legislated what happens when there is a dispute in any given State over its proper slate of electors. Section 5 of Title 3, U. S. Code, provides that if election results are contested in any state, and if the state, prior to election day, has enacted “procedures to settle controversies or contests over electors and electoral votes”, and if these procedures have been applied, and the results have been determined six days before the electors’ meetings, then these results are considered to be conclusive. Six days before the prescribed meeting of the Electoral College on December 14 of this year falls on December 8. (The date is referred to as “Safe Harbor Day”, because the statute makes any resolution of election disputes reached by that date presumptively conclusive, i.e., not subject to further contest.)

Therefore, the contested results need to be ‘resolved’ by December 8. However, even then, there is a provision when they are not:

Here again, however, the federal nature of our Union kicks in. For while it probably will not be practical to have all contests in all disputed States determined in the courts by December 8, it may suffice for one such dispute to have been finally determined at the highest possible level by that date, if that determination is definitively made by the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS), and if it fairly applies in the other cases, as well. That is because, under our federal system, the rulings of SCOTUS on federal law are automatically binding on all lower courts, both federal and State.

I learned this years ago in US History class, at least twice, but never imagined that this fateful day might come to pass in my lifetime. It seemed so hypothetical decades ago. Today, in November 2020, we could be at that point.

The biggest issue revolves around Pennsylvania (20 Electoral College votes) during a year of coronavirus. Pennsylvania encouraged voters to use postal votes instead of appearing in person to vote this year. The Republican Party of Pennsylvania has brought a case against the secretary of state, Kathy Boockvar:

which challenges the decision by a unanimous Pennsylvania Supreme Court to (1) extend the statutory deadline for receipt of all mail-in and personal ballots by three days after the legislated deadline of 8 p.m. on November 3; and (2) require the various election boards to include in their counts any ballots received by the extended deadline which could not definitively be shown to have been mailed after November 3 (i.e., ballots in envelopes bearing blurred postmarks, or even no postmarks at all). This ruling, be it noted, shifted the burden of proof from the individual voter to the given elections board to establish that a ballot was not sent in by the statutory deadline — and why would a Democratic-majority elections board try to prove that a ballot for their candidate had not been sent in on time?

Supreme Court Justice Alito issued an order requiring that the Pennsylvania ballots arriving after Election Day be segregated apart from those that arrived on time:

pending action on the petition for review by the full court.

Haley says that the Supreme Court could issue further orders in the days to come.

Can the Supreme Court help Trump? Haley says that things could become quite technical legally. The result could go either way:

Here is one very strong summary of the issues for the Republican petitioners, and here is another informed view that calls into question whether SCOTUS will grant any definitive relief. In the words of my previous post, “you pays your money and you takes your choice.”

As for the Electoral College, this is how electors are chosen:

Here is the language of Article II, Section 1, clause 2, which has been with us since the original document was ratified in 1789 (with my bold emphasis added):

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

Thus if the various State and federal courts prove inadequate to the task of resolving the election disputes in each contested State before the Safe Harbor day of December 8, the Legislatures of those States are empowered to step in and resolve the disputes by designating their own slates of electors. And it has not gone unnoticed that of the disputed States (Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and Nevada), all but Georgia have Democratic governors, as well as Democratic Secretaries of State, and Democratic election officials, while they each (except for Nevada) have legislatures in which both houses have Republican majorities.  

However, will the states have the nerve to:

exercise their Constitutional power to resolve those disputes definitively, in time for the final vote of electors by December 14? On the answer to that question depends who will be President on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2021.

Haley rightly blames this year’s election chaos on the Democrats for their notional coronavirus concern with mail-in ballots.

If the lawsuits against individual states and the Supreme Court come to nothing in resolving the election result, then Americans have only the House of Representatives — congressmen and women — left.

There is a chance that Republicans could still control the House of Representatives:

If the vote does go to the new House of Representatives:

the vote for President will not be by a majority of its individual members, but (again as specified in the Twelfth Amendment) by the collective delegations for each State in the House, with each delegation having a single vote. As of the latest results for the 435 House elections, Republicans on January 3 will control 26 of the State delegations, and will thus have a majority of the 50 delegations so voting

In conclusion:

what happens between now and January 20, 2021 is pretty much up to the Republican legislators elected to Congress and to their various State legislatures.

Let us hope for the best.

While all was quiet in our streets during lockdown, many changes have no doubt been taking place in relative silence.

One of them was Sheffield Cathedral’s decision to disband their choir. The recently hired choirmaster felt he should resign. The choirmaster was not involved in the clergy’s discussions.

It is unclear what exactly infected the minds of the Church of England clergy during lockdown, but some of the ensuing results, such as this, are questionable.

On Thursday, July 23, 2020, The Guardian reported:

In a break with centuries of tradition, Sheffield cathedral is to stand down its choir in order to make a “completely fresh start” with a new team of choristers that reflects and engages with an increasingly diverse city.

A statement published on the cathedral’s website on Wednesday said “significant change” was needed. The cathedral’s governing body, the Chapter, had decided on “a new model for Anglican choral life here, with a renewed ambition for engagement and inclusion”, it added.

Although the cathedral’s music department had been the subject of a review, the closure of the choir was unexpected and is likely to infuriate traditionalists in the Church of England and classical music circles.

Apart from a handful of adult singers, the current choir is drawn largely from schools in the Sheffield area (including private schools) and mainly performs music from the Anglican choral tradition.

Clicking on the link for the Cathedral’s statement produces a pop-up window stating (emphases in the original):

Sheffield Cathedral is your Cathedral

Your Cathedral has seen many adversities throughout history to present time. Now we are faced with overcoming the challenges of COVID-19. 

Sheffield Cathedral is a beacon of hope for the whole community. People have been gathering on this site for nearly 1,000 years. With your support now, people will be able to gather here for many more years to come.

Please help your Cathedral to continue to be ‘A Place for All People’. Thank you.

The Very Reverend Peter Bradley, DL
The Dean of Sheffield

Well, that no longer holds true for the choir or the choir director, it would seem.

The Cathedral’s statement of July 22 reads, in part (emphases mine):

For some years the Dean and Chapter have been looking carefully at the music offer of Sheffield Cathedral. They have come to the conclusion that there needs to be significant change. This is in order to create a Music Department and Choir ready for the exciting future of the mixed urban community in which we live and work.

With the Diocesan Bishop, Chapter are appointing a new Canon Precentor in August, responsible for Cathedral worship and music. They hope this will bring increased creativity and stability.

Following a review of the Music Department in 2019, Sheffield Cathedral Chapter has decided that a completely fresh start is needed. As a result, Chapter concluded this is the right time to close the current Cathedral Choir.

This decision has not been easy because it will directly impact several colleagues and indirectly impact us all in our close-knit community. However, we believe this is in the best interests of the long-term mission of the Cathedral

For some time, Chapter has been considering a new model for Anglican choral life here, with a renewed ambition for engagement and inclusion. They recognise that this will require flexibility, imagination and experiment …

They look forward to working with our partners throughout our City and Diocese to make this renewed vision a reality under God.

Dean Bradley told The Guardian:

“We need to be engaging with people who are part of this changing city. We believe strongly in equality and giving as many children as possible the opportunity to sing at the highest level.”

The appeal of church music was wide but sometimes “presented in a way that can be seen as elitist”, he said.

Bradley acknowledged the decision to close the current choir would “cause genuine grief”. He hoped that some of the existing choristers would become members of a new choir, which will be formed after the appointment of a new canon precentor this summer.

The new choir will continue to perform music from the Anglican choral tradition but will broaden its repertoire, he said.

“This sort of change in our sort of institution can be immensely painful, but that’s not a reason not to move forward. My view is that many cathedrals will be making similar changes over the next few years.

“It’s going to be a bit torrid for us, but we’re not going to sit in a bunker.”

You can see photos and biographies of the men who made the decision here. Perhaps they should consider making a ‘new model’ — borrowing their words — for cathedral leadership themselves. Given their own logic, they could resign.

But I digress.

Back to The Guardian, which says that one professional vocalist who had sung at Sheffield Cathedral was deeply disappointed by the decision:

James Bingham, a former member of the Sheffield cathedral choir who now works for the Irish National Opera, said he was appalled by the cathedral’s statement, tweeting: “It implies that the Anglican church’s rich choral tradition is to blame for its declining influence.”

“Choral music is one of the great cultural legacies of the Church of England,” he told the Guardian.

The idea that classical music was elitist was misguided, Bingham said. “At Sheffield [cathedral], they’re making amazing music on a daily basis in the city centre that is free to everyone.”

As a student at Sheffield university, Bingham had sung as a choral scholar five times a week for three years. Choirs were strong communities bound together by frequent performance and rehearsal, he said.

“The cathedral choir still holds a big place in my heart. If this had happened while I was still there, I would be heartbroken.”

I agree. I sang in my church’s choir as a teenager, and it was a very close-knit group of people, young and old, male and female.

This was the Cathedral’s tweet on Saturday, July 25:

Good.

You can read more disappointed reactions here.

Another tweet, by way of reply, posted a link to the petition ‘Save Sheffield Cathedral Choir’. When I wrote this post at the end of July, the count of signatories went up and up as I was reading the petition.

The petition explains that the choir is already quite diverse:

In recent years, Sheffield Cathedral Choir has made great advances in encouraging the role of women and non-binary members among the lay clerks and choral scholars of the choir. It also supported a girls’ choir and a Schola Cantorum, serving university student communities. Cathedral musicians, past and present, led the Cathedral’s outreach work which took music across the city. Notably, this included the Sheffield Cathedral Sing! Project, which worked with 2,000 children from 30 primary schools each year, including children of mixed heritage, disabilities, and of socio-economic disadvantage. Through this work, cathedral musicians connected meaningfully with schools from some of Sheffield’s most disadvantaged areas.

The petition also takes exception to the accusation about privately-educated choristers:

Regrettably, the Dean and Chapter’s statement also advances a misleading argument regarding the proportion of choristers at Sheffield Cathedral that were privately educated. Over the last 20 years, privately educated children have typically constituted a minority of the choristers at Sheffield Cathedral. In fact, we are aware that the Dean and Chapter were seeking to establish a formal partnership with Birkdale School, a private school in the city this year. These actions seem to be at odds with the Dean and Chapter’s statements.

The mother of one of the choristers wrote a lengthy explanation of the background to the choir situation on Facebook. That post is a copy of a letter she sent to the Church Times. The Master of Music — choirmaster — who has since resigned was a recent hire. Excerpts follow.

See what changes lockdown can produce:

This is my understanding of what has happened, from my vantage point as a choir parent since 2011:

There was a very short review (perhaps two days?) last summer, but changes were made and the choir went from strength to strength from September 2019 to March 2020, evidenced in Chapter’s unanimous decision to appoint Joshua Stephens as Master of Music, taking up his post on 8th March to everyone’s great delight. However, with the onset of coronavirus, Mr Stephens was furloughed and the cathedral failed to communicate this to any of the choir. Mr Stephens allegedly experienced harassment from the cathedral management and silence from the clergy while furloughed. This was not unusual behaviour for the cathedral as others have experienced the same in the past, but lockdown sharpened the focus and made it more evident. I made a formal complaint but little action was taken, and Mr Stephens resigned at the end of June stating that he was not compatible with the prevailing culture in the cathedral. Chapter accepted his resignation without talking to him to understand his motives. Lay-clerks, parents, and choristers were distraught and begged Chapter to initiate mediation. But instead they decided to close down the choir and start afresh, with no encouragement to ex-choir members to be part of the new vision.

The lady posting on Facebook said that the choir had been considering a tour in Berlin, a wider recruitment programme and a means of providing continuity for boys whose voices were changing.

The clergy apparently did not care too much about the choir during lockdown, although the choristers’ parents did their best to maintain morale:

The choir was energised and optimistic, but during all the pressures of lockdown as well as the fire at the Cathedral Archer Project, the clergy admitted that the music department had “slipped through the net”. Nevertheless choir parents and layclerks kept up morale amongst the choristers with zoom parties on the theme of different composers each week, but there was no communication at all from the cathedral to the choir from the last choir rehearsal before lockdown until 24th June when the Dean talked about bringing Mr Stephens back off furlough and preparing to start up again.

BUT:

Mr Stephens was not copied into that email and he resigned the following day.

HMM:

The fourth Director of Music to leave Sheffield cathedral in five years.

His departure precipitated other resignations:

The cathedral’s Head Steward has also since resigned in protest, as did the leaders of the 100-strong Toddler group last year, and as has one of the choir chaperones, stating that she feels unsafe and unsupported.

Wow.

The first the choristers and their parents found out about the disbanding of the choir was through the media:

Indeed the press heard about it before even the choristers did!

Something is very wrong with the Church of England. They have used coronavirus to make rather unwelcome changes. Our churches are now becoming increasingly politicised.

Instead of offering succour to those who had a hard time getting through lockdown and the loss or illness of loved ones, they have turned their attention to the prevailing cultural movements of the day, rather than to our loving Saviour and merciful God our Father.

How un-Christian. How unbiblical.

I hope to post an update when I find out more news.

It is unclear what is wrong with the Church of England that it appoints so many unsuitable men to become Archbishops of Canterbury.

Justin Welby is the current incumbent.

On the back of protests in Britain about an American who suffered an outrageous death at the hands of the police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Welby makes this the problem of a large segment of Anglicans in England.

It is inexplicable, all the way round, from protests to finger-pointing at those who live an ocean and a bit away from the source of the problem.

On Tuesday, June 2, 2020, he tweeted something that got very negative responses:

Someone mentioned church closures during the coronavirus outbreak, a decision the C of E took on its own:

Yes, it’s true.

I can empathise with this next comment, too:

People found his tweet presumptuous and patronising:

That is true. It took from 1833 to 2014 for Britain to purchase the freedom of all slaves in the Empire, paid for by taxpayers’ money.

But I digress. Back to the aforementioned prayer:

There are many more comments criticising the CofE’s blind eye to child abuse, becoming increasingly secular and drifting to left-wing politics instead of religion. Others said they would question their giving to the Church, which is sad but understandable.

Someone tweeted about a Muslim family that converted to Christianity in the Church of England several years ago. They took a lot of abuse, including expensive property damage, as the Daily Mail, among other newspapers, reported in 2015. Where was the Church of England then? Nowhere. I do not know what became of them but I pray they are living in safety. The Anglican hierarchy washed their hands of this family (emphases mine):

Over the last year, Mr Hussain has had his car windscreen smashed six times at a cost of £5,000. His eldest son, a final year medical student, has also had his windscreen smashed.

A neighbour was convicted at Bradford Crown Court of a public order offence and bound over to keep the peace after one of Mr Hussain’s children recorded him on a mobile phone making threats in a furious rage in the street.

Mr Hussain insisted he has never been violent towards his tormentors but he was given a police caution for an incident last year when he lost his temper and made an abusive comment in response to a threat from the man.

Mr Hussain had worked as a hospital nurse but was diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and has been unable to work. He owns several properties and now lives off rental income.

Although their faith remains strong, Mr and Mrs Hussain no longer attend church. ‘We have given up on the Church of England, they have done nothing for us,’ said Mr Hussain.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Looking at you, Archbishop.

The coronavirus lockdown has been a blessing for Church of England clergy who want to re-do worship.

At the end of March, shortly after lockdown began, the Church’s archbishops — led by Canterbury (Welby) and York (Sentamu) — forbade clergy or congregants going into church to clean or check on its condition from praying while they were there.

This did not meet with universal approval from Anglican clergy:

There is a question as to whether this prohibition is actually legal:

Quite!

Not every diocese has adopted such stringent rules, although the congregation are not allowed inside:

Therefore, services are online. Most are live-streamed and require registering as well as being able to access the right platform, in some cases:

I realise that church closures aren’t a huge deal to people who don’t attend church, but for those of us who do, it is. We were brought up to worship and that needs to be done regularly in what we knew as children as ‘God’s house’. That is an entirely different matter from a collective church comprised of people who evangelise when they are not worshipping.

This year, we missed out on worship on the Church’s greatest feast, Easter. We missed Pentecost 50 days later. We missed Trinity Sunday, which was June 7.

Churches might not open in England until July 4. A Conservative MP asked Boris Johnson at PMQs on Wednesday, June 3, if the reopening could occur sooner. He burbled a bit and said he completely understood the desire to worship in church. Personally, I doubt anything will happen before July but am grateful that the MP asked the question.

On May 14, the Church Times reported that some Anglican vicars’ priorities are different to their congregants’ (emphases mine):

Far from rushing to unveil plans for opening up their premises, individual churches showed a marked reluctance this week to embark on any kind of detailed planning. Most acknowledge themselves to be too busy and have simply ‘parked’ the issue of return for the time being.

On May 29, the Church Times had an article about church after lockdown has been lifted:

Such rejuvenation may help to release us from the prison of our church building, which, for many, have become shrines to the past which not only soak up energy and resources, but also perpetuate concepts of division and hierarchy harmful to a mature understanding of who we are.

Right.

So, all of a sudden, after nearly two millennia of gathering to worship in church buildings, we should abandon them. Apparently, those who went before us and have worshipped in churches had an ‘immature’ understanding of Christianity and themselves.

Okay, sure (not).

The article also accuses people who enjoy attending church of:

over-indulgence in churchiness

Wow.

The article advocates a strong emphasis on online services.

Are we supposed to consecrate our own hosts for Communion, too? Probably. Wrong, on so many levels!

This is the cartoon that accompanied the article. How true:

On May 23, Catherine Pepinster wrote an excellent article for the Telegraph: ‘Whisper it, but the C of E might not mind that much if the Covid crisis leads to church closures’.

She provided an insight into Pentecost Sunday, traditionally known as Whitsun, which was May 31 this year:

Could there be a quainter title for a poem than The Whitsun Weddings? Philip Larkin’s 1955 work harks back to a once familiar tradition for church weddings to take place on what was known as Whit Saturday, the day before Whit Sunday. Today, most people will have absolutely no idea that next Sunday [May 31] is Whit Sunday and that it is a Christian feast to equal Christmas and Easter, marking the moment when the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles after Christ had ascended to heaven. But this year on Whit Sunday, like Ascension Day which should have been marked two days ago, the churches will be empty as if Whitsun is indeed now a quaint festival, a throwback to Larkin’s England. There will be no choirs, no readings, no congregation.

She has spoken with vicars during lockdown, and the news is not good:

Anglican vicars around the country, from London to Liverpool, Buckinghamshire to Lincolnshire, have been telling me how fearful they are of their parish churches going bust. Reserves are being spent. They know they are storing up more financial headaches the longer they are in lockdown. Nobody has recently crossed ecclesiastical thresholds to carry out any repairs or refurbishment, storing up costly maintenance problems in historic buildings that need regular care.

It was bad even before coronavirus:

Just a few weeks before lockdown, a report with a startling statistic dropped onto the desks of church officials: that the greatest reduction in the Church of England’s stock of churches since the 16th century is under wayStruggling, Closed and Closing Churches  – produced by the Church Buildings Council – said that in the past 50 years 2,000 churches have closed, which is about 10 per cent of the stock. Now vicars fear plenty more could be shut for good.

Yes, the C of E has made loans to churches during this time, but that will not be enough:

Given the Church Commissioners have huge amounts of money tucked away this might be surprising, and they have lent the dioceses £75 million to pay salaries during the coronavirus pandemic. Yet it’s not enough to keep every church going. Liverpool diocese, for example, has already furloughed some of its curates. But it’s the money that comes in via the parishes themselves that normally props up the whole system, especially those dioceses without big endowments. That is what is lacking now.

Bishops, she says, will be eager to get rid of local churches in favour of larger ones requiring transportation to get to:

Some bishops are already saying they will bring forward decisions they have been putting off and will close some churches for good. That will be popular with the accountants – but also with the people in the Church of England who like talking about ‘hubs’ and ‘places of strength’. The jargon is used about a slimmed-down Church of England that focuses on buildings that can house large congregations to which people drive from miles around while everything else goes online.

I fully agree with her conclusion:

a church isn’t just a Facebook singalong. It’s a place that evokes those who went before us and are now remembered in plaques on the wall, in the stained glass, and in the adjoining graveyard. It’s a building that connects us to the present, that acts as the beating heart of a neighbourhood, even for those who do not attend on a Sunday. And if Covid-19 means some churches never re-open, that beating heart will be stilled.

The incoming Archbishop of York denies a Sunday newspaper report that he will begin closing churches. I bet he is considering it:

On June 2, the Church Times posted an article about the delay in reopening churches: ‘If shops, why not churches? Government challenged over restrictions’.

Based on what I’ve written above, I think it’s rather disingenuous to put all the blame on the government.

Churchgoers want an earlier opening than July:

A Savanta ComRes opinion poll commissioned by the National Churches Trust and published on Sunday suggested that the public backed the early reopening of churches and chapels, provided they could maintain social distancing. Forty-six per cent of the adults polled supported reopening earlier than 4 July: a tentative date mentioned at the start of May. This figure rose to 66 per cent among respondents who attended regularly.

At least one Anglican bishop has written to MPs asking for churches to reopen:

In an open letter sent on Monday to MPs whose constituencies lie in his diocese, the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, writes: “I hope that you would lobby for an urgent review of the continued closure of our church buildings to individuals who seek solace in such places [church buildings]. . . 

“At a time when tensions run high, I believe that there is a deep thirst for access to churches and cathedrals as places of prayer for people of committed faith, or for anyone who is in search of space in which to find peace.

“I am fortunate to live near to Chichester cathedral. Each day I see individuals peering in through its glass doors. I know from personal experience what pressing and intimate needs find expression in the prayers that they write down and leave behind.

“We urgently need places and experience that build hope, trust, and endurance. The capacity of the Christian Church to engender those virtues through prayer and stillness in its buildings should not be underestimated.” 

Another bishop has been resorting to Twitter. After the daily coronavirus briefing on Pentecost Sunday:

the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, suggested: “I think we should be arguing (a) that it is too soon to open other buildings; or (b) that our churches should be allowed to open alongside them. To suggest that our churches should remain closed while other ‘non-essential’ shops and buildings open is to condone secularism.”

The benefits of prayer were “not generally of such direct economic benefit”, but that did not mean that they didn’t matter, he observed. “The risk to a person sitting quietly to pray in a church which is properly cleaned and supervised is surely not greater than a trip to the supermarket?”

He was joined by Bishop Tom Wright, who wrote in The Times:

Absolutely!

Here’s a Episcopal priest’s view from across the pond in Cincinnati:

You can take a Church Times survey, for a limited time, on the state of the Church in England. It’s got plenty of room for extended replies.

If you love the Church and live in England, please make your voice heard.

Last week, I saw another tweet on this topic elsewhere last week and thought it was a joke.

Unfortunately, it’s true:

The Christian Institute has the story: ‘Kids as young as 11 told to define hardcore porn for homework’.

The assignment was given at the Church of England’s Archbishop Sentamu Academy in Hull. Church of England schools largely follow state curriculum (emphases mine):

Eleven to 14-year-olds at Archbishop Sentamu Academy were told to define topics including hardcore and transsexual pornography.

Local mother Mrs Taylor called the PSHE homework “completely inappropriate”, saying her eleven-year-old daughter does not need to know “things that would destroy her mind”.

Mrs Taylor said: “She was only in primary school last year living her best life, now she is being asked to search for hardcore pornography”.

She added: “Now it’s making me think what they are learning about at school that we don’t know about. We only know about this because they’re home learning.”

Coronavirus lockdown accomplished something on the home front, it seems.

A young man whose sister attends the academy said that she, too, received the same homework:

Leon Dagon, whose 13-year-old sister also attends the school, saw the homework and took to Facebook to warn parents.

He said: “Luckily I found the work otherwise she would have typed this stuff into Google and you know what would have come up and that makes me feel sick. I felt sick thinking she was going to go onto the computer to search it up.”

Well done to Mrs Taylor and Mr Dagon.

The academy tried to downplay it:

The Academy has apologised “unreservedly” for any offence caused, claiming that students were not expected to search the terms online but instead use the materials provided.

Sure.

They didn’t think that students of that age would investigate further?

What numpties.

A local vicar agrees with that assessment:

Revd Melvin Tinker, Vicar of St John Newland in Hull, told The Christian Institute: “It was naïve in the extreme to think that children wouldn’t use the internet to look up these terms.”

He continued: “The Principal has promised to ensure all materials are fully age appropriate. What does that mean? When is ‘hardcore pornography’ an age-appropriate topic for school-children at all? The answer, of course, is that it is not.”

Revd Tinker added: “The Academy needs to stop listening to the self-appointed ‘experts’ at the Sex Education Forum and start paying a lot more attention to local parents, to the wellbeing of the children and to its legal duties.”

You can hear what he has to say in the following video, which is just under three minutes long:

He says that the lessons were not required by law, even though the academy seemed to imply that, in his estimation.

While Church of England schools are required to provide lessons on relationships, pornography lessons are not included in the guidance.

Mr Tinker says that C of E schools need to pay less attention to the Sex Education Forum and more to their legal and ethical duties towards students.

Absolutely.

On Sunday, May 24, the Telegraph posted an article that brightened my day: ‘Churches must be allowed to reopen, MPs demand in letter to PM’.

We haven’t been able to attend church since the middle of March, which is also true for other houses of worship.

I am mystified as to why the House of Commons is able to social distance adequately, with alternate benches closed and designated seating, but religious leaders cannot be trusted to do the same in their places of worship.

Fortunately, 20 Conservative MPs wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, expressing their incredulity that we can go to a supermarket but not to church (emphases mine):

Boris Johnson has been urged by a group of Conservative MPs to allow churches to open for prayer, weddings and funerals as soon as next month.

The 20 MPs, including former ministers and senior backbenchers, questioned why shoppers can go to a “busy supermarket” to buy food and drinks but worshippers in need of spiritual sustenance cannot currently pray in a largely empty church.

“Weddings (whether in the church porch or inside), christenings and other services are wanted; safely and soon”, the MPs said. “Ten can gather in a crematorium yet one cannot be in a church.”

The Government’s Covid-19 recovery strategy published earlier this month put churches and other public places of worship in the same bracket as pubs and cinemas, and said that could not reopen until July 4 at the earliest.

It added that some of these venues may not be able to open even then because “it may prove difficult to enact distancing”.

However, in a letter to the Prime Minister, a copy of which has been seen by The Telegraph, the MPs make clear that “many [of us] want further faster opening of churches and places of worship”.

They said: “We ask for clear guidance, rules removed and discretion allowed as local faith leaders stay alert and make churches, chapels and places of prayer and worship available to the faithful. Everyone understands the value of appropriate social distancing and the obligation to avoid contamination”

The letter was sent to Mr Johnson and his Parliamentary Private Secretary Andrew Bowie this weekend. It has been organised by Tory MP Sir Peter Bottomley. Other signatories include Tim Loughton and Sir Bob Neill as well as senior members of the influential backbench 1922 committee of Tory MPs such as the chairman Sir Graham Brady and executive officer Bob Blackman.

The group warned Mr Johnson that “the Cabinet and you know the strength of backbench feeling”, and expressed concern that some places of worship might not even be able to open in July.

They said: “Even that may be extended by delay in publishing regulations, decisions by diocesan bishops and local circumstances.

Quoting a representative Catholic pastor, they tell Mr Johnson: “I ask you to put pressure on the Government for private prayer as soon as possible. Two-metre social distancing is easy (easier than in a supermarket) and sensible hygiene precautions can quickly be put in place.

“It seems odd that you can go for a walk, enter a busy supermarket, get on a bus, but cannot go to a large virtually-empty-for-much-of-the-time building.”

They add: “We ask that our leaders, Government and church, especially the Church of England, together find reasonably safe ways to reopen our churches for prayer, for funerals even with limited congregations and for worship sooner than July.”

That day, I heard an interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury on BBC News. He said he was more concerned about Mental Health Week at that time than reopening churches. It seemed an odd remark. Surely, church can help assuage mental health symptoms as those so afflicted can focus on faith, salvation and fellowship — especially during the coronavirus crisis:

At present, the Church of England has instructed clergy that they may go in to church to clean it — but not to pray! Daft.

The Archbishop of Canterbury films services in his kitchen:

However, the Bishop of London, the Right Revd Dame Sarah Mullally, a former nursing chief, disagrees …

… although she films sermons from her home:

Her flexible instruction, it seems, was a wise one, as some clergy were unhappy with Welby’s wholesale closure:

Bishop Mullally, who was UK’s chief nursing officer from 1999-2004, said priests could livestream services from within a church building if they could access it via an internal door from their home, or without leaving the curtilage of the church.

The Archbishop’s wholesale ban upset priests who felt he does not have the right to order clergy who are answerable to their own bishops.

One said: “He’s panicked and shut everything down,” while another vicar who used Zoom to conduct a Palm Sunday for a 90-strong congregation and will do so again on Easter Sunday, said: “The whole situation is ridiculous”.

That said, this Good Friday tweet appears to contradict that flexibility:

On Good Friday, London’s St Bartholomew the Great filmed a service with priest and choir:

Hospital chapels are another area of contention, as this letter to the Times, from St Bartholomew’s rector (shown in the above video), reveals. Click on the image to read the letter in full:

I like this priest. He’s eager — and rightly so — to have his congregation return:

This is amazing (as in awful):

That brought another set of replies from a curate and a gentleman in Montreal:

I fully agree with the ‘social service agency’ sentiment.

The discussion returned to Mr Walker and a random Twitter user. This is great. I’m so glad the priest took this man on:

Excellent reply.

Whenever church opens, I hope there will be a new market for those who have begun praying at home — and perhaps watching online services — during the past several weeks:

Plans are already underway to work out methods for reopening London’s Anglican churches whilst maintaining social distancing.

Just before the Second Sunday in Lent — March 8, 2020 — a number of county and diocesan directives went out in the United States over public gatherings.

Not surprisingly, one of these was church attendance. Another, at diocesan or local level, was coffee hour after Sunday service.

Today’s post features the Revd Scott A Gunn, the executive director of Forward Movement in the Episcopal Church, a co-author of Faithful Questions: Exploring the Way with Jesus and a religious editorial writer for Fox News.

When I last wrote about Mr Gunn, he was cutting short his visit to Asia.

This was his experience in the latter days of his stay with regard to coronavirus:

On his way home:

How true. That also happened to me. Message to anyone who doesn’t want to become a Calvinist: don’t go into consulting!

Once at home, Gunn contemplated Psalm 24:3-5. He received an equally good response about the nature of sin:

I fully agree with him on keeping churches open (even though Christ Church Episcopal in Georgetown was closed for the first time since 1800). Historically, that is what was done:

ABSOLUTELY!

Those who feel that they should not attend because of health reasons should stay at home. Keep churches open for those who want to attend.

The subject of baptismal fonts has also arisen. These are supposed to be drained for Lent, as there are to be no baptisms until Easter:

On a secular level, Scott was not best pleased with the public panic surrounding the coronavirus last weekend:

Pizza also proved problematic:

Coffee hour was a new issue last Sunday. In some places it was banned. In others it came under restrictions:

Why do we always forget about flu season, which occurs every year and is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in each Western country?

Absolutely.

Now is a good time for churches to make a hygienic plan for coffee hour then stick to it even when the coronavirus threat disappears. There will always be health panics. And, I hope, there will always be coffee hour.

On the back of exploring what’s on Episcopal priests‘ minds, I am crossing the Atlantic, returning to the UK, to explore what Anglican priests are thinking about.

I will continue both series.

The Revd Marcus Walker, serving in the Diocese of London, deplores the bewilderment and criticism surrounding the recent group photograph of Mike Pence and his coronavirus team in prayer.

Note that they are not praying in public, as detractors have said. Press photographers happened to be present for the meeting.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer has such a prayer, which can be said during the Litany. Highly useful during the coronavirus scare:

In the time of any common plague or sicknes.

O Almighty God, who in thy wrath didst send a plague upon thine own people in the wildernes for their obstinate rebellion against Moses and Aaron, and also in the time of King David, didst slay with the plague of pestilence threescore and ten thousand, and yet remembring thy mercy didst save the rest: have pitie upon us miserable sinners, who now are visited with great sicknes and mortality, that like as thou didst then accept of an atonement, and didst command the destroying Angell to cease from punishing: so it may now please thee to withdraw from us this plague and grievous sicknes, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Marcus Walker later located his ‘jumbo book of State Prayers’ and noted the following shift in emphasis in them from the 18th to the 19th centuries:

Turning to the opprobrium heaped upon the American vice president and his team, this is what Mr Walker and his readers tweeted:

Nor do I.

The Revd Giles Fraser, formerly a Canon at St Paul’s Cathedral and current Rector at the south London church of St Mary’s, Newington, told the readers of his online magazine Unherd how he has changed the Communion service during the coronavirus outbreak (emphases mine):

I have a cough. I have had it for weeks. A deep hacking affair that brings up nasty thick greenish goo. It’s not the virus — I haven’t got a high temperature or any other symptoms. But it is dramatic enough to clear the seats next to me on the tube.

In church on Sunday, too, I could feel the anxiety radiate out from my coughing away behind the altar into a twitchy congregation. We have suspended sharing the peace for the time being. Instead of shaking hands or kissing, we wave at each other. So, too, we have decided to take communion in one kind only — that is, we share the bread but not the common cup of wine. And in this context, the symbolic handwashing the priest performs before the Eucharist is no longer simply a ritual act. It feels like a necessity. Cleanliness is next to godliness.

As one of my posts explained last week, the Cup can be suspended during health emergencies under a) the Doctrine of Concomitance and b) the 1547 Sacrament Act.

The Doctrine of Concomitance says that Christ’s substance in the Eucharist cannot be divided. The bread and the wine are both the entire real presence of Christ.

Giles Fraser and one of his readers helpfully tweeted about both:

Someone responded — possibly an agnostic — taking to task Christians who are panicking over the coronavirus. He has a point:

It amazes me how those who pontificate so much about life thereafter being so wonderful succumb to panic at the thought of death. Just a pause for thought. The Lord’s supposed to be our protector but only if it means it protects us from death. Come on religious people! Get a grip.

I don’t understand it, either.

On that note, and from a Catholic perspective, Dr CC Pecknold, a professor who also writes for First Things, tweeted about the plague in Venice between 1630 and 1631:

Exactly. However, that is what stubborn secularists, such as those criticising Mike Pence and his coronavirus team, refuse to understand. Christians pray for guidance and relief during troubled times.

There was more to the conversation. Someone was disappointed that the Peace had been suspended in his diocese:

How true.

In closing, after the plague had left Venice, the citizens of that city built a magnificent church in thanksgiving:

Would this happen now were, heaven forfend, the coronavirus to become an epidemic? No. Not at all.

More’s the pity.

In Italy, churches are closing their doors for the next few weeks:

This church in Rome is open but has taken additional precautions:

Meanwhile, let’s continue to pray that we may be guided in the correct practical direction during this pandemic and ask the Lord for it to harm as few people as possible.

I do think these health disasters are ‘come to Jesus moments’. Is anyone out there listening, including some notional Christians? Or are we all going to panic?

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