Priests and palaces

May 7, 2020 by

by Serenhedd James, The Critic:

It was in the sigh, the glazing of the eyes, the falling of the shoulders, and the resetting of the smile; the moment when the Archbishop of Canterbury realised that he was going to have to do a nifty bit of backpedalling, live from his kitchen. Nearly three weeks earlier he and the Archbishop of York had written to the clergy of the Church of England, saying that “our church buildings must now be closed not only for public worship, but for private prayer as well and this includes the priest.” Everyone who was on message repeated the mantra like a prayer: “stay at home; protect the NHS; save lives.”

The Archbishops’ letter went far beyond the advice of the Government, which had designated the clergy key workers whom it expected to be able to enter their churches for the purpose of livestreaming worship. Read alongside other official documents, bewildered clergy found themselves obliged to enter their church buildings alone to perform essential tasks related to security and maintenance—but were forbidden from praying while they were there. Prayer in church on behalf of others is not the only function of a Church of England minister, of course, but it does still come quite high up the list.

On Easter morning the Primate of All England started singing from a different hymn sheet; what had appeared to be a very clear instruction had not been an instruction at all, only guidance. It was a welcome clarification after the spilling of much ink, the pounding of many keyboards, and the raising of legal eyebrows. The intervening period had been one of increasingly ill-tempered confusion, fuelled by a series of statements from various Anglican apparatchiks who all claimed to be privy to top-level secret information while telling everyone else to mind their own business.

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