Monday 11 May 2020

Closed Down

To me, one of the most depressing aspects of the Great Lockdown has been the Church of England's craven response to orders from above (no, not the Above their orders once came from) that churches should not only be closed down – a wholly unprecedented measure – but also sealed off from all human presence, including even that of the minister. There might have been some sense in suspending communal services (though social distancing wouldn't be much of a problem at evensong), but why could not churches have been kept open for private prayer? And why, in a spirit of crazed supererogation, has the C of E banned its own ministers from entering their own churches for private prayer, and forbidden them from performing services in an empty (or socially distanced) church and livestreaming them to their flock? Do they no longer have any belief in the value or efficacy of religious observance, or are they now content to be a branch of the social services with rather unusual and inconvenient accommodation? Why, when supermarkets and garden centres are open to the public, can parish churches not open their doors to anyone? Is this the final capitulation of the old religion to the new one of consumerism? If ever there was a time when churches should be open, at least for private prayer, it is this – but no, the C of E seems happy to embrace its irrelevance and fade away politely. At least its churches will remain to remind us of what it once was, to recall a time when 'always, even in winter in the cold of a stone church, on his knees someone is praying'...

The Belfry by R.S. Thomas
I have seen it standing up grey,
Gaunt, as though no sunlight
Could ever thaw out the music
Of its great bell; terrible
In its own way, for religion
Is like that. There are times
When a black frost is upon
One’s whole being, and the heart
In its bone belfry hangs and is dumb.

But who is to know? Always,

Even in winter in the cold
Of a stone church, on his knees
Someone is praying, whose prayers fall
Steadily through the hard spell
Of weather that is between God
And himself. Perhaps they are warm rain
That brings the sun and afterwards flowers
On the raw graves and throbbing of bells.


  1. Apparently the Episcopal Church, i.e. the Anglican communion in the US, is not only streaming services, but streaming services with chanting in Latin from the Liber Usualis. So, anyway, says an item in yesterday's NY Times opinion section. I wouldn't know.

  2. Good for them! And I gather the C of E will be permitted to do some livestreaming soon, tho there's no word of them opening churches...