The Bishop of Burnley, Rt Rev Philip North, has reflected on his experience so far leading a Task Group to coordinate the Diocesan response in Lancashire to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Group first met two weeks ago and has continued to meet via ‘Zoom’ meeting technology almost every day since. Its key priorities are protection of life and seeking to continue church life as much as possible.
Daily updates from the Group are currently being sent to clergy, lay leaders, parish officers and Diocesan staff. These updates are pastorally supportive and collate information from various sources often generated by Task Group members, other senior clergy and Diocesan officers.
Several Task Group members are also in regular contact with parochial clergy and hospital chaplains by phone.
Advice and help from the Group (see bullet paragraph at end of story for membership) has included information on church closures; safeguarding; financial information in response to the coronavirus outbreak; property department updates; information on funerals during the lockdown; resources and advice about services on-line; how to stay fit and healthy and much more.
Speaking recently on BBC Radio Lancashire, Bishop Philip said: “We want to ensure parishes know about and are acting on government and national church advice."
“It’s also so important they are actively encouraged to go on sticking to that advice and to guidelines being issued; while modelling responsible citizenship, encouraging our people and, above all, serving the vulnerable. In the Task Group we aim to help parishes to do this as well as possible in the circumstances we now find ourselves.
“At the same time, we are also seeking to continue church life as much as we possibly can.
“It is incredible how many of our churches are reaching out in service and staying in touch with people despite the restrictions. I’ve heard many stories of parishes continuing to serve communities; feeding the hungry; addressing isolation; meeting together online.”
On support for clergy across Lancashire, Bishop Philip was keen to emphasise the importance of what the Task Group is doing in this regard, not least through the regular phone calls to clergy … for support and to get updates from the frontline.
“Clergy care is a huge concern for us; also care for our lay leaders. That’s why we have done two rounds of calls already and why we issue the daily advice to our parishes on email and via our website, all of which we know has been valued.”
Reflecting on the upcoming Holy Week (starting this Sunday) – one of the most significant periods in the Christian calendar - Bishop Philip added: “I think Holy Week and Easter will be a really tough time for Christians around the county because they need to gather for the great events of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Day. It’s so huge not to be able to do so.
“But it’s also important to help people to worship and be confident in their faith, even in difficult times; and never more so than at times like Easter.
“That’s why the Diocese will continue to provide recorded services on our YouTube channel with the Bishops, including several during Holy Week, plus video messages from all the senior clergy. It’s also why, at the same time, so many of our parishes are also looking to technology to keep in touch.
“As they livestream or record their services in homes and encourage people to keep in touch via the latest technology it means congregations can at least have some sense of togetherness, prayer and worship in these times when we can’t meet in person.
“Obviously physically meeting together is essential for Christians but, right now, there is huge interest in online services. Meanwhile, we pray for that day when we will again come together and rejoice in the Risen Christ.”
Meanwhile, the Diocese has launched a campaign to encourage people to place decorated crosses in their windows for Palm Sunday and the rest of Holy Week. Find out more here.
Ronnie Semley, April 2020