It is with very heavy hearts that we have to announce that all public acts of worship at St Giles are suspended for the coming time, in line with the latest guidance from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. St Giles-in-the-Fields has a history of faith spanning almost 1,000 years and is no stranger to disease and distress. But we are advised that in the current crisis it is important for all of us to take necessary steps to minimise the spread of the Covid-19 virus and church attendance is an activity we are being asked to forego. In their statements, the Archbishops have said: “As the challenge of the coronavirus grips the world, and as the Government asks every individual and every organisation to rethink its life, we are now asking the Church of England in all its parishes, chaplaincies and ministries to serve all people in a new way. Public worship will have to stop for a season. Our usual pattern of Sunday services and other mid-week gatherings must be put on hold. But this does not mean that the Church of England has shut up shop. Far from it. We need to look at new ways of serving everyone.“
This is a very sad decision, but one which we must support. Indeed, we must do our best to embrace the challenge set before us and think carefully about how we can live out our Christian calling in different ways during this crisis. In order to protect our congregations, staff and the other groups who use the church regularly, we will have to close the building for a period of time. But although we may not be able to come together in one place, we can still join together in prayer, both for our own community and for all those around us in society who are struggling, ill or frightened at the moment. There are a number of ways in which we can rise to the challenge we face.
In the coming days we at St Giles will be putting together online materials to help you to remain a part of our community of prayer. These will draw on the Common Book of Prayer’s services of Matins and Evensong and we hope to update you each week with the appropriate readings and collects. We also encourage you to make use of the resources provided by the Church of England to support prayer and scripture reading.
On Sunday, the Church of England will hold a National Prayer Day. You can join in this collective act in your own home and we encouarge you to do so. Social media can also form a positive means of contact and support, so if you don’t already follow St Giles on Facebook, we encourage you to give it a go. We plan to use the platform to support our community of prayer over the coming period.
Finally, as the Archbishops have encouraged us, we must each think about ways in which we can support our home communities, whether by donating to food banks or telephoning elderly or isolated neighbours. No-one should place undue expectations on themselves, but we must also ensure that we continue to do good where we can.
This is a time that calls, above all, for us to be compassionate and to resist the impulse to put up mental shutters because we are being told to isolate ourselves physically. It may be more difficult at present to give practical meaning to the injunction to “love thy neighbour as thyself”, but it is one of the greatest characteristics of St Giles-in-the-Fields throughout its history that we have faced adversity and persevered in spite of it. In her own message today, the Bishop of London writes: “It has been said already but bears repeating that the impact of Covid-19 will be at least as severe in relation to mental as to physical health. We must do all that we can to alleviate this among ourselves and in the places that we serve.” Let us all pray that this is a challenge we can meet.