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The Cure of Souls

The most solemn moment of an institution service is, for me, when I commit the licence to the candidate and say these words:

Receive this cure of souls which is both yours and mine.

We will need to exercise this cure of souls as never before over the coming weeks as clergy, lay ministers and disciples together.

The cure of souls we are given is, of course, of the whole parish and benefice. The term cure means more than care (although all cure of souls is built on love).  At its centre is the ministry of reconciliation between individuals and God and between people and communities through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This precious and extraordinary ministry is entrusted to us in this most difficult of seasons. We are (and we all feel) insufficient to the task.  As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:

“…we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us”

New guidance

Yesterday evening the Prime Minister introduced new restrictions on every part of the life of our country in an effort to curb the spread of the corona virus. These are absolutely necessary.  They also restrict what we can and cannot do in our own ministries in the coming weeks.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, with the Bishops have today issued new guidance for the Church of England which applies across every diocese in the form of a letter and more detailed guidance on church buildings, funerals, baptisms and weddings. The template poster referred to in their letter can be found here for the Diocese of Oxford.

My first request to you must be to respect and follow the Prime Minister’s guidance on social distancing and the Archbishops’ guidance to the churches for your own sake and for the sake of the wider community and the most vulnerable.

This will mean exercising our ministry and our service of others working largely from home and through telephone contact and other technology.

Watching over ourselves and one another

Any ministry in these circumstances will be challenging. We will all be affected by corona virus in some way in our lives and families. All clergy, ministers and church officers will need to remember to watch over ourselves and to take care of one another.

If you need to self-isolate, you should do so.  If you are ill, then report in as sick in the normal way and let your Area Dean know.  If you find you are struggling with your emotional health then ease back and seek help and support.

The Area Teams will do their best to stay in telephone contact with the clergy and Wardens in vacant parishes and to suggest good ways of mutual support in local areas.  We are very thankful for the ministry of Area Deans in particular at this time. Clergy and lay ministers will be doing the same within congregations.  Love is not bound or restricted to face to face meetings or personal contact.

If we have not already done so, we need to prepare now for a long haul and for this situation to endure for several months.  This means that sleep, rest and sabbath are vital to maintain health and resilience.  Set a daily and weekly timetable which allows for this.

Prayer and worship

Regular patterns of prayer and worship are absolutely vital for clergy and ministers and for every disciple.  We cannot live by bread alone.

Make sure you say your prayers daily.  We all now are asked to pray in our homes and not in church buildings. There are various online helps and patterns of saying prayers through the daily office and we will make these known here:

Livestreaming of services from your home locally is a good thing.  It will be really helpful for many to continue to connect with their local congregation.  Over the last two Sundays the numbers sharing in livestreaming have been significant.

So we want to encourage local streaming where it is genuinely possible including of the Eucharist celebrated at home.  However, for a variety of reasons, it will not be possible for everyone.  If this isn’t possible for you, encourage your congregation to join in elsewhere and focus on other areas.

We will provide a single diocesan live-streamed Eucharist each Sunday and on principal Holy Days.  This will be offered by a range of different people who will be offering prayers and reflections.  The first of these services will be this Sunday, 29 March by the four bishops working together, each from our own homes (God willing).

We will also offer a Eucharist and Renewal of Ordination vows on Maundy Thursday at 10 am and principal services on Maundy Thursday evening at 8 pm, for Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and Easter Day.  Full details later.

Please make these diocesan services known by whatever means you can alongside whatever is offered locally.  The link for this coming Sunday is here.  Please begin to circulate the details electronically to congregations now.

Pastoral care

Please Involve others in the pastoral care you offer through telephone contact and in other ways. This is a time to connect the Body of Christ together for mutual care, overseen by those who have the cure of souls.  Many will be shocked, isolated and frightened.  All of us are helped by being able to help others.

Feeding the flock

There will continue to be a need for fellowship, community and teaching through virtual means.  We are hearing encouraging stories of the way people are connecting on line to support one another and reflect on the faith.

Many will be using the Church of England LiveLent App.  On Easter Day this provision will continue through my own daily reflections on the Lord’s Prayer for the period between Easter and Pentecost, revised for the present situation.  The App will also provide a guide for a small group conversation so that Christians can support one another and pray together through the Easter season.

Mission in the wider community

The cure of souls is also a ministry of love to the entire community.  Work with others in this wherever you can especially in your care for the vulnerable. Continue to support foodbanks and care for the homeless. Donations to foodbanks can be financial as well as through giving food. Do what you can to support our teachers and chaplains. Encourage them and remember them in prayer.

Church House Oxford

Church House Oxford is now closed in accordance with government guidelines and all staff are working from home. All phones have been diverted so call the normal numbers for advice.  The work of the Diocese will continue virtually.

Parish finances

We recognise that for some their parish finances are significantly dependent on Sunday collections, lettings and fundraising events and will be issuing advice to help following a consultation with deanery treasurers. Please support the need to sustain parish and diocesan income at this time when the Church’s ministry is needed as never before.

Appointments, Guidance and Advice

Appointments processes will be now be put on hold for the most part until early May at the earliest.  The Guidance for Corona Virus is updated regularly on the Diocesan website.  Please check it daily.  The Area Deans and Archdeacons remain the first point of contact for advice and questions.

And finally

The Lord our Shepherd with us through this crisis giving rest to the weary, comfort to the bereaved and guidance to the perplexed.  We are asking everyone across the whole diocese, every disciple of Christ, to pause at 11 am each day if your work permits and say Psalm 23 and the Lord’s Prayer, beginning tomorrow (with Pope Francis and our Archbishops).

Thanks be to God for the ministry of so many faithful Christians across the Diocese, called to reflect the light of Christ in the midst of the darkness.

With our love and prayers


+Steven
on behalf of Bishops Colin, Alan and Olivia

A message from the four bishops in the diocese of Oxford on the coronavirus crisis