Tuesday, July 27, 2021
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Bishop’s feeble welcome for freedom

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THE Bishop of London sounds hardly overjoyed that Christian people can once again sing hymns together in church after Freedom Day.

After the Prime Minister announced the government’s intention to lift restrictions on communal worship and singing, the Rt Rev Dame Sarah Mullally, who chairs the Church of England’s ‘Covid Recovery Group’, intoned: 

‘The vaccination programme has been an answer to prayer but, while it has transformed the outlook of the pandemic, it has not eliminated all risk. So it is right, as the Prime Minister has said, that we all must exercise personal responsibility and carefully manage the risks from Covid-19.

‘We have also all made sacrifices and seen previously unimaginable changes to our way of life as we sought to protect one another and especially those who are most vulnerable. In churches that has meant unprecedented restrictions on the way we practise our faith itself, affecting our ability to meet together, to sing together and to celebrate the sacraments together, all of which are at the heart of our worship.

‘I am also mindful of those who [sic] lives have been radically changed by the effects of long Covid. We will await the new Government advice for places of worship and adapt our guidance to churches accordingly.’

That last utterance would seem to reveal the deep spiritual malaise in the Church of England. The Prime Minister has just announced that Christian people can worship the Lord together without restrictions and the Bishops want to wrap churches up in bureaucracy.

Does not that sum up the Leftist lockdown mentality? The lockdown establishment loves regulating people and seems to be looking for ways of keeping the masks on, the signs up, the one-way stickers down and the hand sanitiser at the church door.

Contrast Bishop Mullally’s tone with the positive note struck by Health Secretary Sajid Javid, a non-practising Muslim married to a churchgoing Christian. In the House of Commons the week before the Freedom Day announcement the Conservative MP for Chipping Barnet and former Environment Secretary, the Rt Hon Theresa Villiers, challenged Mr Javid about why thousands of football fans were allowed to shout and cheer as much as they wanted in a stadium while Christian people were still not allowed to sing in church. ‘Isn’t it time we allow congregations in church to sing hymns together?’ she said.

Mr Javid replied: ‘That is certainly what I would like to see and it is certainly my intention to allow that to happen as soon as possible. When it does, I hope we can sing a hymn together.’

Margaret Ashworth, of this parish, would no doubt come up with an excellent suggestion for a hymn that Mr Javid and Ms Villiers could sing together on Freedom Day. But for an anthem that breathes the spirit of real Christian joy it is hard to beat the 18th century evangelical hymn writer Charles Wesley’s Love Divine, All Loves Excelling: 

Joy of heav’n to earth come down:
fix in us thy humble dwelling,
all thy faithful mercies crown:
Jesus, thou art all compassion,
pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation,
enter ev’ry trembling heart.

How much more subversive of the lockdown cult could Mr Javid get than by singing that? Wesley’s hymn surely highlights the contrast between the secular gospel of the ‘stay safe’ message, which feeds on fear, and the biblical gospel of eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, which dispels fear when it captivates every trembling heart.

It is pity that the Bishop of London seems to prefer Sage-style spreadsheets to the evangelical hymnody that will, the Lord willing, ring out from non-conformist churches after Freedom Day and drown out the nervous warbling of her fellow lockdown followers.

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Julian Mann
Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based in Morecambe, Lancashire.

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