I WAS out walking between Shrewsbury and Ironbridge last week. It’s pleasant countryside, and a few miles in the fresh air and walking boots are good for the soul. So are village churches, but I was unprepared for what confronted me on the noticeboard outside one in Sheinton, a couple of miles east of Cressage Bridge:
It’s a shame that the church in Berrington, a few miles away, is to close, but that’s not the message I first got from the notice. The heading reads ‘Please do not touch this Notice (to avoid possible spread of Covid -19)’.
The notice was dated March 3, 2022.
We’ve known since early 2021 that Covid isn’t spread through contact. ‘Are the CoE so out of touch they don’t know this’, I wondered, ‘or do they somehow feel it is their duty to remind parishioners, at every opportunity, that Covid-19 exists and is a threat (albeit a very, very small one when located on a sheet of paper)?’
I see things differently: I believe the Church should be reassuring the faithful that churches are safe environments, and that all are welcome to attend, to pray, to contemplate, for comfort and reassurance. Isn’t a notice on a church noticeboard headed ‘Please do not touch this notice (to avoid possible spread of Covid -19)’ going to scare the unsure, the fearful, and those needing reassurance? Is it not going to make them think that the church – with its hymn books and psalters – is a dangerous place?
My 88-year-old mother used to attend her Anglican church. I say ‘used to’: she was too scared to go out in lockdown in 2020, and lost her mobility. She can hardly walk at all now. Is it right for the established church to join in the orgy of scaring vulnerable people?
I dropped a polite email to Matthew Crowe, seemingly the CoE’s responsible officer for Berrington church:
I happened to be passing through Sheinton, Shropshire, last week and – as I often do in such places – I looked at the church noticeboard.
I read a notice there about the closure of All Saints, Berrington, which is sad, but, I suspect, somewhat inevitable.
However, I was perturbed that, at this stage of the pandemic, the notice was headed, in bold, ‘Please do not touch this notice (to avoid possible spread of Covid -19)’.
It’s surely been fairly clear for some time that Covid isn’t really spread by contact – Nature magazine had an article on it in January 2021, and as far back as May 2020 it was pointed out that paper is not a good surface on which the virus might survive.
Is it possible that notices headed like this might be scaring people unnecessarily now?
Almost first thing on the next working day I received a brief reply:
Thank you for your email.
As it happens the standard form had the header regarding COVID-19 removed a couple of days after those statutory notices were published.
Senior Case & Policy Advisor
Pastoral & Closed Churches | Church Commissioners
The Pastoral and Closed Churches Team are continuing to work primarily from home, so please note:
the best way to reach us quickly is via telephone or e-mail
that it would be helpful if any correspondence is sent electronically
if you need to send hard copy post to Church House please confirm via email so we can make sure it is processed in a timely manner
So, it seems, as far as the Church is concerned all is well, for they are not using that header any more. Except, of course, any notices printed with the header will be left in place perhaps for months by churchwardens up and down the country, and parishioners will still see that bold header, shouting at them that Covid can be spread on paper. Doesn’t the absurdity of the situation strike anyone at Church House that if they had been more cautious with the bold wording at the top of their notices they might not need to produce so many announcing the planned closure of churches?
One also has to wonder whether, if the Church Commissioners staff had been working in their (expensive) SW1 offices rather than ‘from home’, they might have decided much sooner to remove the alarmist header from their notice template?
This appeared in Thoughts of a Carer on May 8, 2022, and is republished by kind permission.