A Pastoral Letter on the environment, prepared by the Bishops of England and Wales, for use in churches on 23 May 2021, Pentecost Sunday.

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The Solemnity of Pentecost reminds us that everything which exists, every person and the whole of creation, is a gift of “God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.” God our loving Father creates and continues to give life to the world through His Word, Jesus Christ, in the power of His Holy Spirit. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church, which we celebrate at Pentecost, is not something separate from Creation. God’s revelation of himself in Creation is inseparable from the revelation of his love for us in Christ and in his desire to live in us through his Holy Spirit.

God’s revelation of himself in Creation

‘God’s Spirit is always and everywhere “the Lord, the Giver of Life”, and the voice of Pentecost is echoed in the voice of creation being transformed into the glorious liberty of God’s children.’  In this liberty, as God’s children, we call on the Spirit to ‘renew the face of the Earth’, and as his children, we are called, in turn, to use this liberty for the good of creation and for the good of all that brings life. Our world, God’s creation, is a precious gift to us. It is our common home entrusted to each generation. But how have we used that glorious liberty? How do we honour this precious gift? Are we really demonstrating love, care and respect for our common home?

Interconnected and interdependent

As we celebrate Pentecost this year, we are acutely aware of the damage that continues to be inflicted on the Earth, and the repercussions for the well-being of our brothers and sisters, both here in our own countries and, more especially, in the poorest countries of our world. Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have both taught us that everything is interconnected and interdependent. The way we live our everyday lives has an impact on everyone and on the earth.The urgency of the situation, and the enormity of the challenges we face, have spurred us to speak out together this Pentecost Sunday, as bishops of England, Wales and Scotland, about the role that the Catholic Church and our faith must play in our shared care for God’s gift to us.

Unsustainable consumption

For all too long we have either been ignorant of, or ignored, the systematic exploitation of our planet and the unsustainable consumption of its resources. While accepting the crucial need and demand for energy for the benefit of the poorest of our brothers and sisters, the provision of our energy must, nonetheless, be by means which radically reduce the use of carbon-based fuels.In our political thinking, there must be a new global understanding of our world, where nations recognise our common responsibility for the dignity of all people and their rights to sustainable livelihoods, in authentic freedom. Pope Francis speaks of a global politics that looks beyond our own needs to the needs of all, most especially the poor and the marginalised.

Restoring our common home

But we cannot leave the healing of our common home and the wellbeing and care of our brothers and sisters merely to a response from industry and governments. Our own local concern and action is necessary and has far-reaching consequences. We all have a part to play, each and every one of us, in the routines, choices and decisions of our everyday lives and our aspirations for the future. The actions of parishes, families, schools, and individuals will have a significant impact on our efforts to restore our common home. There are now many resources, freely available, to advise us on our choice of food, saving of water and electricity, suggestions about travel, waste, and re-use. These are measures that everyone can employ, in some degree, with minimal inconvenience and change. They are effective ways in which we can each reaffirm our personal vocation to be stewards of creation.

G7 and COP26

This Pentecost comes at a time of remarkable challenge and opportunity. We are gradually emerging from the tragedies and restrictions of the pandemic. We have the ability to make changes. Our countries are also hosting two most important meetings this year, the G7 in June and COP26 in November. These meetings will gather together men and women who have the power to make defining choices and policies which will help us build back better, provide for our brothers and sisters, and take care of our common home.In all our human endeavours, we need the presence of the Holy Spirit, “the Lord, the Giver of Life”, whose gift to the Church and the world we celebrate again at Pentecost. Let us keep this Feast with that enduring hope that we can begin to repair the damage we have done and provide a healthy home for future generations. Our hope will be strengthened by our prayer. May our constant request be that the Holy Spirit guide us, strengthen our resolve and ‘renew the face of the earth’.

Covid-19 Guidance – November 2020

On 4 November 2020, Parliament passed into law The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 4) Regulations 2020.1 These are in force from 5 November to 2 December 2020. As well as the Regulations, the Government has updated its Guidance2 for the safe use of places of worship to reflect current circumstances.
The Regulations preclude gatherings for communal worship, including the celebration of Mass, baptisms and most weddings.
However, it is important to stress that this does not represent a return to the previous lockdown earlier in the year. In the current Regulations, places of worship are permitted to remain open for certain purposes, and to attend a place of worship is listed as a reasonable excuse to leave home.
The purposes for which a place of worship may remain open are listed in Paragraph 18(8) of the Regulations. Most notably, the Regulations allow places of worship to remain open for “individual prayer” which is defined as “prayer by individuals which does not form part of communal worship.” It is important that a generous provision is made to open our churches for substantial amounts of time. Priests are encouraged to maintain a presence in their open churches, making themselves available to talk with those who attend for individual prayer.
Churches may be used for Mass and other services to be streamed, without a congregation present. Musicians and singers may participate in online services, as long as they usually form part of the service that is being broadcast and are essential to its delivery.
Churches are permitted to continue to be open to offer support and charitable outreach, including the provision of food banks or other support for the homeless or the vulnerable. It is so important that this response to the pandemic, which has been such a significant part of parish life over these past months in so many places, continues and develops.
Funeral Masses and funeral services may continue to be celebrated, with an attendance of up to 30 people (not including those who are required for the celebration). Weddings are only permitted when one of those getting married is seriously ill and is not expected to recover. Such weddings are limited to 6 people excluding the priest or deacon celebrant.
It is important that the routines of cleanliness, stewarding and social distancing to which we have become accustomed, and which have made our churches places of real Covid security, are maintained. Face coverings should continue to be worn in churches, unless individuals are exempt. The maximum number of people allowed in a church for prayer will be determined by its size, seating arrangements and the requirements for social distancing.
In the light of the broad aim to minimise gatherings of those from different households, and to focus resources on keeping churches open for individual prayer, it is recommended that catechism classes and sacramental preparation sessions are suspended, or held online, whilst these Regulations are in force.
Clergy and parishioners are encouraged to read the Regulations and Guidance and make mature judgments about how best they are to be applied in particular contexts. Some priests may have heightened vulnerability owing to age or medical condition: in making their judgements, they should consider their own circumstances and wellbeing, as well as the safety of others.
These days are not easy, but during the time the Regulations are in force it is vital that the best and effective use of our churches is made, for the good of the faithful and wider society.
Rev. Canon Christopher Thomas 5th November 2020
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