Following the Prime Minister's announcements this week on plans for the way out of Lockdown, the instruction to 'stay at home' is still in place and public worship in the Loop continues to be suspended. We do, however, intend to re-open our churches for public worship in time for Holy Week and Easter, as long as the Prime Minister's next announcements due on 26th March allow.


The next review of the suspension of worship will take place after the government announcements on 22 February.


As promised, this decision was reviewed early this week.  Although the tremendous progress with vaccinations was noted, the rate of infections and number of deaths is felt still to be too high to risk re-opening our churches at this point.  There will be a further review once we hear the advice and any new regulations from government later this month.  We are in step with all other churches in the deanery.



As Priest-in-Charge, I have been keen to support all our churchwardens in opening our churches first for individual private prayer and then for public worship, as soon as we were permitted to do so.  With Hannah and Peter’s presence and faithful support we’ve been able to do that since the summer, apart from the weeks of the November lockdown.   In the current lockdown churches were not legally required to close, though they have permission to make the choice to suspend public worship should local circumstances and the risk to congregations and ministers be considered too great.  Our Bishop has given all churches in the diocese a canonical dispensation to enable us to make such decisions legally, and has recently extended this to the end of March.

On Monday [11th Jan 2021] we all heard Prof Chris Whitty’s intervention, telling us all to stay at home, as the utmost priority.  The level of infection rose by 22% in the past week, and the rise in infections here in Shropshire is also showing a huge comparative increase over the same time scale.  I am aware that there is good news in one or two congregations about some people having received their vaccinations.  However, these are early days and almost any contact can be an occasion of transmission. You will also be acutely aware that the profile of our congregations in terms of age and vulnerability to Coronavirus means the great majority are at severe risk, especially at what we are told is now the peak of the pandemic.  The government’s website very recent update says we should consider ‘strongly’ discouraging those who are at increased risk of severe disease from Covid-19 from attending worship during this time.  We should also consider informing those in these groups of the ‘current stay at home and social distancing guidance.’

For all these reasons, the ministry team met yesterday (Tuesday 12 January) to review our agreed policy of seeking to stay open for worship.  We are unanimous in believing that we have now reached the point where we must suspend public worship and close our churches until at least the end of January in the first instance.   Our great concerns are:

  • The vastly increased and new risk to our congregations, with the arrival of the new variant;
  • This week’s instruction to everyone to stay at home.  

I know you will understand the first of those concerns.  As for the second, solidarity is fundamental to the Gospel and this is a moment when we can express our solidarity with so many others who are unable to do so much that seems essential, most especially in being with loved ones in crisis.  Further, we believe that as the Church we should be offering a good example to the rest of our communities and that we have a moral and ethical duty to comply with Prof Whitty’s direction.  As incumbent, I also have a key responsibility to protect our ministers in all of this and Hannah and Peter believe it is time to stop leading public worship, to protect those they serve.

Please do not read this as in any way a lack of confidence in our amazing churchwardens, who have been simply magnificent in their dedication to fulfilling the demands of the Health & Safety regulations.  They have - with the support of many of you too – gone way above and beyond what has traditionally been the role of wardens.

However, in this current, awful wave of the pandemic, half of Severn Loop’s churches had already taken the decision to suspend or reduce the number of services held, because of the severe risk of transmission of the new variant.  Following the ministry team’s unanimous decision on 12 January, I have recommended to the wardens and PCC members of Bicton, Montford and Shrawardine that we also suspend public worship in these churches with immediate effect.  That consultation supports my recommendation.

The situation will be very carefully reviewed after Sunday 31 January.  Should the risk levels have dropped and if the government has changed its instruction to stay at home as an absolute priority, I hope it may be possible to re-open perhaps for individual, private prayer, or for public worship.

Our churches and churchyards remain available for funerals during this suspension.

Revd Mary-Lou Toop
14 January 2021