Tim Dieppe comments on the case of Rev. Charlie Boyle, who is facing discipline for singing at his church without wearing a mask.
The Church of England lost a lot of respect for its highly legalistic approach to lockdown last year. Initially, it did not even allow vicars into churches to pray alone and forbade the general public from seeking the solace of prayer in churches.
In a time of national crisis, the Church was weighed in the balance and found wanting. Instead of preaching a gospel of repentance from sin and salvation through Jesus Christ, the national Church appeared to be preaching a gospel of salvation from sickness through the prohibition of private prayer in churches. This was widely criticised in the media at the time.
Has the Church of England learnt its lesson?
One might have thought that the Church would have learnt its lesson. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, appears now to regret the Church of England’s actions:
“I didn’t push hard enough to keep churches available for at least individual prayer in the first lockdown. We also said clergy couldn’t go in, and personally I feel I made a mistake with that … I can make all kinds of excuses. I still think I was too risk-averse.”
Sadly, recent events in the Diocese of Salisbury tell a different story about the Church’s current attitude.
Rev. Charlie Boyle has been vicar of All Saints, Branksome since 2013. Since being there he has seen the church thrive and grow. One congregation member said:
“Rev. Charlie Boyle has brought a vibrancy to All Saints during the past eight years and a younger congregation have embraced the church wholeheartedly with him at the helm. It has been a wonderful experience and he should be congratulated on the work he has achieved.”
Surely this is the kind of ministry that the CofE should be supporting and encouraging?
Pressured to leave
On Easter Day this year, Rev. Boyle carried a cross down the aisle during the closing song, and sang some of the words of the famous hymn Thine Be the Glory – surely an appropriate way to close the service on the day when we celebrate the resurrection.
Unfortunately, an anonymous member of the congregation complained that he did not have his facemask on when singing the words of the hymn. Rev. Boyle is facemask exempt and considers himself part of the worship group. The CofE could easily see that Rev. Boyle’s behaviour was totally compliant and that the complaint should not be taken seriously. Yet it was.
Following the complaint, the Archdeacon of Dorset met with Rev. Boyle and pressured him to leave his post and the village by the end of July. Rev. Boyle quite rightly did not agree to leave.
Disciplined for ‘inconsistently wearing a face covering’
This was followed by a letter from the archdeacon to Rev. Boyle explaining that he had met with the Bishop of Salisbury and was considering bringing a Clergy Discipline Measure complaint against Rev. Boyle. The astonishing letter accuses Rev. Boyle of failing to take appropriate account of COVID-19 regulations, including “inconsistently wearing a face covering”, and “on more than one occasion, singing with the worship band.”
This was allowed under the regulations at the time. Choirs were allowed to process through the church as long as they were in single file. Rev. Boyle is mask exempt, but still went out of his way to wear a face mask at times to reassure people. Those who are leading services did not need to wear face masks in any case.
Rev. Boyle is also accused in the letter of “hugging a person who was not in your household or support bubble.” This happened after a funeral service when he reached out to an upset and grieving mourner. This may have breached the official rules, but does the CofE really think that showing care and compassion to a distressed mourner is a sackable offence?
Another accusation is “returning items to the church which had been removed in order to prevent them being touched by multiple people.” The ‘items’ concerned were actually Bibles! According to this Archdeacon it is better to leave Bibles out of the church because of the risk of infection. They are merely ‘items’ not the inspired word of God.
The church was compliant
You can watch a video of Rev. Boyle explaining what has happened to him below.
It is clear that he has taken Covid compliance seriously. There are sanitisers, and QR codes in the church. When the bishop visited the church, he actually commented on what a good job Rev. Boyle had done making it a safe space. How extraordinary then to receive a letter from the Archdeacon saying he had met with the bishop, accusing him of failing to take appropriate Covid measures!
The Archdeacon’s letter betrays a Church of England that is obsessed with Covid compliance. There is no mention of Rev. Boyle’s valuable ministry over many years. That appears to count for nothing. Anonymous accusations about Covid compliance may cost him his job and his home.
Covid compliance more important than marriage vows
Separately last month, the Bishop of Manchester revealed an appalling attitude to immorality. Commenting on the adulterous affair of Matt Hancock, then Health Secretary, he said:
“I’m more worried about the fact that he failed to keep the social distancing than I am about the fact that here is a middle-aged bloke having a bit of a fling.”
This is sadly typical of the Church of England’s leadership on this and so many other moral issues. The bishop suggests that the Health Secretary keeping Covid rules was more important than keeping his marriage vows.
Maybe this isn’t surprising given the Bishop of Liverpool’s recent comments that the Church’s doctrine on marriage should be changed because it is offensive, oppressive and hypocritical.
Both comments betray an attitude that believes in reflecting society’s values back rather than confidently trusting that God’s design for marriage – and for all of our lives – is gracious and good for us.
The Church of Covid Compliance
Covid obsession has gripped the Church of England. Covid righteousness has been made more important than private prayer and more important than marriage vows. The Church of England has become the Church of Covid Compliance.