Published: 14:27, 17 March 2020
| Updated: 17:27, 17 March 2020
The Archbishop of Canterbury says church services "must be put on hold" in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Archbishop Justin Welby and the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, say it is now necessary to suspend public worship until further notice, and to live-stream services where possible.
In a joint letter issued today, they said the Church of England must face the challenge by becoming a radically "different sort of church" rooted in prayer and serving others.
The Archbishops said that, where possible, church buildings such as Canterbury Cathedral should remain open as places of prayer for the community, observing social distancing recommendations.
They also invited clergy to maintain daily prayers - live streaming their worship if resources allow.
They urged congregations to be in the forefront of providing practical care and support for the most poor and the most vulnerable during the crisis.
"This is a defining moment for the Church of England..."
They wrote: “Being a part of the Church of England is going to look very different in the days ahead.
“Our life is going to be less characterised by attendance at church on Sunday, and more characterised by the prayer and service we offer each day.
“We may not be able to pray with people in the ways that we are used to, but we can certainly pray for people. And we can certainly offer practical care and support.
“Please do carry on supporting the local food bank and buy extra provisions for it.Ensure the night shelters wherever possible are kept open. There are many very encouraging schemes happening right across our country in communities to focus on caring for the most vulnerable and do continue to play your part in those.
“Then by our service, and by our love,Jesus Christ will be made known, and the hope of the gospel – a hope that can counter fear and isolation - will spread across our land.
“This is a defining moment for the Church of England. Are we truly are a church for all, or just the church for ourselves.
“We urge you sisters and brothers to become a different sort of church in these coming months: hopeful and rooted in the offering of prayer and praise and overflowing in service to the world.”
Private services such as weddings and funerals are not included in the suspension.
In wake of the news, no public worship services will take place at Canterbury Cathedral, and all Cathedral public events including concerts, workshops and exhibitions have been suspended until mid-May.
The site, which is the Church of England's "mother church", will remain open for private prayer between 9am and 5pm daily, and the Eucharist and evening prayer will be streamed online every day.
From tomorrow (Wednesday), there will be no charge for entry to the Precincts.
Hand sanitisers will also be available inside the Cathedral, and physical distancing will be observed, while those considered at greatest risk from the virus are "strongly encouraged" to stay at home.