The Anglican Communion’s chief spiritual leader has been secretly volunteering as a chaplain on the coronavirus wards at one of London’s largest hospitals, according to a recent article in The Daily Telegraph. Sources at London’s St. Thomas Hospital, which is located just across the street from Lambeth Palace, confirm that the Most Rev. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has made rounds regularly to pray with patients.
The Telegraph’s source said: “Justin has been a volunteer chaplain at St Thomas’s hospital since lockdown, working alongside other chaplains praying for the sick and dying. Tommy’s is his local hospital so he walks there.
“He gets a lot of solace from doing it. Just being able to physically see people and pray with them during lockdown – it’s what the clergy has been doing the length and breadth of the country.
“There is some personal risk but he doesn’t really think about that. He just thinks this is what Christians should be doing, helping others.”
Archbishop Welby reportedly has completed special training in infection control, and wears personal protective equipment (PPE) over his clerical garb. Last week, he prayed with a female patient battling coronavirus in St. Thomas’ intensive care ward, and another patient recognized him and asked him to pray over the phone with her relatives. The UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, was also hospitalized at St. Thomas’ in April, but Archbishop Welby apparently began his visits after Johnson had been released.
The Archbishop has experienced some strong criticism, including in a Times editorial, for directing that clergy refrain from praying in their churches to prevent the spread of infection. “The Church of England,” The Times said, “has been shockingly absent. In the commercial jargon that the C of E has recently and dismally embraced, a huge gap in the market opened up and it has signally failed to fill it.”
In early April, when the crisis was at its worst in London, Anglican clergy who answered a call for help from hospitals to to serve as volunteer chaplains were banned from visiting wards and going near any patients, including those who showed no symptoms of COVID-19.
The Church’s restrive approach has been relaxed as the rate of new infections has been declining, and Archbishop of York-designate Stephen Cottrell announced that many clergy had would be resuming live-streaming of services from their churches from Sunday, May 17.
“Even when we do return to the sacred, beautiful space of our church buildings, with all their vital and much-missed resonances of continuity,” Bishop Cottrell said, “I believe the Church of England will emerge from this stronger than it has been for a long while.”