Bishop of Shrewsbury: 'We must object to lifting of restrictions on Sunday trading'


Bishop Mark Davies

Bishop Mark Davies

Christians should raise their voices in objection to government proposals to ease restrictions on Sunday trading, the Bishop of Shrewsbury has said.

In a homily during Mass at Shrewsbury Cathedral yesterday, the Rt Rev Mark Davies said any further deregulation of Sunday trading would have an adverse impact on "human well- being" because any economic benefits could not outweigh the "human loss".

The bishop warned of the loss of "shared human values" which the observance of Sunday as a national day of rest has involved for all in British society and spoke of Sunday being a key element of the country's Christian identity.

Bishop Davies also warned worshippers that the discarding of Sunday as a day of rest could lead to the downgrading of the national Christian festivals of Christmas Day and Easter Sunday.

He told a virtual congregation of thousands of viewers watching the Mass via live-stream that the proposals represented "a moment for us to raise our voices" in witness to the value of Sunday and in objection to plans that will diminish this day of worship, of rest, of family and community for generations to come.

Bishop Davies said: "So central is Sunday to the Christian life, that for some sixteen centuries public authorities have sought to safeguard Sunday as a day of worship and so a day of rest. From the beginning of the English nation Sunday was so distinguished as a day different to all other days.

"As we emerge from lockdown, it is regrettable that the Government is considering removing the remaining legal protections of Sunday in order to make it a full trading day. Proposals for unrestricted Sunday trading may be included within plans to revive economic activity and so place new demands upon the very shop workers and their families who have supported us throughout this crisis. Whatever economic advantages the Government may calculate the human loss will surely be greater if Sunday becomes just another working day. We would be discarding the Christian heritage of a shared day of rest and all the human values which the observance of Sunday has involved. At a deeper level, Britain would be discarding a key element of our Christian identity for by logical extension either Easter and Christmas Day might equally be treated as merely another working day.

"If degrading Sunday as a day of rest, of family, of community, of worship marginally enhanced our faltering economy it would not be justified because of its deeper impact upon human well-being. This is a moment for us to raise our voices, so our Christian Sunday is not discarded by a political sleight of hand."

The remarks of Bishop Davies follows the announcement of the Conservative Government that the relaxation of Sunday trading rules will be a key plank of its forthcoming coronavirus recovery Bill.

Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, wants to boost the country's badly damaged economy by allowing supermarkets to be open for longer than the statutory six hours every Sunday for an initial period of one year.

The last attempt to lift restrictions on Sunday trading was made in 2016 but failed when 27 MPs in the Government of David Cameron rebelled against the proposals.

Three Ministers - Chief Whip Mark Spencer, Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees- Mogg and leader of the Lords Baroness Evans of Bowes Park - have already written to Mr Johnson to warn him to expect "strong" opposition if the Government pushed ahead with its proposals.

According to the Christian Institute, critics of the policy considers it a "back-door" attempt to scrap the Sunday trading restrictions permanently.

The proposals are being opposed by the Labour Party and by such trade unions as Usdaw, the shopworkers' union, which has said they are "unnecessary" and "disrespectful" of employees who would be expected to work longer hours on Sunday.

The homily of Bishop Davies follows in full:

Year after year, I am privileged to see thousands of young people who come forward for Confirmation and are ready to stand up in faith and so stand out in their own generation. It takes courage to stand up as the young prophet Jeremiah today describes with "fear on every side" and "so many disparaging me" (Jer. 20: 10). In the Gospel Jesus promises that: "If anyone declares himself for me in the presence of men, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father" (Mt. 10: 32). What is asked of you and of me - as the young candidates for Confirmation - is not merely to stand by Christ for a moment but for a lifetime. It is the choice we meet every day and at every turning-point of our lives and the choice which comes with every Sunday.

For two great Englishmen remembered tomorrow - St John Fisher and St Thomas More - this meant accepting bodily death rather than spiritual ruin and so being "not afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul" (Mt. 10: 28). It is the same witness that you and I are called to give in the small events and choices of each day. A witness that begins every Sunday when we are called to stand together with the Lord on the first day of every new week. On Sunday, the Church comes together in every place on earth to celebrate one Eucharist and so give supreme praise and glory to God. Saint John Paul II observed how Sunday is the moment when we open our time - the time of our lives - to Christ.

From the beginning, Christians did this in the face of every threat. The Roman Governor Pliny, records how Christians came together on Sunday in the hour before sunrise on what was then an ordinary, working day. An ancient teaching document urged Christians to leave everything in order to assemble on the Day of the Lord; and in that same era Christians in North Africa were recorded as saying to a judge condemning them to death, "We cannot live without Sunday." So central is Sunday to the Christian life, that for some sixteen centuries public authorities have sought to safeguard Sunday as a day of worship and so a day of rest. From the beginning of the English nation Sunday was so distinguished as a day different to all other days.

As we emerge from lockdown, it is regrettable that the Government is considering removing the remaining legal protections of Sunday in order to make it a full trading day. Proposals for unrestricted Sunday trading may be included within plans to revive economic activity and so place new demands upon the very shop workers and their families who have supported us throughout this crisis. Whatever economic advantages the Government may calculate the human loss will surely be greater if Sunday becomes just another working day. We would be discarding the Christian heritage of a shared day of rest and all the human values which the observance of Sunday has involved. At a deeper level, Britain would be discarding a key element of our Christian identity for by logical extension either Easter and Christmas Day might equally be treated as merely another working day.

If degrading Sunday as a day of rest, of family, of community, of worship marginally enhanced our faltering economy it would not be justified because of its deeper impact upon human well-being. This is a moment for us to raise our voices, so our Christian Sunday is not discarded by a political sleight of hand. Yet if Sunday were so diminished, I know your commitment will remain as steadfast as it has done throughout the weeks of this crisis as tens of thousands have been spiritually united in Shrewsbury Cathedral by livestream. We will declare ourselves "for Him" by putting Christ and His Eucharist first in our lives and so literally first in our week. As churches gradually re-open and we look forward to the return of the public celebration of Mass - with all the complexities this will involve - may this be an
opportunity to re-discover Sunday anew as the Day of the Lord, the Day of His Resurrection, the Day of Christians which sheds its clear and gentle light upon our lives.

+ Mark, Bishop of Shrewsbury



Tags: Sunday Trading, Shrewsbury, Bishop Mark Davies, Boris Johnson

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