As I am sure you are aware the Government has now given the go ahead for churches to reopen for weddings and funerals as well as some services. The priority is to make this as safe as possible for everyone, so clear guidelines have been given. These are very comprehensive, so I will try and summarize the most relevant parts. Amongst other things, this means that we must continue to maintain the 2m social distance, wash our hands, or use hand sanitiser on entering and leaving the building. Singing is not allowed, neither we can use services books or bibles. We can have a service of Holy Communion, but the congregation are only allowed to receive the bread. The guidance around children’s work makes working with mixed age groups impossible. Members of the congregation are encouraged to leave as soon as the service has concluded, and refreshments cannot be served. In order to mitigate against the need for extensive cleaning between openings, where possible the church needs to remain closed for 72 hours between uses.
Recognising that not everyone is ready or able to return to church Bishop Paul is encouraging us not to rush into anything but to take it slowly. He is hoping that over the summer churches will experiment and it is hoped that by September most churches will be able to reopen. No decision has yet been made as to when we will reopen to the public for worship.
The PCC discussed the current guidelines last night and agreed the following:-
1. The churches will continue to be open for personal prayer every Wednesday. St James between 10am and 12 noon & ST Michaels between 2-4pm. (we are encouraged to take the names of everyone who attends and keep it for 21 days, so that if anyone tests positive in that period for covid 19 they can contacted and informed.)
2. We want to continue to stream the service as we have seen a large number of people (many more than the combined number of regular worshipers in both parishes) viewing the services online.
3. Initially, we will only have one service at 10.30am shared across both parishes of Morning Worship. (the restrictions around Holy Communion, in my opinion, make this impractical, as well as detracting from the
intimate nature of the sacrament and I can’t justify theologically only the priest being able to receive the wine.)
4. In St James we have worked out that we can have up to 26 people and in St Michaels 30 people while still maintaining the 2m social distance.
5. Following the experiment for the St James day service we will look to the possibility of having another service outside at St Mary’s.
6. In the future it may be possible for all three churches to be open simultaneously and the service to be streamed live in all of them allowing contributions to be made by different people in each location, thereby maximising the number of people who can attend.
I am aware that these proposals are far from perfect and that we are still a long way from being able to return to how we operated before the pandemic struck. The rules and restrictions are constantly being reviewed and updated so we need to continue to respond accordingly. I know that not everyone is able to access technology and may feel excluded as a result and are consequently eager to return to meeting together. On the other hand, I don’t want to exclude others, who for legitimate reasons do not feel ready, or able to return to meeting together yet.
I sure we are all longing for the day when we can all meet together and lift our voices to praise the name of our awesome Lord together and might be frustrated at the slow progress, we appear to be making towards this. One of the songs that I have been playing a lot recently has been Songs in the Night by Matt Redman. The song affirms our belief that God is able to provide the miracle that we need but that until he does, we will faithfully wait here. While we wait patiently, for this horrific storm to pass, we need to continue to cry out to God in prayer for him to have mercy and to make a way through the current crisis for us.
Yours in His Service David