Friday, 28 August 2020
When the COVID lockdown began I don’t think any of us were thinking that come September we would still not be worshipping together in the Church building. I did wonder at that time if that was a possibility but like many of us dismissed it. As we look forward it would seem that social distancing and keeping safe are going to be very much a part of our lives for the foreseeable future.
One of my greatest joys in these last few months has been seeing the way our Church Family transitioned to Live Stream Faith, Telephone Church and Zoom! It has been a joy to be a part of that along with the great sorrow of not being able to be together.
In July when the Government gave permission for Church buildings to open the PCC met to consider what we would do at All Saints and at the time the PCC agreed that we wouldn’t open the building, except for funerals and weddings. In the time since, two funerals have happened in the building. We also agreed to review the situation from September.
We met on Wednesday and I have to say it was one of the most upsetting PCC meetings I’ve ever led. We were all torn between the desire and determination to keep people safe and not to do anything that would put someone vulnerable at risk, and the desire to enable people to worship together again, even with the restrictions that are in place. It was not an easy decision to make and I want to thank all of our PCC for their wisdom and contributions over recent months.
In the end we have decided two things.
Firstly, Live Stream Faith and Telephone Church will remain as our “principal” acts of Sunday Worship as a Church Family. What we can offer online and through Telephone Church is far more in keeping with our approach and style of worship than the current restrictions allow. We want to keep it as the primary place we invite people to “come”.
Secondly, we are going to trial a short service of Holy Communion starting at 4pm on a Sunday afternoon IN THE CHURCH BUILDING.
We are starting this on Sunday 6th September at 4pm.
There are many restrictions regarding this so please read the next section carefully as I try to explain what will need to happen.
1. Our risk assessment shows that we can accommodate up to 18 households or bubbles in the Church building. These households have to be seated at 2m distance and you are asked to have minimal interaction (beyond waving and smiling – yes we are still allowed to smile in church) with those in other bubbles. No handshakes, no hugs and even elbow bumps are not recommended as they breach the 2m guidelines. Sorry!
At the start of lockdown we identified 85 households as part of our Worshipping Church Family, so we are going to need to allocate spaces at the service carefully. We will have a telephone booking system and will book for the first week on a first come first served basis. In subsequent weeks priority will always be given to people who have had the longest wait, so if space is limited someone who hasn’t been for several weeks will have priority over someone who went the previous week.
This is going to be complicated and difficult and it may mean you aren’t able to come straight away. The guidelines are there to keep us all safe so please be patient.
2. Households/bubbles will have to stay together in Church. We have been advised to remove the children’s play area to avoid any risks. With a very heavy heart, and for the first time ever at All Saints, I do need to ask those of you who come to Church with your children or grandchildren to think about whether they and you will cope with those restrictions or whether it would be better to focus on Live Stream Faith as a family. It would break my heart to see children told to sit still and be quiet at All Saints – that’s not who we are.
At least for now whilst we explore worshipping together with these restrictions I would ask you to think about what will help our little ones grow in faith – If you think they would love to come then come, but if you think they would struggle then don’t feel under any obligation to bring them. Live Stream Faith isn’t second best!
3. The service is going to feel very different to our normal services at All Saints. We are not allowed to sing together. The guidelines permit a small group of people to sing but not for us all to join in with that. Knowing how hard it would be to have songs played and then not to be able to join in we’ve taken the decision that the 4pm service will not include any singing.
There will be music playing at different points to avoid the awkwardness of some silences but we will choose this to help minimise the risk of us (especially Stephen) breaking out into song!
We are also, to start with, aiming for a relatively short service. The early advice suggested this and whilst that isn’t currently part of the guidelines we felt it wise as we start to meet to keep the service reasonably short. This also allows people to be home in time for meals, and as the nights draw in, before dark.
4. In order to keep us all safe there are going to be some things we all have to do, especially during communion.
a. You will need to wear a mask, unless you are exempt through age or illness or other reasons. The welcomer may remind you about masks as you arrive and we will aim to have a small stock to hand in case you have forgotten. The person leading the service is allowed to remove their mask so long as they are a reasonable distance from the nearest person.
b. You will be asked to sanitise your hands and complete a track and trace form as you arrive. If you are allergic to or intolerant of sanitiser you could bring your own if there is a brand you can tolerate. We will have a bowl of water available for anyone who can’t sanitise so you can wash your hands.
c. As I’ve said the service will be spoken with no singing, and all the words will be on the screen. We won’t be distributing Bibles or notice sheets.
d. When we come to the eucharistic prayer (the prayer over the bread and wine) you will notice some particular changes:-
i. The bread and wine will be set out on the Communion Table before the service.
ii. We will only be taking bread, not wine, as sharing a common cup is very risky for transmission of the virus. The Church of England does not allow us to use small individual cups. We will also be using individual wafers, not our normal shared loaf, again to reduce the risk of infection.
iii. Stephen will sanitise his hands before starting the prayer.
iv. The bread for the congregation will be covered whilst Stephen is praying the Eucharistic Prayer.
v. When you have been invited to come forwards Stephen will say “The Body of Christ, Broken for you” and if you are coming to receive communion you can respond “amen”. No words will be spoken as you receive the bread.
vi. Stephen will then sanitise his hands, and put on gloves and a face mask.
vii. As you come forwards one at a time please keep your mask on.
viii. You will be invited to sanitise your hands as you come.
ix. As you stand near the front step Stephen will gently (and silently) place a wafer on your hand.
x. Once you have received it please turn to one side, remove your mask, eat the bread, replace your mask and then return to your place via the side aisles, making sure to keep a 2m distance where possible.
e. All of this is following the Church of England guidance to keep us all as safe as we can, whilst still allowing us to return to the building, albeit in very limited numbers.
5. At the end of the service you will be asked to leave carefully, so as to maintain the 2m distancing.
6. Some practical points:-
a. Doors will open at 3:50pm. Please don’t arrive any earlier than this.
b. A toilet will be available, but please try and minimise your need to use it (i.e. go before you come to Church!!!) as that will limit the risks of cross infection.
c. Obviously if you are unwell, particularly with any of the principal symptoms of COVID, please don’t come.
d. Given the potential numbers in our Church Family who may wish to attend (85 households for 18 household places) we aren’t going to publicise this service widely. It is an act of public worship, so we will highlight it on the notice boards and it will be mentioned during live stream faith, but until we can judge demand, we’re going to keep it low key.
e. To “book” a household place please call 07591 922331 (bookings open on Sunday 30th August) and speak to Emily McDonald who has volunteered to be our point of contact. She will take your name and ask for the last time you came to the service (so we can give priority to those who haven’t been able to come). Please ring before Friday at noon. If you came the previous Sunday you may be asked to wait to see if there’s a space for you. On Friday afternoon any remaining spaces will be given to people who had attended the previous week who want to come again. Please be gentle with us – we’ll just be trying to get everyone who wants to come the opportunity.
f. The government has asked us to keep track and trace information. When you arrive you will be asked to complete a track and trace form. This isn’t mandatory but it will help if we do have a report of someone becoming ill. The forms will be kept for 21 days in a sealed envelope in the Church safe and then shredded.
There is a lot of information here. Much of it strange and potentially confusing. Please ring me (Stephen) on 07740200942 if you want to talk about what is going to happen or to talk through the details of the service. Please don’t ring me to book – use the number above to speak to Emily.
We are going to review this service again as a PCC in October, or if the guidance changes significantly, although the likelihood of that appears to be low at present.
At our meeting the PCC also began to wonder what Christmas might look like if the current guidance remains unchanged. We haven’t made any decisions yet, and are thinking about how we can enable everyone who wants to to receive communion in person, whether that would be in a series of “midnight masses” on Christmas eve or somehow on Christmas morning remains to be seen. We are already planning in the event that we can only hold an online carol service and our Micah’s Gang crib service will have a Lockdown/Zoom feel about it! Watch this space.
Please continue to pray for the PCC and for one another. Keep engaging with Live Stream Faith and Telephone Church, and take the opportunity to invite people to be a part of that.
Finally, I want to say that whilst the 4pm Service is open to everyone who wants to come, PLEASE do not feel under any obligation to come. You are no better or worse a friend and disciple of Jesus if you come or not. There are some who will be blessed by meeting even with the restrictions and some that will not. Please don’t feel guilty either way! Come because you want to, not because you think you OUGHT to!
Finally remember this.
God is with us. Jesus is leading and guiding us. The Holy Spirit is giving gifts to the Church for these times.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” – Luke 12:32.
With much love, many blessings and, for now virtual, hugs
Yours in Jesus