We have recently considered the change in Covid rules after 19th July and how we might best interpret those changes in ways that honour and encourage all of us to feel at ease going forward.
We need to make everyone feel safe and welcome as much as possible and to encourage a recognition that vulnerabilities are widespread, complex and often neither visible nor known to others. How can we interpret the new guidance in a way that works with that?
We have come up with a plan. It won't be perfect, but we think it will keep people as safe as possible while we open things up slowly. It will be reviewed regularly.
We want to continue to know who is in church so we will ask for you to sign in as we have been doing.
It's a no-brainer that sanitiser will remain in use.
Chairs will remain spread out - in ones, twos and threes and fours. This is so those who prefer to socially distance singly or in households still can without feeling awkward or separate. The chairs will be used to encourage distancing.
Having this space means we can begin to reintroduce singing. This is the big one! At the moment we have four hymns/songs, one of which is instrumental (during Communion). For the foreseeable future, or until we review, we will sing the first hymn (after the welcome) and the final hymn/song (before the final blessing). The hymn/song after the Peace will be one we listen to because there will be movement and possible close contact during the collection.
You will not be asked to wear face masks when seated. Many will choose to do so, of course, and that is fine, but others will not, and that is absolutely fine too. Karen and I will wear a mask while distributing.
For now, we will continue to share the Peace seated. It's illogical to get up and wonder around during the Peace when we are continuing with social distancing.
We will also continue, for now, to receive bread only. That will, I promise, be constantly reviewed. I suspect we will know when the time is right to reintroduce the Common Cup and how to do that. I really look forward to that.
I hope that makes everything clear - you will notice that we are taking things very slowly so that people feel safe, but also moving forward cautiously to bring us some joy - the singing will do that!
And please do communicate with us; if you are unsure, anxious or have insights and thoughts you want to share, then tell us.
Rev Mandy Young
CORONAVIRUS UPDATE FOR CHURCH SERVICES
A prayer for all those affected by coronavirus
Keep us, good Lord,
under the shadow of your mercy.
Sustain and support the anxious,
be with those who care for the sick,
and lift up all who are brought low;
that we may find comfort
knowing that nothing can separate us from your love
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
OPENING OF CHURCHES FOR INDIVIDUAL PRIVATE PRAYER
Late on Saturday night, the Government announced that from 15 June, church buildings may open for private individual prayer. In welcoming the announcement, Bishop Sarah Mullally, chair of the Church of England’s Recovery Group said:
“This is the start of the journey for church buildings to open up safely in line with Government advice and we look forward to their detailed guidance on enabling this first step to happen.”
Taking to Twitter, she also reiterated that this is, "'may’ not ‘must’". In his own response to the announcement, Bishop James says:
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank churches across the Diocese for all they are doing to serve their communities at this time, and for all that they will continue to do in the weeks and months ahead.
"While welcoming this announcement, I would like to reassure churches that I understand that there will be a variety of reasons why for some, it will not be possible, safe or appropriate to open. No church should feel under pressure to do so.
"More detailed guidance is expected to be published by the Government early in the week, and Church of England guidance will be updated accordingly.”
Statement on latest Government guidance on coronavirus
The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, said: “We note from the Government’s COVID-19 Recovery Strategy that churches could be open from July as part of the conditional and phased plan to begin lifting the lockdown. We look forward to the time when we are able to gather again in our church buildings.
"We are examining what steps we will need to take to do so safely and are actively planning ahead in preparation. We strongly support the Government’s approach of continuing to suppress the transmission of the virus and accordingly, we recognise that at this time public worship cannot return in the interests of public health and safety.”
House of Bishops backs phased approach to revising access to church buildings
The House of Bishops met via Zoom this afternoon, as it has done regularly throughout the current pandemic, and continued to review advice to clergy on the Church’s efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus, to protect the vulnerable and health services.
In a discussion led by the Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally, who chairs a group examining how the Church of England might proceed once the current restrictions for COVID-19 are relaxed or lifted, the House of Bishops recognised that there have been some welcome signs of improvement in the current situation, including a reduction in new cases and hospital admissions giving evidence for hope.
While church buildings remain closed for public worship, in line with Government advice, the Bishops agreed in principle to a phased approach to lifting restrictions, in time and in parallel with the Government’s approach, with three broad stages as infection levels improve:
An initial immediate phase allowing very limited access to church buildings for activities such as streaming of services or private prayer by clergy in their own parishes, so long as the necessary hygiene and social distancing precautions are taken
Subsequently access for some rites and ceremonies when allowed by law, observing appropriate physical distancing and hygiene precautions
Worship services with limited congregations meeting, when Government restrictions are eased to allow this
The Bishops agreed that the decision on the timing of when to implement the revised advice on ministers or worship leaders praying and streaming from their church buildings should be made by individual Diocesan Bishops, depending on their local situation.
The Bishops were clear once again that this is guidance – not an instruction or law – and that it will be constantly reviewed depending on the national situation.
National Church of England guidance will be updated in the coming days with further advice on how the staged process could be implemented and with factors and information for dioceses to consider.
Bishop Sarah said: “We are hugely grateful for all that our churches and clergy have been doing to support the Government’s message to stay at home, to support the NHS, and to save lives.
"While it is clear there will be no imminent return to normality, the emphasis is now turning towards how and when aspects of social distancing can be eased, although we remain mindful of the potential risks of a second wave of the virus.
"Nevertheless, it now makes sense for us to start to look ahead to the potential easing of restrictions so that our clergy and churches can be prepared.”