Dear St Mary’s
I am delighted to be able to share our plans for how we will begin to open up our church and church buildings. Weekly changes in expectation and policy make it very difficult to plan a straightforward path and inevitably we will have to remain agile and responsive, especially as we watch to see if there is a second wave or a local lock-down, but I am glad that we are moving forward in our plans for opening the church and centre as we build on all that we have been learning so far.
On Wednesday 5th August we learned from the House of Bishops, responding to the latest Government announcements and the advice from their own Medical Adviser, that we are able to gather for worship as long as we keep each other safe. We need to do this by:
- Making sure that everyone wears a mask (with the exception of leaders and preachers)
- Not singing
- Maintaining social distancing at all times both inside and outside our buildings
- Sitting at a distance from each other
- Cleaning hands on arrival
- Limiting communion to receiving the bread only
- Not gathering socially before or after the service and keeping our masks on until we have left the church grounds
- Registering our attendance for track and tracing purposes
- Capping our numbers to 50 in the main church.
That is quite a list but it is important to remember that these restrictions are not being laid down out of malice, but arise out of genuine care and the concern to keep people safe from, what is, a deadly virus that is very easily transmitted when people gather. As we have seen across the world, religious services have been particular contexts that have given rise to dramatic spikes in cases. All churches have a responsibility, if we want to begin to gather again, to each other, to our community and to our government, to make sure that we do everything possible that any behaviour that we engage in doesn’t increase the burden this pandemic is having on our society. As a larger church, this is even more important for us.
As we have developed our plans for opening our church and church centre, we have followed the following principles: Opening has to be safe, manageable, and worth it
Over the next few weeks, we will be initiating a number of pilots, both in the church and in the church centre, to see how things work and then gradually, step by step, either extend these or reduce them again.
Our plans for worship
- Livestreaming from the Church in September
Through August we will continue to livestream our weekly morning service from our homes but in September we hope to be able to pilot livestreaming from the Church in front of a small congregation.
- Piloting evening prayer for the Heath Church at St Mary’s
On the Sunday 23rd and 30th August we will be welcoming the Heath Church to St Mary’s for evening prayer as an alternative to the current service on zoom. This will help us learn about how to manage a service for members of our community who have been shielding the most.
- Weekly mid-week Communion
From September we will also pilot a new morning communion service in church on Wednesday mornings for up to 50 people.
- Opening the Church for private prayer
Thanks to those who have volunteered to help we have been able to open our church for private prayer. We are continuing this for the time being on Mondays and Fridays 10am – 12pm
In addition to these developments we want to maintain our worship life as a church by
- Continuing to worship from home
While some of us will begin to gather for face to face worship, for the majority of us, worship will remain at home and online. In September our morning livestream will start with a family friendly time of singing and input from Charles and Gen every Sunday just after 10am
- Encouraging small group worship
As the restrictions ease, we want to encourage worship in small groups, both online and face to face, as appropriate, and when the weather’s nice, maybe outside.
- New weekly Compline for August
In addition to our weekly morning prayer on Thursdays, on 6th August we started a new online compline on Thursday evenings at 9pm to take us through August. Compline is a really wonderful way to draw in the day.
Looking forward to Christmas
Our plans for Christmas are already underway. Unless things ease dramatically, most of our Christmas services will have to happen online with smaller gathered congregations. We are very mindful that keeping people safe is critical, especially in winter. We are currently planning a whole number of different Christmas services and covid-secure events that will help us to journey through Advent and to celebrate Christmas in rich and meaningful ways. We look forward to sharing these ideas with you in due course.
Looking to the future – Developing and investing in our online worship
As a church community we have learned much about how to lead worship online and we have noticed some of the benefits for our community and outreach. As we move forward – beyond the pandemic – It will be important for us to develop this further, enabling people who work shifts, who are confined to the home, who have had to travel away for some reason, or who are new to St Mary’s, to share in the worship of the whole family. I am keen that we invest in this new way of supporting church life
Our plans for opening up the Centre
Already, we have made it possible for some staff to work from the centre and from September we aim to:
- Use the whole of the upstairs as a dedicated and restricted office space enabling more (but not all) staff to work from the office
- Pilot some youth work
- Pilot opening up the centre to some outside hirers
- Explore use by our local schools as a priority over other users
We are a church on mission. I want our mindset to be one of moving forward, not returning back. As we open up our Church and Centre we will need to be mindful of being safe, keeping things manageable and doing things that make a difference for our worship, our fellowship, our discipleship and our mission. As we are a larger church it will take longer for us to all be able to gather together than others, but we will focus on growing in all areas. We are learning, more than ever how true it is that “the church is not a provider of religious goods and services. We are the called and sent people of God, a community of people devoted to worship, fellowship, discipleship, and mission.”
It is so exciting to see the church mobilised for mission through the Online Alpha project next term. None of us would have thought of doing a Whole Church Online Alpha before lock-down, but God is using this time to bring many people to him and rejuvenating the church in the process.
Let us not give up meeting together
Let us look forward not back
Let us continue to look out for each other
Let us pray God uses us as his mission agency here in Reigate
With love and prayers