Dear Church Family,
Following our PCC on the 13th July 2020 and our announcement that at present we will not be opening the church building for public worship, people have had questions and queries as to the decision taken in the unanimous vote not to reopen the church for public worship at this time. The decision was not taken lightly and much discussion was had. We all long to be back in church and worshipping together and the PCC and I are very aware of the biblical precedents given about meeting together and what this means to people. However, at this time the safety of God’s children is also paramount in our discussions and considerations.
I have tried to answer some of the questions that you may have at this time:
On the 4th July the Government allowed church buildings to reopen for worship. The Church of England and The Diocese of Ely have devolved the decision whether to open the building to each church as every church and every situation are different. We know that across our own local area, churches are doing very different things, some deciding to restart meeting together and some continuing with online worship at this time as they face many of the same challenges that we have.
A survey was carried out by our Church Wardens which determined that we can get 36 people into our building at 2 meter spacing. This would include 2 large bubbles of families (meaning we may only be able to get 28 people in if not in larger groups.) Our normal Sunday congregation across our services is between 120-140 people.
Our pews and the configuration of our pews make it very difficult to use the space in the church effectively. Using all the pew seating area that we have, the number we can seat safely is 36 (or 28.)
To enable the opportunity for our church family to attend worship, we would need to hold 3-4 services a week. After every service the church would need to be thoroughly cleaned with every pew and every surface cleaned before another
service/event could take place in the church. If we did this on one Sunday we could have over 100+ people through the door, any one of which may be a carrier of Covid 19. We would need cleaning teams every week for after every service.
Any service we could hold would need to be limited in number and would need to be ticketed in some way and we have the circumstance where we may have to stop people at the door from coming in. Our accessibility policy states “St Peter’s Church is open to all. We welcome everyone to our church buildings.” We would not be able to do this if we opened in the current circumstances.
We would also need to ask every person that attends to provide their contact details for the circumstance that we have an identified case of COVID-19 and we need to go through the track and trace procedure. We are currently doing this for Private Prayer and is all done in line with GDPR regulations.
Children in church:
We love welcoming our children and young people to worship and it is wonderful to provide age related groups for our children and young people. When we return to public worship we know that the space that our children and young people have been using will not be big enough to safely house them and their leaders and therefore at this time we would not be able to offer groups for our children and young people.
We would also have to close off our creche due to the number of soft furnishings in there that cannot be cleaned sufficiently. We recognise this would make attending worship much more difficult for our families. Children would have to stay in their pew if they attended.
The church has been open for 3 weeks now for private prayer on a Thursday evening from 7pm to 9pm. We can only open for this time as a limited number of people came forward to sit in the church to welcome and guide people. We can only open the church when we have 2 volunteers to ensure the safety of those volunteering. To hold a session of Private Prayer outside this time would involve more cleaning. Please note we do not have a cleaner contracted to this kind of work.
We are very blessed to have a Foodbank running out of our church and blessing our community and surrounding communities. The Foodbank has been able to run throughout the pandemic as we have 72 hours between each Foodbank session. 72 hours is the recommended amount of time to leave a building between any other “event.” A weekly service will mean the need to clean both before and after this as we would not have the 72 hour window any more.
The Church of England guidance states “You can meet outside providing the churchyard or land around your church is owned or managed by you (for example by the PCC.)” We do not own the land around the church and to hold any gatherings/services, then means that we are following the Government guidance which states no more than 6 people should meet together (correct on 20/7/2020.)
The Church of England have yet to provide any guidance on face coverings other than for the person leading a service. If we could wear face coverings and potentially bring the social distance down to 1 meter + we could potentially seat around 50 people in the church. Being inside, reducing to 1 meter and increasing the number of people in the building obviously increases the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Weddings – We will be holding small weddings this year for 2 or 3 families with adequate cleaning, staffing and with a seating plan as to where people will be able to sit. No singing and maximum limit of 30 people including “church staff.”
Funerals – We are taking any funerals that wish to come into church on a case by case basis. The majority of funerals will continue to take place at Graveside or in the Crematorium with the offer of a memorial service at a later date.
Baptisms – All baptisms have been postponed until at least the autumn and families informed.
We are fortunate to have been able to quickly move to online worship and we plan for this to continue in some way when we are able to return to worship in the church building. At present, our services continue through Facebook and YouTube. We do have some new plans for September which we are working out at this time.
We had always planned to take a breath, have a pause in August to take stock of where we are at this time, where we have come from and where are we going to. To explore more deeply – what is God saying to us in our individual lives as well as for us as a community. We would not have restarted public worship in August as there are not sufficient people to ensure that this is done safely. Our online worship and weekly service sheet will continue each week, but we hope to move at a slower pace during this month and for Laura and I to take some time off as well.
I understand that some of you will feel that I am being a stickler for the rules and regulations and I would agree with you that yes I am. I am doing this for three reasons, one being this is the decision of the PCC, the group of people that with the Church Wardens and I, hold a legal responsibility as well as our service to the church family and to God. The second being that we will not be covered by our insurance if we are not following the guidelines that have been laid out for us. The third and most important one to me is that you are God’s precious children and I have been given the role of leadership and care of God’s precious children here. If we were to have a case in our church or worse still an outbreak, I would want to know that I had done everything to prevent this from happening.
A few weeks ago I was contacted to say that I had been in contact with someone who was having a coronavirus test as they were showing symptoms. Thankfully that test came back negative, but I calculated in the time since I had been in contact with that person, that I had met with around 50 other people through funeral ministry and pastoral ministry and I could have carried this to each and every one of these people. There are times to circumnavigate rules, this is not that time.
The PCC meet again on the 14th September where we will again consider how we can move forward at that time with the guidelines as they stand at that point. The PCC are your elected representatives so please do talk to them and share your views with them, our Church Wardens and myself. Please pray for us as we try to find the right way forward at this point and in the coming days and weeks. Please pray that we will follow God’s guidance.
If you have other questions or queries, please do be in touch.