Updated: Jun 26, 2020
Being a scattered church in these Covid-times is a challenging matter for all of us. One of the things Julie and I value most is our community life together; we are created to be part of a family, one that is not just biological but our spiritual family. Just as we ache and miss those we have not been able to see in our family or friendship group so we miss being together, worshipping together, drinking tea and coffee together, doing life together up close as soon as ever is wise, caring and practicable.
In these current days of lockdown easing we must be wise and not act in haste. J John puts it really helpfully when he says "don't rush for the exit ....You’ve been stuck for hours on some crowded plane but, at long last, you reach your destination. As motion stops, everybody around you gets to their feet, grabs their luggage and pushes out into the aisle. You pick up your things and, as politely as possible, push your way into the queue as it heads to the exit. You are suddenly struck by the uncomfortable feeling that, in your haste, you may have left something behind. You look back to your seat only to realise that you are now separated from it by at least six rugby players who are muttering ‘Move on!’ It’s too late to go against the flow..." I am reminded of this experience as – very cautiously – it begins to look as if we may be emerging from the long journey that has been the COVID lockdown. There is a temptation to mentally ‘rush for the exit’; to put, without any thought, the whole three months or so finally and completely behind us'. Wider than this, there is opportunity, accessibility and presence with so many more despite the limitations of online church: our present Sunday reach is six-or-seven times what Sunday gatherings would ordinarily be. We have to ask, "What about the opportunities of this kairos moment? Strategically is it right to go back to dispersed, fragmented & often insular worship in every place!" An intentionally provocative guest blog about uncertainty and our buildings. So I am committed to not rush towards the exit and in light of increasingly voiced hopes and expectations of the church family I wanted to help you understand the reasons why and what we are and are not permitted to do as a church family. As Christians, we worship God first and foremost but in this world, we are instructed to respect those in authority and, within the Church of England that is not just the government but also the national church and then our diocese, the Diocese of Rochester. Their communications to us are clear, we simply cannot use our church buildings yet as it is not safe to do so. We remain committed to honouring the guidelines and restrictions given by government and health officials with advice being updated on a weekly basis. Studies have shown that COVID19 spreads fastest in confined spaces and can remain both airborne and on surfaces for several days - hence some people not opening post that arrives for seventy-two hours and all the measures we have been rightly taking around social distancing. We have to ensure that the building does not become 'contaminated'. Some of you have understandably asked whether we can use the Glebe or the Green here in Hextable for a socially distanced gathering; many of you expressed profound concern when aware that neighbouring Christians as part of Churches Together intended to do just that. Thankfully, despite the 'good intentions' they saw how inappropriate and unhelpful this was in the light of government guidelines and withdrew the planned gathering at the eleventh hour. Government restrictions clearly stipulate social gatherings of no more than six people and we must therefore as a church be seen to respect these guidelines; we would not want the effective witness we have been in these days of lockdown to be destroyed if we are seen to act contrary to the guidelines and standards everyone else is expected to maintain.
Once the Diocese has been advised that it is safe for us to gather in greater numbers we will explore the possibility of safely and responsibly using our green spaces and, once we have been advised that we are permitted to re-open our church buildings, we will prayerfully consider as a leadership whether this is possible given the likelihood of very limited numbers and no sung worship, hospitality or sharing communion together. These limitations are very real, and will prevail for quite some time: assuredly know that our use of buildings is a standing matter in our PCC meeting times! There are ongoing limitations that mean only 15 person at one time at St Pauls, and only 27 persons at St Peters' even with the revised 1-plus metre rulings! Both of our church buildings are not going to be opened at present due to the ongoing risk, care and liability issues, as reflected in an unanimous PCC decision.
A succession of smaller gatherings being repeated back-to-back on Sundays would also not be possible due to the risk of transmission between congregations.
Please pray for us as we seek to be wise in our decision making in the coming weeks and months. Respond to the data-gathering about heading back to the future in our buildings by our google form links here.
We ask for your ongoing patience and trust as realistically it may be a long time before we can hope to meet together in the same building in the way we did previously.
We will continue to worship, pray and be together in whatever ways are possible on line - I really enjoyed seeing new faces at the post-church zoom last Sunday and would encourage you to continue to connect with us in whatever way is possible - seeing each others smiling faces and hearing what God is doing is such a blessing.
We will be planting other lifegroups, themed groups to grow and nurture faith & life together! If you'd like to join on these do be in touch!
If we can assist with your technology needs, do just ask?
I am grateful to those who bring a printed copy of my sermon, weekly blog and lifegroup notes so if you know of anyone else who would value these please just ask.
I'm committed to honouring peoples and the mission of the church, while holding the tension with the safety and wellbeing of all in this.
John Chrysostom's words are salutory: “No one should give the answer that it is impossible for a person who is unable to go to church, to pray always. Everywhere, wherever you may find yourself, you can set up an altar to God in your mind by means of prayer."
As ever this comes with Julie and my love and prayers for you all; this too shall pass and, in the meantime, we continue to choose to look up and worship, grateful for all that God is doing in and through these days.