Updated: Jul 20
Being a scattered church in these COVID-times is a challenging matter for us all. One of the things we all miss most is our shared life together; we are created to be in community and this distance and isolation has been quite challenging.
We've reflected on this in our defiant joy series. I encourage you to reflect on my blog post which explored the lack of togetherness in our church buildings and the ache within us all for community. However the return to a future 'normal' will not be without its challenges. There are so many reasons we want to return to church: to be part of a family, one that is not just biological but our spiritual family. Truly Psalm 122 v 1, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
This is a note to update you on decisions reached at this week's PCC meeting concerning opening up our church buildings. Whilst our priority is always is to worship God in a safe and responsible manner, we recognise that there is an ache to return to our church buildings to pray and share in fellowship with others. In our case, we are following the guidance given by The Church of England nationally and the Diocese of Rochester. Reopening our churches for public worship will come as great joy to some and be received with trepidation by others. I have had significant pressure already about returning to our buildings and, yet, believe a measured and considered approach is the best way forward on this. This is because of our duty and commitment of care for the the people of Swanley and Hextable Villages as well as because the limitations are still in place. Our future physical church gatherings will be painfully unrecognisable from what we have enjoyed in the past.
Closing our churches, however difficult, was relatively easy in comparison to the task of reopening. Whatever decisions the Wardens and I make on this, they will, no doubt, fall under scrutiny and criticism so I welcome your understanding, support and prayers as we seek to move forward. Although this COVID time has brought to the surface completely new and unique issues, it is nothing we cannot handle.
The PCC unanimously agreed that we would open St Paul's weekly for private prayer for an hour from 5th August, on Wednesdays, between 1pm and 2pm. Should there be a greater appetite for this, we will increase this in duration and regularity. Due to the current government restrictions we are only able to accommodate fifteen people at a time at St. Paul's and everyone attending will have to be registered in order to comply with the 'track and trace' directive, so it will be essential for you log your attendance when you step into the building at these times.
Whist we long to be reunited as a family, the PCC were almost unanimous that we should not plan to resume public worship at present as the restrictions on the form the service are so expansive, and our previously normal forms of worship can take are extremely prohibitive and we do not feel that they would allow us to worship in a meaningful way. Care, risk and liability remain our shared concern. Despite my bringing detailed suggestions on how we might meet - in the recent survey carried out, the overwhelming majority of the 104 respondents, reflecting 99 households, declared their desire to wait till much later returning to gathered church in person.
Since Monday night there has been other concerning reports and BBC-shared detail in the constantly changing health scene in our region and nation. The PCC will be reassessing the situation on a regular basis in the light of new directions from the government and the diocese. Complete lockdown is over ...so what's the way ahead at least for the next few months?
We will attend to the many logistics of hosting weddings and funerals at St Paul's at the end of this month.
Whilst we would never want to become an exclusive club in reserved seated spaces, this is how it will have to be. Temporarily.
We will only make use of one building within any 72 hour period, reflecting government guidelines and for our shared wellbeing.
Care, responsibility and liability remain a needful priority for us with a second wave of the virus highly probable.
Due to the guidance on social distancing measures each church will be very limited in its congregational attendance. The spatial limitations are very real, and will continue to be so for quite some time: meaning only 15 people at one time at St Paul's, and only 27 at St Peter's.
Future Church Sunday attendance would have to be booked in advance via our church office, as part of a track and trace process required of us as church communities. Please make your enquiry no later than 12noon on Thursday preceding to Sue at firstname.lastname@example.org or to 077918 40126, and we will seek to serve you best we can.
Hybrid church is here to stay, with online and physically gathered churches the way long into the future. Online church will continue for the medium-longer term with Zoom fellowship after our Facebook online 1030 gathering at 1115.
We have to be responsible for human care and wellbeing, not selfishly just about our consumer needs for fellowship like we have known in the past.
We will reopen St Paul's as soon as ongoing works are happening at St Peter's.
We will open for midweek private prayer each Wednesday between 1-2pm with myself as your vicar and one other volunteer leader assisting me in this. We will begin this new pattern on Wednesday 5th August.
This will provide an additional opportunity for pastoral conversations as well as, as is increasingly the case, the bench outside The Vicarage. Relationship is key.
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. 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.