It is now three months since we were last able to gather together in the Church building. Since then we have all got used to gathering online, taking part in Zoom prayer meetings and holding our Small Communities virtually. But I'm sure that you, like me, are missing the joy of gathering and worshipping face-to-face.
As many of you will know, yesterday the Prime Minister announced a series of reductions to the lockdown. Included in the announcement was the provision for churches to re-open for public worship from July 4th. This builds on the previous announcement that churches can now open for private prayer.
This raises the inevitable question – when will the Christ Church building re-open? When can we gather together for worship again? This email outlines some of the challenges we face as we consider this.
The Government has yet to publish its detailed guidance on yesterday's announcement. We understand that this may take a couple of days, after which the Church of England will update its guidance and make it available to us. Until then, we only have limited information, but we understand that the guidance will include:
A restriction on the numbers attending public worship
A requirement to keep a list of those attending public worship for track and trace purposes
A ban on congregational singing and chanting that involves voice projection
A ban on shared items (e.g. bibles, hymn books, communion)
A ban on refreshments
A requirement for deep cleaning between each gathering
Obviously, this is subject to change but as you can imagine, if these or similar requirements are included in the guidelines, then it will be a considerable time before we can arrange a Gathering of any size.
We therefore anticipate that our Sunday Livestream will continue to be our main Sunday activity for some time to come – and any move towards a worship gathering in the church building is likely to be slow, cautious and limited – unless the lockdown is relaxed further.
In addition, there are a number of other factors we need to take into account:
The church is currently undergoing some maintenance work – the main lights have been removed, and are being retrofitted with LED panels. This work was delayed by COVID and is likely to take a further 2-3 weeks to compete. While this happens, all the furniture has all been moved to facilitate scaffold access.
It has not yet been possible to clean the church following the completion of the stonework repairs in the side chapel, which were paused at the beginning of lockdown. The church is currently quite dirty.
As we prepare for the start of the RENEW project and for clearing the crypt, we will need to use most of the south side-aisle for storage of furniture and items. Work to clear the crypt has now begun and it will take a few weeks to get this space organised and tidy.
As is still recommended by the guidelines, all church staff are continuing to work from home and there is limited scope for having volunteer teams in the church due to social distancing rules.
All this means that it is likely to be a few weeks more before we can return the church to a fit and clean state and put in place all the necessary safeguards to open to the public.
But we are keen to open as soon as we can and are working towards re-opening The Spire Coffee Shop at some stage during August. The space within the church building allows us to meet the social distancing and other guidelines which apply to the hospitality industry and create a pleasant and safe space for people. And having Coffee Shop staff in the building also means we can safely open the church for prayer during the week.
We are also working with couples whose wedding plans have been put on hold during the lockdown, following the news that these can now take place. Again, we need to be confident that we can do this safely, and await further guidelines, which we understand will limit capacity to 30. Nevertheless, this will be a great relief to those couples who have been waiting patiently for this news, and we will do what we can to enable them to marry as soon as possible.
As the guidance becomes clearer, it may be possible to hold smaller meetings, prayer gatherings or Small Community gatherings in the church – but as already stated, anything resembling 'normal church' is still some way off.
It is important to stress that the changes announced yesterday by the Government are permissive, not prescriptive. Each church will have to come to its own view as to what is safe or appropriate in its local context. Because of the size of our church building and our church family, we will need to take some time to fully understand the guidelines and then proceed with caution. Our overriding priority must be the safety of church family members, visitors and guests, and our church staff and volunteers.
We realise this may be a disappointment to those who are longing to 'get back to normal'. We would simply encourage you to continue to participate in all aspects of our Christ Church family during this time – our Sunday Livestream, the Facebook Forum, your Small Community and the opportunities for prayer and gathering on Zoom.
In Paul's message to the Church Family at the start of this crisis, he reminded us that the church is not a building but a people. The challenge he gave us then still remains … to ensure this is not just something we say but something we can make real in one another's lives. So please do pray for our church leadership team and for our city and national church leaders as they process this latest change.
With love and prayers,