Rectory Ramblings

An occasional article from Rev Ben as he reviews activities within the Oakley with Wootton parish


For a Season

of Rebuilding

Hello everyone, 

Greetings from the Rectory!

It has been on my mind for some time to put together a little Rectory Ramblings letter to you all.

This seems a fitting moment to do so. 

It feels like August was only five minutes ago and yet here we are already in the second week of October!

We've journeyed a long way since the summer, and I wanted to give a little update about where things stand. 

Back in the spring, our church journeyed for several months in the company of Nehemiah.

We explored at length what it might look like to ‘rebuild the walls’ of our lives on the other side of this pandemic.

What would it look like to rebuild our church, our community, our workplaces, our family lives and personal lives?

What would it look like to become reconnected, restored, refreshed, renewed within ourselves ... with one another ... with God once again?

In February, the Prime Minister set out the government’s four-stage roadmap for easing restrictions and moving England out of lockdown.

All eyes were on the 21 June and the promise of a return to normal.

We began holding in-person services again at St Leonard’s and St John’s from Easter.

And we also set our eyes on the 21 June as the date when we would transition away from pre-recorded ‘Church@Home’ services to live-streamed physical services from St Leonard’s. 

We all hoped and prayed that the end of June would mark the moment when we could make a fresh start and begin to 'rebuild'.

Alas, things didn’t work out quite as planned.

The government made the difficult decision to extend stage three into the summer to allow more time for the national vaccination efforts to do their work. 

‘Freedom Day’ was eventually announced on the 19 July.

The government ended lockdown and removed almost all legal restrictions on social contact.

Cases in England, however, were already escalating at that time.

There was much uncertainty about whether easing all restrictions would work or whether it would precipitate another health crisis for the NHS. 

With no nationally-set guidance, it was now up to local churches to set their own health and safety protocols. 

Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, Bishop of London and chair of the Church of England's Covid Recovery Group, wrote in July that ‘our approach needs to be cautious and careful. Taking personal responsibility means responsibility for our neighbour, not just for ourselves, and taking precautions to protect those more vulnerable than we consider ourselves to be. Local church leaders know their communities and their own circumstances, and we will support them making local decisions to keep themselves and their community safe.’

Along with most other parishes in the Church of England, the leadership team made the decision not to remove all safety measures, but to gradually ease restrictions into September and then review.

- We have continued the online provision of Sunday services, enabling everyone to access church from home if for any reason they didn’t feel ready to return in person. 

- Mask wearing was initially expected on Sundays and then gradually limited to times of congregational singing.

- Social-distanced seating was initially offered within a designated section of church and is now available for those who make a personal request for additional space. 

- Likewise, our pre-booking system for Sunday services was phased out by the beginning of September. 

- During communion, we continue to receive just the bread (having decided not to reintroduce the common cup at this stage). 

- As few under 18s have been vaccinated, children and young people have been encouraged to go straight to their Sunday groups rather than mixing with the rest of the congregation at St Leonard’s. The decision was made to defer all-age services and parade services with scouts and guides until the new year.

- Refreshments have been resumed with the 8:00am breakfast and tea & coffee after 10:00am. As the Centre is used by children and young people on Sundays, church members are able to make their own decision as to whether they feel comfortable mixing in this space.

In all of this, the church leadership team has sought to make it possible for everyone to access our services either in person or online.

We’ve worked hard to create a safe space for all of us to regain our confidence at being together again in church by gradually easing restrictions over time.

And we felt it wise to keep in place several health and safety measures that we know will help protect the more vulnerable members of our church family. 

So where are we now? 

Because lockdown eased just as we were heading into the quiet month of August, September became the new time in which ‘rebuilding’ could actually begin.

All eyes shifted to September.

And we have been very, very busy!

In the last six weeks, we have ... 

- reopened the St Leonard’s Centre and welcomed back a full range of old and new bookings week;

- relaunched all of our Sunday groups for children and young people;

- launched a brand new monthly ‘Sunday Fun Day’ family church service @ 3:30pm;

- welcomed back to the Centre our lovely toddler groups: New Life, Quackers and, for the first time, Pippins as well;

- commenced a new term for the Preschool with an unusually high number of children in attendance;  

- restarted in person engagements with our local schools through assemblies, collective worship and Open the Book;

- established a regular rhythm with the GAP, welcoming 115 young people every month;

- celebrated a wave of Christening services, many with families who are new to the village;

- restarted in person gatherings of Evergreens, which celebrated its 21st birthday on Monday;

- started one new Alpha course on Wednesday evenings and a second every other week at 8:00pm on Sundays;

- launched a new monthly support group called ‘Men@Hart’ down at the White Hart pub in Overton;

- facilitated a full Green Week programme with partner organisations across the village; 

- and much, much more! 

All of this is evidence of the church and its various ministries coming back to life again.

And it is absolutely wonderful to watch!

Achieving all this has been hard work.

Most of our teams have not undertaken these roles in a very long time.

Even the simple things like Sunday morning rotas, which once run like clockwork, are needing to be rebuilt from scratch. 

A huge thank you to the office, the wardens, Sue and Jamie, to all of you who are leading teams, volunteering your time, pitching in to help get things up and running again.

The work of rebuilding that God has placed on our hearts is well and truly underway.

We couldn’t do any of this without you! 

And thank you to everyone else for your patience, grace and understanding.

Some bits definitely feel a bit clunky and bumpy, but we are slowly learning how to do all of this again! 

As we look ahead, there are some exciting things on the horizon.

Over the summer, the PCC approved the appointment of a full-time youth worker with a special focus on mental health work in our schools and local community.

Next Sunday we will be launching a new series on mental health and wellbeing.

We’ll kick of the series on the 17 October with a special Gift Day for this youth worker role. 

From the 24 October, we will be recommencing live services at Wootton St Lawrence for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.

We will be introducing a brand new service pattern at Wootton with two Sunday morning services per month at 9.00am.

I spent the summer months engaging in one-to-one belonging conversations with folk from across our church family.

I think I’ve had about 65 conversation sessions thus far.

These have been a wonderful opportunity to connect, chat, and reflect ... a chance for me to listen and hear from you ... a chance to explore which ‘section of the wall’ you sense God is calling you to help rebuild.

Having taken a little break, I am keen to continue with these conversations.

So don’t be too surprised if Thelma Rich gets in touch at some point to arrange a time for us to chat together. 

As we look around, we give thanks that restrictions have eased up enough for us to have a go at all the things I’ve just spoken about.

We thank God that rate of hospitalisations and mortalities have not mirrored the high rates of daily cases we’ve seen since the summer.

We give thanks that the vaccine programme seems to be breaking the link between infections and serious illness in this country and that many have been able to take more and more steps toward normality. 

That being said, we are very aware that this pandemic has not gone away.

COVID-19 continues to impact our local community here in Oakley and Wootton.

At present, Basingstoke and Deane are experiencing higher rates of infection than many other parts of the country.

And there seems to be an increasing number of cases within our schools and amongst younger families in our village.

We know of multiple families in our church who have recently tested positive and needed to isolate at home. 

This is a reminder to us all to take care of ourselves, and equally important to take responsibility in our duty of care for one another.

It is necessary for us to take seriously those simple practices that will help us keep one another safe:  

* Sanitising hands on entry to church buildings as in current church guidance reduces risk.

* If you are feeling unwell, or are displaying any symptoms of COVID-19, or if you have been asked to self-isolate, please do not enter the building.

* Remembering to wear your mask during congregational singing and when you are likely to be in close contact with others when moving about within Church.

* Respecting other people’s space and social distancing where possible when indoors at Church of the Centre. 

* Following basic government guidance if you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive (testing for fully vaccinated, self-isolating for 10 days and testing for unvaccinated). 

As we head towards the winter months, the leadership team will do our best to ensure that church is available to everyone and that our physical gatherings are as safe as possible. 

So thank you all again for all your help and support in this season of rebuilding.

If you haven’t already thrown your hat in the ring and you’d like to be involved in some way, please get in touch with me, the wardens or the church office. 

This is one of those times when every person, every gift has something to offer.

We’d love to have that conversation with you about the things God is stirring up in you. 

Many blessings to you all. Look forward to reconnecting more and more and we go forward.