Friday 3 July
Having reflected at length on lockdown lessons of pastoral letter writing on Sunday, it seems fitting for me to share some new Rectory Ramblings.
I hope this finds you well.
There is a lot happening at the moment, and I wanted to take a few minutes to let you know about a few things.
Since the PM made his big announcement, one of the big questions on everyone’s mind is when will our churches be able to re-open and what will that mean for private prayer and public acts of worship going forward.
When we first entered into lockdown, every parish in the land had to act quickly close the doors of its church buildings and suddenly reimagine what it would look like to do church online and from distance.
We are very conscious that the process of re-opening our churches for public worship is going to be a much slower and more complicated journey.
After much discussion, prayer and practical planning, we have begun to map out our plans for re-opening here in Oakley and Wootton.
On Monday night the PCC agreed on the following priorities.
(1) Weddings and Funerals
The first phase will focus on re-opening St Leonard’s and Wootton St Lawrence for small weddings and funerals.
From 15 June funerals have been permitted within churches. Newly issued government guidance states that weddings will also be allowed from 4 July with up to 30 people in attendance, so long as the church can safely accommodate those numbers whilst adhering to strict 2m social distance guidelines.
Yesterday, we held our first funeral at St Leonard’s for the late Bill Dover.
Many of you will have known Bill for many years.
He and his wife Barbara lived in Oakley for a long time.
Bill was a great champion of St Leonard’s church, having served as Churchwarden for many years.
It was good and fitting to say goodbye to Bill in Church.
Our first wedding this side of lockdown will take place on Friday 10 July at Wootton St Lawrence.
You may remember that 2020 was gearing up to be one of our largest wedding years in recent memory.
We had something like 12 or 13 weddings booked before Christmas.
The pandemic has been a huge disruption to every one of these couples.
Some of decided to delay their wedding until later in the year.
Some have rescheduled for 2021.
But most have been holding on in the hope that things might be getting back to normal.
We want to do everything we can to support these couples through this difficult and uncertain time.
Enabling their wedding days to continue is a top priority for us. If all go ahead as planned, that means we’ll have only 4 weeks between now and the end of September without a wedding taking place in our parish.
That is amazing!
And we celebrate the opportunity to invest in these marriages. It will mean an increasingly busy few months for me and the stewards team.
(2) Private Prayer
The second phase of re-opening will involve making our churches available for private prayer.
The Church of England has been issuing a steady stream of guidance documents to help us prepare our buildings to safely re-open to the public.
We have completed full risk assessments of both churches and have developed a plan for private prayer in each.
Whilst we are keen to open church as soon as possible, we also recognise the need to walk before we can run.
The plan is to open St Leonard’s for several hours on Mondays and Thursdays and to open Wootton St Lawrence on Tuesdays and Fridays.
That means that people in the parish can pray in church four days a week.
Advice from government is that the best way to decontaminate a church building is to leave it for 72 hours between uses.
In addition to this, we will also be cleaning church every Sunday and Wednesday (and after any additional standalone service like a wedding or funeral).
We will be testing this system next week from 6 July and hope to have both churches ready to go for w/c 13 July.
In order to achieve this, we will need to build a team of able-bodied volunteers who would be happy to host/steward, clean, help prepare/produce printed material etc.
If you would like to be involved in any way, please speak to Penny.
It is vitally important that we are able to sustain this ministry once we begin. We’ll need your help to do that.
In order to achieve this, we will need to build a new team of volunteers who would be happy to host/steward, clean, help prepare/produce printed material etc.
Many of our existing teams of stewards and welcomers are over 70 and are therefore classified by the Church of England as vulnerable.
We should also not assign roles that involve greater risk of exposure to people who have pre-existing medical conditions that place them at higher risk of complications relating to COVID-19.
So we will need help and I would encourage you to step forward and speak to Penny to offer your support if you are able to get involved.
It is important that we are able to sustain this ministry once we begin. We’ll need a lot of help to make that possible.
(3) Sunday Services
We all long to gather again in our churches to worship God together.
The government has allowed public worship in church buildings to recommence from 5 July.
Our bishops are very clear that this date is permissive rather than obligatory.
It is very much up to local parishes to work out when and how it will be most appropriate to re-open.
On Monday, PCC agreed that in our context we would not re-open for regular Sunday services until September.
This will enable us to focus on weddings and funerals and transitioning toward private prayer.
It will give us time to prepare new service structures, ministry teams, and health and safety procedures.
A delayed start will enable me and the leadership team to have some much needed sabbath rest in August.
We recognise that were we to fully open church today, there would be many of our youngest families (Kautzers included) who would not be able to attend as small children cannot adhere to social distancing.
There would be many of our more elderly members who are self-isolating or shielding and are strongly discouraged from attending services.
There would be others who for various reasons may feel like this is not the right time for you gather with others in this way.
Shifting to a live Sunday service would only involve a proportion of our worshipping community.
Therefore, it is likely that when we re-open in September, our C@H service will continue to be our main act of corporate worship on a Sunday.
The services we offer in church will be simple acts of prayer and reflection.
Some of these services will also offer Holy Communion.
When one reads the new CofE guidance on “The Conduct of Public Worship,” it is clear that all of our services in church are going to look and feel very different.
For example, with 2m social distancing requirements, we estimate St Leonard’s can only safely accommodate 12-14 households (depending on the number in each).
Hand washing stations will be placed at every entrance.
Congregational singing is, sadly, not permitted “because of the potential for increased risk of transmission from aerosol and droplet.”
It is recommended that services are shortened.
Communion, where possible, would involve wafers only (no wine). And so forth.
With limited space, it is likely that we may need to offer multiple small services each Sunday.
As this will be in addition to the Church@Home videos, these services will likely be led by a range of people including Sue and myself as well as our service leaders.
Protecting the Vulnerable
In all of this, our top priority is ensuring that our churches are re-opened safely.
It not possible to eliminate risk, but we can take proactive measures to mitigate that risk and promote best practice.
We will do our very best to make sure we adhere to the guidance set out by Government and the Church of England.
The CofE lays out clear guidelines about who should be engaging in worship services and who should remain at home.
The documents stress that “while those at extra risk and the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ should be advised of the risks of attending public worship, a decision to do so is theirs alone.”
To help us understand those risks, the CofE offers the follow comments on those considered most ‘vulnerable’:
“Certain groups of people may be at increased risk of severe disease from COVID-19, including people who are aged 70 or older, regardless of medical conditions. Individuals who fall within this group are advised to stay at home as much as possible and, if they do go out, to take particular care to minimise contact with others outside of their household.
“Those who are considered to be extremely clinically vulnerable to COVID-19 will have been advised to shield and … therefore not currently advised to attend places of worship.”
Watch This Space
Please do keep the leadership of our churches in your prayers as we work through all this.
The intensities of lockdown have taken a toll on us all and none of us are heading into this new season with a full tank.
We are working hard to move things forward and will endeavour to keep you up to date on all that is happening with re-opening.
I so look forward to the time when we can all be together again.
I do miss you all very much, and we pray for you often.
Many blessings upon you and your households.