Coming out of lockdown as a church
We have been meeting on-line for 12 Sundays now. Doing church in lockdown has involved a huge effort for a good number of us, and huge adjustment for all of us. There have been difficult weeks and easier weeks. For some isolation has been fairly straight forward, for others less so. However, I hope we have all experienced unexpected blessings from the Lord in one form or another. Certainly, that has been the testimony of many.
It has been a privilege to keep meeting on Sunday mornings and midweek in various ways, and be able to point one another to the God who holds us in his hands, delighting in us and upholding us. However, as good as it has been to meet via Zoom (and we thank the Lord for the technology to do so) it is nothing like the real thing!
The Government is now taking us through what feels like a rather rapid return to a fully functioning society. It feels as though we have moved from phase one to phase two rather quickly. Schools are now accepting some pupils, and we can now meet outside in groups of six. Phase three in the Government’s road map to recovery is scheduled for July 4th (depending on their five steps being met) and will mark a gentle return to larger gatherings, including public worship. In tandem with this, the Church of England also have their own three-stage plan once lockdown measures are eased. The first phase is simply to allow streaming services or private prayer in the church building – which is happening or about to happen. The second stage sees the reintroduction of some rites and ceremonies, while the final phase intends to allow worship with “limited congregations” so long as government restrictions are eased enough to allow this. (The timing of the implementation of the new measures will be made by individual diocesan bishops).
On June 6th the government announced that churches could open for individual prayer from June 15th (the date when non-essential shops can open), and the Church of England has announced funerals can start taking place in church buildings (their second stage) from that same date (with all the normal restrictions).
St Paul’s PCC met last week to start the conversation about how we might begin to meet on Sundays. Any form of meeting again will mean strict rules on keeping areas clean and practising social distancing. However, those over 70 and anyone who has a vulnerability of health will have to stay away from gathering in large groups. The question begs, do we want to meet as a body knowing that some of the body cannot be with us? It would be painful to leave some of the family behind (for all concerned). At present, therefore, we recognise that we may be meeting via Zoom for a longer term. In fact, even when we do feel we can return to larger meetings in the main church building, we plan to continue broadcasting the service indefinitely to reach those unable to come to church as well as reaching further into the community. We have budgeted to make provision for this necessary equipment.
In sum, the current plan is that we continue on Zoom for the foreseeable future. We are also exploring ways that smaller groups might meet, perhaps on a Sunday afternoon, to fellowship in some way. We will be reviewing this plan regularly.
We recognise that Zoom can be particularly hard for families with young children. The staff team are working to include something for everyone in our Zoom meetings and we are aiming to do more. It is wonderful that Jeannette is working so hard to serve the younger children during the week, as well as Katherine’s hard work with Junior Jivers and Andy, Tom and Abi with Laser. Thank you and Praise the Lord!
Please be assured that the leadership are meeting and talking about all these important questions. Please pray with us as we do that. Also, please continue to pray for our online meetings – that they are relational – serve the saints and reach enquirers. Pray that we discern how we better support those who are struggling, and also pray about how we serve those who, because of this crisis, are drifting from our fellowship.
Let me finish with a few verses from Psalm 40
1 I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.
With love in his name,