What if gatherings of under 10 people were allowed in the Autumn?
What would this mean for our gathering in worship and prayer? What would it mean for Eucharistic worship? how could those still isolated be part of any gathering for worship that may begin?
The first thing that must be said is that here in our rural benefice we are used to gathering in small groups. I joke that ‘there is always twelve’, at our gatherings and groups. Across all that we do and the variation of people who attend weekly or monthly that is a considerable number of people but not all at once. So what could this limitation on numbers look like for our lives in the Parishes that builds on what we already have but recognises that some things will have to change.
I don’t want to preempt many of the long term effects of this crisis in these musing but look just to maybe September. I also would like to see this as an opportunity to create things that we love to do, events that are foundational to our lived discipleship and that offer a brave new freshness to our offering to the communities we live in. This is just new shoots, who knows the shape of the plant that will grow!
We could offer daily week day communion services along the lines of the Wednesday morning services that some people have found so encouraging in the past. These could be at 10am in a rotation round the churches and people could book to come or attend as a regular. They would be a said service of a maximum of 35mins and vary in feel and liturgy as the groups desired and in collaboration.
NOTE… I dont think that resuming Sunday morning worship would be good for a while. With a limited number of people allowed this might prove to be very painful for those who can't attend. I suggest that one of the midweek services is recorded and put out on line on a Sunday and the community gathers around this in solidarity with those who we love and can't yet commune with. It would also be wonderful if home communion could resume during the week.
We could resume our theology, book and prayer groups in the evenings if we wished with people booking in to come so numbers could be managed.
Morning prayer could resume in the churches… lay led and using different liturgies if wished, having a diversity of tone.
Saturday evening meals. Drawing on the tradition of the Sabbath when a celebration meal is shared before entering in to 24hrs of ‘practicing the art of rest’. These meals could be themed and act as a substitute for Ecochurch and coffee gatherings. They could include times of discussion and even sharing of crafts in the form of an ‘after dinner speaker’ and would contain agape prayers similar to the ones I have shared on the Eco-Church Blog. They could happen weekly in different parts of the Benefice with people booking to come to just one a month. They should be lay lead and created and utilize the wonderful facilities that we have.
I boldly add the thought that this would leave us with Sunday as a completely free day!!!!!!!! A day of REST a Sabbath unto the Lord. This could be a day when we take all that we have learnt in this time isolation and withdraw from society, commerce and the digital world…. imagine the discipline and joy of that.
Thinking about our churches and our lives based on the most recent advice from the government for workplaces
It seems to me that if we look at our places of worship as workplaces, and our congregations and volunteers as employees, we can begin to build a picture of how we might move forward as the alert level changes to 2 and we move to Step 3. It gives us some firm recommendations to build on that have a universality across society and helps to build confidence while avoiding knee jerk reactions that would unnecessarily inhibit our emergence from lock-down.
The advice from all sections is various and confusing (as in necessarily will be) so we need to use our own initiative and our common sense, based on professional advice, and our individual situations and locality.
I have trawled the government sites and the extensive documentation and have found the following that may help us as we move forward. Whatever the Government and the national and local church say, we have a distinctive location and demographic and our move out of lockdown must take into consideration the considerable needs and legitimate concerns of our congregations and the Parishes we serve.
It is very important that we obey the Law and our Diocesan directives, but it is also important that we emerge with a plan that is compassionate and appropriate for our Benefice.
Our demographic in the churches and that of those whom we often serve means that we need to develop ideas with the vulnerability of people as a primary concern. In the medium term as a nervousness about ‘public’ mass gathering is likely to remain, we also need to look to the wider community and the worldwide context to see how we can emerge with a radically new way of witnessing to the gospel that moves away from social gatherings. Re-energising safe pastoral care, being part of the sustainable rebuilding of our communities and being a living witness to the teachings of Jesus are surely all part of our ongoing mission but in a different form to that which we have previously known.
Since mid-April an extensive programme of engagement has been underway between Government, the Health and Safety Executive, the public health authorities, business representative groups, unions, employers and local authorities, to agree the best way to make workplaces less infectious.
The guidelines will be based on sound evidence – from what has worked elsewhere in the world, and the best available scientific theory. The most important guidelines people can follow to stay safer outside their homes are attached at Annex A. For example:
Individuals should keep their distance from people outside their household, wherever possible. Transmission is affected by both duration and proximity of contact; individuals should not be too close to other people for more than a short amount of time. Public Health England recommends trying to keep two metres away from people as a precaution.
It remains essential to keep hands and face as clean as possible. People should wash their hands often, using soap and water, and dry them thoroughly. Touching of the face should be avoided. Hand sanitiser should be carried when travelling and applied where available outside the home, especially when entering a building and following contact with surfaces. Clothes should also be washed regularly, as there is some evidence that the virus can stay on fabrics.
It is possible to reduce the risks of transmission in the workplace by limiting the number of people that any given individual comes into contact with regularly. Employers can support this where practical by changing shift patterns and rotas to keep smaller, contained teams. Evidence also suggests the virus is less likely to be transmitted in well-ventilated areas.
In addition to COVID-19 Secure guidelines for workplaces, the Government will consult on and release similar guidelines for schools, prisons, and other public spaces.
7. Annex A: Staying safe outside your home
This guidance sets out the principles you should follow to ensure that time spent with others outside your homes is as safe as possible (unless you are clinically vulnerable or extremely vulnerable in which case you should follow separate advice on GOV.UK.) It is your responsibility to adopt these principles wherever possible. The Government is also using these principles as the basis of discussions with businesses, unions, local government and many other stakeholders to agree how they should apply in different settings to make them safer. All of us, as customers, visitors, employees or employers, need to make changes to lower the risk of transmission of the virus. The Government has consulted with its scientific advisers to establish the principles that will determine these changes.
Keep your distance from people outside your household, recognising this will not always be possible. The risk of infection increases the closer you are to another person with the virus and the amount of time you spend in close contact: you are very unlikely to be infected if you walk past another person in the street. Public Health England recommends trying to keep 2m away from people as a precaution. However, this is not a rule and the science is complex. The key thing is to not be too close to people for more than a short amount of time, as much as you can.
Keep your hands and face as clean as possible. Wash your hands often using soap and water, and dry them thoroughly. Use sanitiser where available outside your home, especially as you enter a building and after you have had contact with surfaces. Avoid touching your face.
Work from home if you can. Many people can do most or all of their work from home, with the proper equipment and adjustments. Your employer should support you to find reasonable adjustments to do this. However, not all jobs can be done from home. If your workplace is open and you cannot work from home, you can travel to work.
Avoid being face to face with people if they are outside your household. You are at higher risk of being directly exposed to respiratory droplets released by someone talking or coughing when you are within 2m of someone and have face-to-face contact with them. You can lower the risk of infection if you stay side-to-side rather than facing people.
Reduce the number of people you spend time with in a work setting where you can. You can lower the risks of transmission in the workplace by reducing the number of people you come into contact with regularly, which your employer can support where practical by changing shift patterns and rotas to match you with the same team each time and splitting people into smaller, contained teams. Avoid crowds. You can lower the risks of transmission by reducing the number of people you come into close contact with, so avoid peak travel times on public transport where possible, for example. Businesses should take reasonable steps to avoid people being gathered together, for example by allowing the use of more entrances and exits and staggering entry and exit where possible. If you have to travel (to work or school, for example) think about how and when you travel. To reduce demand on the public transport network, you should walk or cycle wherever possible. If you have to use public transport, you should try and avoid peak times. Employers should consider staggering working hours and expanding bicycle storage facilities, changing facilities and car parking to help.
Wash your clothes regularly. There is some evidence that the virus can stay on fabrics for a few days, although usually it is shorter, so if you are working with people outside your household wash your clothes regularly. Changing clothes in workplaces should only normally be considered where there is a high risk of infection or there are highly vulnerable people, such as in a care home. If you need to change your clothes avoid crowding into a changing room.
Keep indoor places well ventilated. Evidence suggests that the virus is less likely to be passed on in well-ventilated buildings and outdoors. In good weather, try to leave windows and doors open in places where people from different households come into contact – or move activity outdoors if you can. Use external extractor fans to keep spaces well ventilated and make sure that ventilation systems are set to maximise the fresh air flow rate. Heating and cooling systems can be used at their normal temperature settings.
If you can, wear a face covering in an enclosed space where social distancing isn’t possible and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet. This is most relevant for short periods indoors in crowded areas, for example on public transport or in some shops. The evidence suggests that wearing a face covering does not protect you, but it may protect others if you are infected but have not developed symptoms. If you have symptoms of COVID-19 (cough and/or high temperature) you and your household should isolate at home: wearing a face covering does not change this. A face covering is not the same as the surgical masks or respirators used as part of personal protective equipment by healthcare and other workers; these supplies should continue to be reserved for those who need them to protect against risks in their workplace, such as health and care workers and those in industrial settings like those exposed to dust hazards. Face coverings should not be used by children under the age of 2 or those who may find it difficult to manage them correctly, for example primary school age children unassisted, or those with respiratory conditions. It is important to use face coverings properly and wash your hands before putting them on and taking them off.
You can make face coverings at home; the key thing is it should cover your mouth and nose. You can find guidance on how to do this on GOV.UK.
You should follow the advice given to you by your employer when at work. Employers have a duty to assess and manage risks to your safety in the workplace. The Government has issued guidance to help them do this. This includes how to make adjustments to your workplace to help you maintain social distance. It also includes guidance on hygiene as evidence suggests that the virus can exist for up to 72 hours on surfaces. Frequent cleaning is therefore particularly important for communal surfaces like door handles or lift buttons and communal areas like bathrooms, kitchens and tea points. You can see the guidance on GOV.UK and can ask your employer if you have questions.
8. Annex B: Summary table: COVID-19 vulnerable groups
Current and continuing guidance
Clinically extremely vulnerable people (all people in this cohort will have received communication from the NHS)
People defined on medical grounds as clinically extremely vulnerable, meaning they are at the greatest risk of severe illness. This group includes solid organ transplant recipients, people receiving chemotherapy, renal dialysis patients and others.
Follow shielding guidance by staying at home at all times and avoiding all non-essential face-to-face contact. This guidance is in place until end June
Clinically vulnerable people
People considered to be at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Clinically vulnerable people include the following: people aged 70 or older, people with liver disease, people with diabetes, pregnant women and others.
Stay at home as much as possible. If you do go out, take particular care to minimise contact with others outside your household.
Vulnerable people (non-clinical)
There are a range of people who can be classified as ‘vulnerable’ due to non-clinical factors, such as children at risk of violence or with special education needs, victims of domestic abuse, rough sleepers and others.
People in this group will need to follow general guidance except where they are also clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable, where they should follow guidance as set out above.
I am unashamedly returning to a post from last year.
You are all well aware of the position that I hold with regard to opening our churches for people to wander in and out of at their own risk. I have been clear that this is not because I hold to a high sacrament of place or believe that the building constitutes the boundaries of the church.
The post from last year talks of the church as a ‘Common’ place. As we emerge to take more exercise and to picnic and relax in our outdoor common spaces, rejoice in the freedoms that we have and cherish them. …….. There is a huge part of me that just wants to remove the doors from our churches and let the wind blow through them. If they were ruins they would be more sacred as common spaces. … churches without doors!!!!!!!
I am sure that you all have questions about how your lives will look after this weekend's announcements and will be scanning the official document for your own particular experience. In my blog posting 'What if? One' I expressed my considered opinion to the diocese that the church buildings should be allowed to open as other public spaces and shops open within the governments plan. However the consensus of opinion in the hierarchy of the church at the present time is that this should not happen. It seems that this will be the last thing to be allowed under the CofE reopening plan and it has no mention in the official documentation.
We seem to be looking at the possibility of some small gatherings for worship in July if the disease continues to decline. I have scheduled a piece for your consideration that looks forward to this possibility under the heading, ‘What if ? Two’. However I feel that this is not the time to post this as there is too much uncertainty this week and I need to look at it again given the present tone from the central church.
I will not be presiding at a private sacrament for streaming from our churches as it is contrary to my theology and implies all sorts of sacramental and priestly privileges that are not in my church(wo)manship. …. a great debate to be had here about this!
In my theology we are all ‘The Body of Christ’, taken, broken and scattered into the reality of our lives, we are the living breathing sacrament of God of which our Eucharists are the ‘visible sign of this invisible Grace’. …. basically, I can't ‘do it without you’!
The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, said: “We note from the Government’s COVID-19 Recovery Strategy that churches could be open from July as part of the conditional and phased plan to begin lifting the lockdown. We look forward to the time when we are able to gather again in our church buildings.
"We are examining what steps we will need to take to do so safely and are actively planning ahead in preparation. We strongly support the Government’s approach of continuing to suppress the transmission of the virus and accordingly, we recognise that at this time public worship cannot return in the interests of public health and safety.”
In a discussion led by the Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally, who chairs a group examining how the Church of England might proceed once the current restrictions for COVID-19 are relaxed or lifted, the House of Bishops recognised that there have been some welcome signs of improvement in the current situation, including a reduction in new cases and hospital admissions giving evidence for hope.
While church buildings remain closed for public worship, in line with Government advice, the Bishops agreed in principle to a phased approach to lifting restrictions, in time and in parallel with the Government’s approach, with three broad stages as infection levels improve:
1.An initial immediate phase allowing very limited access to church buildings for activities such as streaming of services or private prayer by clergy in their own parishes, so long as the necessary hygiene and social distancing precautions are taken
2. Subsequently access for some rites and ceremonies when allowed by law, observing appropriate physical distancing and hygiene precautions
3. Worship services with limited congregations meeting, when Government restrictions are eased to allow this
I wonder if we should start to have a look at some of the implications of possible futures!! It is really important that we don’t attempt to go back to business as usual or imagine that will happen in the foreseeable future, however there are things that we can begin to discuss and mull over in our minds.
It is also important to have a view as the government are in the process of asking industry and the public sector how they would like to see lock down eased in order to safely facilitate their activity and at some point they will ask the church. I would like for us to have a voice, through our Archdeacon, about these issues so am beginning the conversation.
I am using the Transition Movement questioning model that initiated creative thinking in the faces of uncertain futures…… that asks What if?
What if churches were allowed to open but no services were allowed?
What would we do? How would we manage the opening in practical terms and what would we want the opening to facilitate? Why open them, what is the rational for opening? Would we encouraging contagion to do so and even if the government says yes, should we do it? What would we offer inside, would we encourage candle lighting, prayer trees and even small exhibitions of spiritual art or poetry or craft?
These are my thoughts so far……
Why open them? This is the first thing to ask
Because they normally are open. I know this sounds a little of an odd answer but in the rural communities were we live the relationship that people have with the churches is based on them being open. Many town and city centre churches are normally closed and opening them in a pandemic would be a novelty… for us it is just an adjustment back to ‘normal.
Because people passing like to pop in and pray. Again this is normal for us, part of the fabric of our communities for many more people than attend a church service on a Sunday. Our churches in the villages and attached to graveyards offer a place to add a moment of reflection to our exercise and support mental health for many people of any faith and none.
Because opening our churches offers hope. An empty church with a lighted candle is for many many people a symbol of unseen communion. Communion with people who have and will pass through and with those who have passed through their earthly lives. They epitomize continuity and at this time in the Pandemic this symbol could be a lifeline.
Would it encourage contagion?
No, there is no reason why it should. It would seem that the present lock down practices have been working and the ‘curve is flattening’. This reduction in spread has been achieved despite the continued opening of food shops of all sizes. It has to be the case that if you can enter a food shop with the multiple possible areas for contamination from warehouses, deliveries, shop staff, and checkout pin machines without creating a spike in infection rates then entering an empty church has to be seen as less dangerous. The transmission of this disease is as yet not fully understood and the argument above in anecdotal but surely has some weight.
What would be available for people in the church?
A candle would be lit in the morning and placed were it is visible and safe.
The votive stands would be available for people to light a candle and plastic gloves and hand sanitizer would be near to them for people to use if they wish.
A prayer tree could be created with paper labels to hang on the tree but no pens out, people would be advised to bring their own pen or write it at home. This may be an addition for later months as the risk levels fall.
As more people are allowed out and things reopen so some other people will remain isolated and this will be very hard to bare. The following things could help.
Exhibitions in the churches giving them a space to offer their ‘voice’ might give some sense of worth and purpose. Creative work, poems, songs and paintings created by those who are confined could be displayed and their offering photographed with the encouragement to comment and be in dialogue with the work.
Artistic projects that give people some part of a larger work of art to create at home and then bring it together in an installation in the churches… to build community through shared craft.
Community gardening where people are encouraged to individually tend the church gardens on a rota, bringing their own tools and connecting through seeing what others have done. Isolated people could offer plants they have grown.
How would this work in practice?
Priests and churchwardens and PCC members who are not shielded or over 70 would be asked if they would like to be part of a rota to open and close the churches. Door nobs and lighters would be disinfected and the plastic gloves and sanitizer checked as the church is closed.
People to help design and create artistic projects and gardening. Meeting in zoom chats on line or through whats-app groups.