A few key principles have guided me in deciding what to do between 19th July and the new school year in September.
One person’s Freedom Day is another’s Fear Day. 3.8 million people in this country remain clinically extremely vulnerable. As communities of hope, our churches must ensure that our approach is inclusive. The Church of England guidance comments that everyone is known and loved individually by God and as many members within one body we are called to be responsible to and for one another, respecting the more vulnerable whose suffering is our suffering (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). The move to step 4 means that as a nation we are being asked to take even more personal responsibility around coronavirus than when we were compelled to adhere to Government restrictions. However, we need to keep in mind that our calling is not merely as individual Christians. Rather, we are the Body of Christ and need to act as a body, unified in purpose, hearts set on revealing Christ to the world around us through our actions as well as our words. This includes how we meet corporately for worship.
The Summary of the Law taught by Jesus reminds us of a two-fold calling: loving God and neighbour.
- Firstly, our calling is to love God wholeheartedly, and we need to keep in mind that, even if the restrictions have curtailed our enjoyment of services, worship is fundamentally all about God, not us. This involves us as the People of God coming together in ways which may diverge from how people in wider society come together in groups. It may make us feel foolish to continue to take precautions when we see markedly different behaviour in other settings, and indeed experience these ourselves, but our faith does compel us to act distinctively in society from time to time. This is such a time.
- The second part of the Summary of the Law tells us that Christians should love all our neighbours. Jesus, in his earthly ministry, was especially concerned with those who are marginalised in society. Now more than ever, we should be striving to create places of worship where those who have been made vulnerable to Covid and pushed to the margins of our national discourse are the most honoured guests at God’s banquet. Our churches should be prioritising justice, hospitality and inclusion for all, especially when the rest of society is being encouraged to do the opposite.
On a practical level, after 24th July our group of churches go into our usual pattern of August worship where there is a single Benefice service each week. Therefore, I propose very little in the way of change for the time being, with a view to reviewing the situation in late August for any further changes to be implemented in September.
Singing God’s praises is an important part of worship and one which has been greatly missed. A lot of research has gone into this, and the RSCM and other bodies have produced information which has informed my approach to whether, and how, this might be safely resumed by congregations. I believe that an informed way has been found to enable hymn singing whilst taking into account the needs of the vulnerable.
The decision regarding what to do rests with the incumbent, but I have consulted churchwardens about this and invited comments from the wider worshipping community via the Newsletter in recent weeks. I thank those of you who have helped form these decisions, especially the churchwardens of all four churches.
The following will apply from Monday 19th July onwards in all churches of the Bramham Benefice.
What will stay the same:
We shall keep the Serco Track and Trace poster in place for those who use the app.
We shall keep hand sanitizer available at entrances to churches and encourage people to use it on entry to church.
We shall continue to share communion in one kind only (i.e. the bread). To receive in one kind is to receive the whole Sacrament, in any case. We shall continue the current pattern of distributing these one at a time rather than gathered at a communion rail. Clergy will maintain their current practices regarding safe preparation of the bread and wine.
The words of distribution (i.e. The body of Christ / blood of Christ keep you in eternal life) will continue to be said communally rather than individually.
The peace will be shared contactless (eye contact, nods and gestures as it is at present).
We shall ask people to wear face coverings as they enter, exit, and move around the church building. Masks are to be worn by everyone as they come up to receive communion as is currently the case. Clergy will also continue to wear a mask during the distribution.
We will still only use alternate pews for the time being. This will mitigate the changes below. In the case of the Benefice service in Walton where this may not be possible, a separate risk assessment will take place to allow for a slightly larger congregation than usual.
Services will continue to be shorter than usual (up to 45 minutes) since time elapsed in the same building is an important factor in the build up of this airborne virus.
An online service will be offered every Sunday. Over much of August, this may not be one from our own Benefice due to practical considerations, but our Facebook page will always have a link to an Anglican act of worship. From September, we will resume livestreaming services (usually from St Mary’s at 10am).
Refreshments after services will not resume until September.
What will change:
The full choir at St Mary’s will return. They will sit in a socially distanced way and will continue to be more than 8 metres away from the congregation.
Once seated, members of the congregation will be permitted to remove their masks for most of the service. The singing of hymns by congregations will be permitted throughout the benefice, but behind masks for the time being (not including the choir of St Mary’s who will remove theirs to sing).
Shortish hymns will be chosen (or verses cut). Congregations will not sing the Mass Setting (i.e. Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus and Benedictus, Agnus Dei) and some cuts to the liturgy will be continued in order to keep service length short.
Those who are less comfortable about the resumption of singing will be invited to seat themselves towards the rear of the church so that people are not singing directly behind them.
The same protocols as currently apply to orders of service will apply to hymn books.
Tapes which currently seal off alternate pews may be removed to make the church look more welcoming. However, if this is done, we will still encourage social distancing when seated: alternate pews will have the cushions returned to them to indicate where we intend people to sit. This should be explained to the congregation by the churchwarden / sides people as they arrive (e.g. “please sit in one of the pews with cushions / a carpet runner on it”). This is one way to make the church visually more “normal” whilst still keeping the degree of distancing to which we have become accustomed. This will also allow a more flexible approach to seating at weddings and funerals. Churchwardens can make the decision as to whether this is suitable in their individual church in consultation with me.
Some simple instructions will need to be given to people as they arrive and at the start of each service for clarity’s sake. A script will be developed for consistency and this will be read before every service.
Further reading to explain what has informed these decisions may be found below:
Statement on the Church of England’s Covid guidance to churches (July 2021)
July 17, 2021 by Naomi Lawson Jacobs, Emma Major and Katie Tupling