On your marks…
The announcement last week that churches may begin to open for private prayer reminded me of an Olympic athletics event, with the announcement being the call of ‘On your marks, get set, go’. We’re ‘On our marks’ and about to enter the ‘Get set’ phase, but we are running a marathon not a sprint and we are not yet ready to shout ‘Go’.
As I write we have just received the latest guidance from the Diocese, to supplement that already sent, and we are currently discussing its implications, so that we can ensure the churches are prepared, to ensure that we are prepared to welcome you all for Private Prayer in safety.
So, what are we doing, and what do we need to do to ‘Get Set’?
What are we doing?
The Leadership Team are working on plans to prepare the church buildings. We have taken the decision to remove hymn books and kneelers and to designate appropriate seating. We are sourcing hand sanitiser for each church as well as gloves and cleaning materials for volunteers. We are printing signs and prayer cards, roping off surplus pews and preparing guidance for everyone.
What do we need to do?
We need volunteers!
We have decided to ask for volunteers to help facilitate each prayer session and also to prepare our churches for opening. Although this is not a requirement of the guidance, we believe that it will provide reassurance for those who come to use the churches. Each session of private prayer, in each church, needs 2 appropriate volunteers. Volunteers need to be under 70 and in good health, and have not been advised by the NHS that they should self-isolate or shield. Is that you? If you would like to help, please contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The plans at the moment are to open the churches on a Sunday afternoon for 2 hours initially, from 3pm – 5pm, with each pair of volunteers covering 1 hour. Volunteers are needed to prepare the churches over the next couple of weeks ready to open, to welcome and monitor numbers entering the church and to ensure each person can pray in safety and in confidence, to ensure everyone uses hand sanitiser as they enter and leave, and to ensure the pews are cleaned after they leave.
Full instruction and guidance will be given to all volunteers.
What does all this mean?
The latest guidance does not specify the number of people allowed in a church at any one time, because each church is unique. The Leadership Team have looked at our 3 church buildings and have agreed the numbers that we believe we can safely allow in at a time. At this stage we plan to open 1 pew on each side of the church, which means 2 individuals, 2 couples or 2 small household groups, in any combination. We will also ask people to be aware of those who may be waiting and so we may need to ask people to limit their prayer time to 10 mins as we want to enable everyone who wishes to pray to be able to do so. As with everything during lockdown, we will be reviewing all our plans regularly.
All of you have been supporting each other in whichever way you can, practically by shopping for family and neighbours, sewing urgently needed supplies for front line workers, through phone calls or web chats, but most importantly you have been praying, for each other and for the Ministry team, for which we thank you. During this time of lockdown I know many of you, like me, have also been praying for the time we can return to our church buildings, they are important, they are central to the villages, they are central to our faith, they are the House of God, but this time has also allowed so many of us to have a deeper prayer life while inhabiting the Garden of the Lord, our homes, our gardens, creation. The opportunity to pray in Church is a chance to enhance that prayer life, not to replace it.
We’d like to thank you for your patience and understanding during lockdown, and to ask that you continue to be patient as we finalise our plans. Yes, you will hear of other churches opening earlier, yes, you will be frustrated that you cannot enter your own church yet, but each parish, each church, is different, every congregation is different, and so please be assured that we are working hard to get to ‘Go’ as soon as we can, within current guidelines, and within our particular circumstance, but these are your churches, and we need your to help prepare them and support them.
Our plan is to open for the first time on Sunday 28th June, which is when we would be celebrating the Feast Day of St Peter and St Paul. To open again on the Feast Day of the Keeper of the Keys, St Peter, will be very meaningful and symbolic, and we pray that it will inspire us to once again be the rock on which we can continue to build, rebuild and extend our church family; and work towards God’s Kingdom here on earth.
on behalf of the Rector, CWs and Leadership Team