On Sunday evening we had online communion together, followed by some time sharing news and updates. One of the things we talked about was our progress towards starting Sunday meetings in person again. In case you missed it, here are some of the key points.
What are we looking for?
Before we start meetings there are five key factors we are taking into account:
- Legality – are we legally allowed to meet?
- Safety – can we follow the Covid-19 secure guidelines and make our meetings (reasonably) safe?
- Quality – is the sort of meeting we are allowed to hold actually worth holding, and is it at least as good as the online experience?
- Children – can we give children an experience they will enjoy?
- Worship – can we genuinely worship God together and encounter him?
In addition we want to serve everyone, so this means we need enough capacity for all who want to attend in person, and still be able to serve those who are not able or willing to come to meetings in person yet by continuing online in some way.
We will no doubt hear of some churches starting meetings soon, and I know that Anglican churches are under particular pressure to do this. Churches are bound by many regulations at this time.
Here are some headlines from the guidance
Top of the list: we need to ensure social distancing at 2 meters. This seriously reduces our capacity, and would require us to hold a lot of meetings or for a lot of people to miss out. One church I know whose building has a capacity of 350 people have worked out that they can only fit 30 in under this guidance.
In addition to this:
- One-way routes would need to be laid out
- We would have to ensure people did not interact with each other
- Meetings would need to be concluded in the shortest reasonable time,
- We would have to stagger arrivals and departures
- There would be no food or drink served
- There would be no singing allowed except by one person from the front, ideally from behind a screen
- The volume would need to be kept so low that people could talk without raising their voices to avoid droplet spread
- People would need to stay seated throughout
- People in at risk groups, including people who are aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions), would advised not to attend
- Children would have to be fully supervised by their parents
- Once the meeting was finished people would have to leave promptly and not socialise
Additionally we would need to keep a log of every person who attends and keep it for 3 weeks. It only takes one person to develop a fever or cough following that meeting and everyone present is likely to be locked down at home for 14 days … which makes you think through how much you really want to be there.
For us this isn’t church
Church is built around our fellowship with Christ and with one another. The idea that we come alone, register our arrival, follow arrows on the floor to our seat, sit silently at least 2m away from others, hold onto our kids, not interact with others (since raised voices create droplets), listen to someone sing from behind a screen, hear someone else preach from behind a screen and then go home as fast as possible without interacting again … that’s not for us.
In summary, this doesn’t pass our tests.
We will watch to see how things develop and keep everything under review. For July and August we will stay online, and will review again for September. I want us to be together as soon as possible, and the meetings have to be worthwhile when we are. We’ll also be looking at other ministries to bring them back as soon as we can.
In reality I wonder if we may still be some way off holding Sunday meetings in person, but we will watch closely as things change. In the meantime we haven’t given up meeting together; we’re meeting online and in other ways too. The Holy Spirit is not confused by the internet, even if we are sometimes.
What CAN we do?
Under current guidance six people from different households are allowed to meet up outside, and two households can meet together inside. Let’s make use of that as friends, as Lifegroups and on Sundays; let’s meet together in all the ways we can.
A final thought
The church is the body of Christ. Is it possible that in this time Jesus is developing different parts of it? With our excellent Sunday meetings we could become like a big torso with skinny legs and tiny arms. If so, this time is perhaps strengthening some other parts of the body.
So let’s keep loving one another, let’s keep on listening to God and let’s keep on encouraging one another; this situation won’t last forever.