With ten days’ notice, churches heard that they can reopen on 4 July. As the details are worked out, many churches are having to work out what this means: will we be doing digital church and gathering in person and meeting physical needs? How do we manage risk and different expectations? What about meeting beyond the building, or even outside?
Writing on 24 June, the government guidance after 4 July is this:
Those aged 70 and over should take particular care to minimise contact with others outside their household: “We know that those aged 70 and over can be absolutely fit and healthy and it’s not the case that everybody over 70 has an underlying disease. But unfortunately, we also know that as you get older, there is a higher risk of coronavirus infection resulting in more serious disease.”
For older people in churches these are the options:
- Meet in a home with one other household, or one other household plus the people either of you are ‘bubbling’ with. For instance, you could meet to watch an online service together.
- Meet in church if there are no more than 30 people and if your church is open, sufficiently Covid-secure, and has made arrangements so that this is possible, which for many churches will take some time
- Meet outside, so that there is either 6 of you, or two households. For example, you could sit outside to catch up and pray, or listen to music. Just remember to maintain great hygiene and social distancing.
- You could meet in the grounds of a church or care home, and if someone came along and saw you the temptation would be to invite them to join. This won’t be possible for a while yet, but we will get to the stage where we can meet in larger groups outside.
For now, gatherings of more than 30 people are not allowed, and those shielding will need to take particular care even after 1 August when you can go to pray in the church building.
It is of course still possible to meet digitally, and this will be the long term reality for many who are not able to go out for various reasons. They must not be forgotten. Digital social options must continue, and provisions like the free ‘Daily Hope’ telephone line remain a vital service for those not online.
We want to hug those we love, but the guidance is to “keep your distance from people outside your household, avoid being face to face with them, avoid shouting or singing close to people outside your household”.
As the Archbishop of Canterbury tweeted: “During lockdown we’ve found new ways to walk together with Jesus and love our neighbours. As we give thanks to God that we will be able to gather again in churches, let’s reflect deeply on what God has taught us over these months. As we prepare to gather together again, we do so knowing that many will be returning bearing new burdens of grief and anxiety. Others will be filled with hope and excitement. But we do not gather just by ourselves. We are gathered in the embrace of God who holds our griefs, fears and hopes, and who walks with us into this new and uncertain future, lighten our path along the way. Please pray, not just for our return to our beloved buildings – with all the safety precautions that we must get right – but also for our return to each other. As we meet again, pray that we do so in the knowledge that God is calling us anew to be communities that truly care for one another, support those in need work for justice and the common good, and boldly proclaim the good news of Jesus.”