It’s only been a couple of weeks since my last letter to the parish, but given the momentous days in which we live and the rapidly changing news as we slowly emerge step by step from lockdown, I felt it would be helpful to share some thoughts and aspirations as we continue to move forward. So firstly, some news and practical information.
As you will no doubt be aware, the government last week announced that churches would be soon open for prayer in the coming days. Many of us, of course, were quick to point out that the church, being the people of God, had actually been praying more than ever throughout this entire period! However, notwithstanding that, it is blessed news for many to hear that our buildings will now again finally begin to see some use.
In this regard I’m happily writing to confirm our desire to open Saint Thomas à Becket for private prayer twice a week for two hours: On Mondays between 10am and 12 noon and Thursdays between 2 and 4 pm. The first of these opportunities will be this Thursday, the 25thof June. Strict Government and church of England guidelines mean that these times must be supervised with adherence to robust COVID-19 restrictions. Whilst from the 4thof July, social distancing is being somewhat relaxed down from 2 metres, the nature of Saint Thomas à Beckett church with its single entrance and exit, means that we intend to currently limit the number of people in the building at any one point for private prayer to approximately 5 people. This is until we can be assured that a robust system is in place to provide for everybody’s ongoing health and safety. Those wishing to pray during these hours will be met at the door by a welcomer who will ensure hand sanitiser is used by all those who enter and exit. Inside the church a further supervisor will direct people towards appropriate spaced seating. To help prevent COVID-19 spread, the toilet and wash facilities will not be accessible. We also strongly ask those with symptoms, or who’s family are displaying symptoms, of COVID-19 to not attend these opportunities for private prayer and respect Government guidelines. By limiting prayer times to these days, like many churches who are offering the same, it allows us the benefit of the recommended 72 hours between use to minimise infection. In this regard I would therefore plead that nobody enters the church building outside of these hours except with the express permission of me as Vicar, as it would contravene our risk assessments and put those who wish to use the building in further jeopardy. It should also be noted that whilst, during these moments, we are not allowed to lead prayers or any form of service, these times will offer a beautiful opportunity and sacred space for those who wish to sit quietly to pray and meditate, to find some stillness and space to be with God.
Together with the wardens and PCC, I hope that these times will provide solace and encouragement to those who wish to pray within the church building and hope that it perhaps marks the beginning of a new phase in the ongoing life and ministry of the parish.
As we look forward to the next couple of months, most of you will be aware that the Government has today announced that small wedding services will soon be able to proceed. This is indeed great news for those couples we are working with, who were hoping to be married at St Thomas à Becket and at St Matt’s in the next couple of months! It has also been announced that going forward from the 4thJuly, churches may now again begin to be explore gathering in small groups for some form of worship. Whilst that too is good news for all, I would urge you to please be patient as we consider the implications for us as a whole parish. I should add that at this point, we have had no information or news from the Diocese or from the Church of England on these matters. I currently know as little as you, although I am aware that no singing is to be permitted and the celebration and giving of communion, by its very nature would appear under current conditions, impossible.
As soon as I know more, and when we as clergy, wardens and PCC have some clarity and a working way forward, I will, of course, communicate this as quickly and widely as possible. One thing is sure, the ‘new normal’ is going to be different and will require patience, perseverance, grace and love – qualities that I abundantly see at the heart of our church family and daily give thanks for.
So, meanwhile, may I take this opportunity to thank all of you who have been so prayerful, kind and compassionate, caring for those around you, to neighbours and church family members at a time of such global challenge. I’m thankful for those of you have been involved in the epic weekly production of our online services – for those who have led prayers, read Bible passages, preached and distributed service sheets. I am moved by the kindness of others shown through pastoral care, practical support, phone calls, the sending of letters or encouraging emails. And I’m deeply appreciative of the way that we have truly seen that although our buildings may have been closed, the Church of Jesus has been vibrant, dynamic, active and deeply full of love.
As we look to the days ahead, I wholeheartedly want to echo the prayer of Saint Paul found in Philippians chapter 1
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
…..And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Much love and prayers,