Set of criteria to apply before the reopening of church buildings for public worship:
Summary of points discussed and conclusions for the West Trent Benefice.
1. We would need to comply with Government and Diocesan guidelines.
• see below for the full text of Government and Church of England guidance.
• 2m physical distancing inc probable floor markings.
• restricted numbers relating to the building context.
• no singing.
• careful consideration of: use of books; entering and exiting protocols; seating
arrangements; hand washing; toilet cleaning;
protocol for Holy Communion.
• duty of care paramount (as 2. below).
• risk assessment required.
• occasional offices: restricted to no more than 30 (& with regard to building context).
• outdoor services within the curtilage must have the same guidelines applied.
Conclusion: Several of our churches would be unable to accommodate even a ‘normal’ sized congregation with these guidelines. It is felt the risks are not sufficiently minimised in larger buildings to ensure a ‘duty of care’. Some occasional offices (notably funerals) might take place with a prior specific risk assessment.
2. We would want to rigorously fulfil our ‘duty of care’ for congregations, communities and leaders, with due regard to the vulnerable (with or without underlying health issues) and the extremely vulnerable.
• The above safeguards are thorough but only reduce risk to a degree (to what
degree is uncertain), the church more than any institution should not at this point
present an opportunity of risk that is avoidable.
• Given the age profile of congregations/leaders and the spiritual directive to love
and care for one another, it is better to wait for improved circumstances.
• Benefice zoom worship, Benefice home worship materials and streaming from
other churches are all available and working well in the circumstances (see
government recommendations re: ‘streaming’).
Conclusion: The over 70’s are highly valued and able to make their own personal decisions, nevertheless we are cognisant of the Government guidelines and reluctant to encourage communal gatherings that would probably increase risk for this or any other age group.
3. We need to be assured that public worship can be staffed by clergy and readers with a sustainable and equitable programme across the Benefice.
• As a Benefice we are concerned for each individual church and work co-operatively
together as 7 churches. There is one incumbent who holds a particular responsibility
for the ordering of worship in the whole Benefice.
• There are 3 readers authorised to conduct worship and pastoral care within the
Benefice. The circumstances of each one amounts to ‘shielding’ and in discussion
with the incumbent it is agreed they should not resume public ministry at this time.
• The incumbent being over 65 and diabetic is also ‘at risk’, has discussed this with
an Archdeacon and is working normally within the recommended guidelines.
• Lay worship leaders are only authorised to take worship on an occasional basis
and not to sustain a programme of worship. Any who are over 70 would not be
used under the ‘duty of care’ as above.
Conclusion: It is not possible to sustain regular worship patterns for the Benefice or for any individual church for both these practical reasons and the preceding principles.
4. We would seek to agree a way forward as a Benefice ideally by consensus including regular reviews.
• The Benefice Council has been kept up to date and has discussed openly the
issues we face.
• The incumbent does hold a particular and ultimate responsibility (even a legal
one) irrespective of consensus.
Conclusion: A unanimous decision was reached with agreement to review in 3/4 weeks time.
5. We would continue to explore worship that is not tied to public buildings (eg via zoom) as an alternative whilst out of buildings and alongside once we return.
• Zoom worship has worked particularly well in our Benefice with a constant
attendance of 55-60 every Sunday and 25-30 every Wednesday.
• Occasional or non-attendees were present some regularly. A sense of
community was tangible.
• We had worked hard at trying to include the technically challenged and time
had been taken to ensure the ‘non-zoomers’ were valued, Alternative arrangements
had been made (home worship materials etc).
Conclusion: zoom worship would continue through July and August, and its continuance be explored even when public worship in church buildings is resumed.
Overall Conclusion: It was agreed by each and every one present that church buildings in the Benefice would not reopen for public worship at least until September, with a review of the situation taking place within 3-4 weeks. Any proposal for a special service during this time would be sympathetically considered on request to Phil.
Government Guidelines issued Monday 29th June.
The Government guidance for the over 70s: ‘they are (regardless of medical conditions) advised to stay at home as much as possible and, if they go out, to take particular care to minimise contact with others outside of their household’.
The Government recommendation is ‘to continue streamed worship services to avoid larger gatherings and to reach the self-isolated and vulnerable’.
Church of England Guidelines issued Tuesday 30th June.
The Diocesan flow chart has been amended accordingly.
Worth bearing in mind: The virus acts indiscriminately of people’s hopes and intentions, and is still very present. Local spikes (as in Leicester) illustrate the potential for further infections. The over 70’s with or without medical conditions are at most risk of complications and death if they catch the virus; of every 100 C-19 deaths, 85 are aged over 70.
A short liturgy for Remembering loved ones at home
It's so difficult when you can’t go to a funeral, whether for family, friend or neighbour. Many are facing this in the current crisis, so this short reflection has been specially written by a vicar for you to do at home, alone or with those who share your home. You might ask others to take part at the same time from their home. When this time of social distancing is over, there may well be an opportunity to meet together at a special time of remembering and thankfulness. Your memories now can be part of that experience when the time comes.