I expect that most people attending church this weekend will have one question towards the front of their minds. ‘Is this the last Sunday when we have to put up with all these restrictions?’
The answer, frustratingly, is ‘yes and no’. Strictly speaking, from Monday 19th there will be no Covid-specific limits on what we can and cannot do in church. (We will return to the pre-Covid position of having to meet our obligations under Canon law and other legislation. In short, this means we must hold public worship every Sunday, and endeavour to make sure that everything that happens in our church building is broadly consistent with the values and teachings of the Christian religion. So far so good.)
There are many reasons why I need to be a bit of a party pooper. The responsibility does now fall on me, and the decisions about how we proceed from here will be mine. I expect to be able to communicate these to you very soon, but for now I will have to limit myself to explaining my various reasons for throwing a bit of a wet blanket over the euphoria of ‘freedom day’.
To begin, although we expect the Government to publish specific guidelines for places of worship, this has not yet emerged. The Church of England’s detailed guidance has now been issued, but with the clear caveat that details in the Government’s paper may alter its recommendations.
Once we have that guidance, we will need to complete a full revision of our risk management documentation and the procedures it describes. This is a non-trivial task that will take time.
I know that for every person in our congregation who longs for the opportunity to cast aside their face covering, hug their fellow worshippers and sing enthusiastically in God’s praise, there is another for whom the relaxation of restrictions will lead to increased anxiety and, in some cases, real risk.
I will need, then, to steer a middle course. In this, my goal will be to ensure that the maximum number of people can come to church and feel happy and safe doing so. That will involve some measure of compromise for every one of us, myself included.
I will also be taking into account the fact that caution is still strongly encouraged, especially for indoor activities, and that infection rates are at their highest level for some time and still rising.
I can announce one thing right now, though, and that is that after this weekend it will no longer be necessary to let the office know if you plan to attend worship. There will be no lists at the back of church, checking off names and phone numbers. If you want to come to church, all you will need to do is show up. I do expect, further, that it will be possible for us to sing together inside the church building from next Sunday morning onwards.
I see this moment as a test of our Christian charity. For a Christian, freedom should never be an excuse to hurt someone, or put them at risk. If it turns out that some of our precautions stay in place over the summer, it will be because we want to make our church as hospitable to all those who enter it as possible.
May God bless you all,