24th August 2021
When the Government moved to stage 4 of its recovery roadmap it gave Churches and many other organisations and businesses the option of relaxing restrictions. For churches, one of the greatest opportunities this offered was being able to get back to that ancient form of worship – singing.
Many have found real joy in the relaxing of this and of other restrictions, being able to hug friends at church, sing and mingle like old times and this reaction is not confined to any particular demographic.
But the relaxation as well as the reaction to it where people resume long-lost and life-giving habits has also created tensions across the diverse tapestry of our congregations in St Albans Diocese.
As Churches work through new protocols and systems for gatherings there is an underlying question that presents an interesting tension – how do we manage the expectations and attitudes from those for whom the 19th July was freedom day and those who it was anything but?
Paul Robinson-Beswick, Youth and Children’s Worker St James New Barnet, puts it like this: “Freedom day came with trepidation as more of us are getting pinged and affected with COVID. We are missing more school and important rites of passage. It doesn’t feel like freedom day, more like a step in to the unknown. Please pray for all us and the state of our mental health going forward.”
This step into the unknown is where we find ourselves today. At The Hub Church, a place where many 20s-30s explore faith, there are people who would resonate strongly with Paul on this newfound trepidation and yet also those to whom these freedoms are exhilarating. David Pickett RNP Comms Officer for the diocese who worships there says: “As a double vaccinated person in their late 20s I am so excited about the opportunity this new freedom provides,” while he recognises that greater caution exists in some in his age group and beyond.
How do churches move forward? Listening, hearing the fears, the frustrations and the concerns of our communities – all in order to recreate a safe place for anyone who wants to return to our gatherings.
This looks like an almost impossible task, but some parishes have found ways of achieving the impossible – or at least balancing these tensions.
For many churches, this means recommending masks for sung worship. Those for whom this is still a step too far, need other considerations.
The Revd Atalie Gaines, Vicar of King Charles the Martyr, Potters Bar, has been holding a weekday said service throughout lockdown. She has decided to retain full Covid precautions in this service which has provided an ideal environment for those who are cautious about restrictions easing, thuse still making them welcome in church. There is still a record kept of those attending too!
At The Hub, everyone who comes gets a coloured sticker to denote their attitude towards others getting physically close; red, amber or green.
Recreating the worshipping family is happening in stages, but it is certainly happening across the diocese.
Resuming worship isn’t just a matter of picking up where we left off. Lockdown took a toll on all of us and the pandemic is not yet over.
Many who have lost loved ones during lockdown are returning to church with someone missing. Overcoming that will take time and the care of those alongside in the church or the community. Others lost jobs, suffered financially or emotionally through loneliness and isolation.
These are all experiences that can be touched by prayer and care and churches can be part of reaching out into the wider community to aid that healing process.
St Luke’s, Watford recently delivered a scented candle to every household in their parish. With it came an invitation to a service of ‘Reflection, Thanksgiving and Hope,’ aimed at helping people ‘whether of Christian faith, another faith or no faith,’ to cope with the many experiences of loss of many kinds during the pandemic.
The Revd Michael Norman, Vicar of St Luke’s, said: “They could use the candle at home and attend the service at St Luke’s, if they wished.
” We did something similar at Christmas and Easter and wanted to help people at a pivotal moment when restrictions were lessening.
“Materials with the candle offered people a chance to reflect on loss, give thanks for the mercies of the past year and a bit and to say a prayer of hope for the future.
“The service of reflection on a Sunday Evening was attended by a few people who didn’t normally come to St Luke’s and had the highest evening service attendance at St Luke’s since March 2020.”
The exercise has been the subject of much direct positive comment from members of the community.
One said: “I was very touched to receive the gift of a scented candle from the church at the weekend. Please thank all at St Luke’s for the lovely candle. You certainly brightened up our day.”
Another asked for another bag for a neighbour.
Two children came to St Luke’s holiday club as a result.
It’s not just about recreating the worshipping family but creating a new one.