Wednesday 21 July 2021 SWITM Final Congregational Letter
The national church has now produced its guidance relating to England entering step 4 of the Government road map for releasing lockdown. The guidance can be found at the following link: Church of England COVID – 19. The key word throughout the guidance is that we ‘may’ undertake certain activities that had previously been prohibited by the legislation.
This took effect from 00:01 on Monday 19th July in the introduction to the guidance the Covid Recovery Group chaired by the Bishop of London, the Right Reverend Dame Sarah Mullally writes. ‘The approach taken by the Government in this step is to remove most coronavirus legislation but to promote guidance that emphasises the personal and corporate responsibility of individuals and organisations to protect others and themselves. Within the Church we believe that everyone is known and loved individually by God and that as many members within one body we are called to be responsible to and for one another, respecting the more vulnerable whose suffering is our suffering (1 Cor 12:12-27). The move to step 4 means we are being asked to take even more personal responsibility around coronavirus than when we were compelled to adhere to Government restrictions.’
The decision to adopt this position has caused a great deal of conversation with some referring to the 19th July as ‘Freedom Day’ while others have genuine concerns about what this means for themselves and their loved ones. The churches of the South West Ipswich Team Ministry, corporately and individually, are aware of our responsibilities to seek to protect those who are most vulnerable either because they have not been able to receive a vaccine (or are not yet fully protected) this applies to those who have not yet been offered the vaccine or have not been able to receive it due to a pre-existing condition or have a compromised immune system. We often talk of the Church of England being for the whole of England, and this means we do not operate on a membership model where we would necessarily know who is going to come through the door. A blanket relaxation of all mitigations has the potential to exclude rather than include.
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The responsibility for making decisions about how to proceed lies with the incumbent. This applies to acts of worship, to events run by the PCC or church community, and to decisions on whether to hire out spaces or allow other events to proceed. Incumbents should feel empowered to make locally appropriate decisions, including taking different approaches to different types of services and events where the risks may vary. We are therefore making the following changes which will continue to be reviewed by the relevant PCC as we start to see the implications of these changes and will be reviewed as time moves on.
- Church capacity – there will no longer be a capacity on numbers attending services and events within our churches and halls, this means that it is no longer a requirement to pre-book a place for a service. For those who wish to sit physically distanced there will be laminated cards available for you to place on the seats either side and in front and behind you. For the mid-week service on a Thursday at St Francis this service will continue to be held in the main church and not the Holy Cross Chapel where it is easier to ventilate.
- Test and Trace – we will continue to encourage everyone who enters our buildings to use the app to check themselves in by using the QR codes at entrances. For those who have not downloaded the app we will still operate a paper-based signing in system which will be retained for 21 days. The guidance from the national church says, ‘along with other venues where people spend time, churches are strongly encouraged to keep a record of those who have attended to facilitate NHS Test and Trace. Participating in Test & Trace will help to slow the spread of Covid-19. This encouragement continues to apply in step 4.
- Wearing of face coverings – the government has stated that it “expects and recommends” that people wear face coverings in crowded and enclosed settings to protect themselves and others. We will therefore be recommending that face coverings be worn while in our buildings and will be displaying posters to this effect.
- Ventilation – we will continue to provide as much ventilation as possible, St Francis and St Peters are the easiest to ensure that a good throughput of air is maintained, this is due to the location of the doors for the same reason St Mary’s is slightly harder.
- Basic Hygiene – please continue to use the hand sanitizer on entering and leaving the buildings and before and after receiving communion.
- Can we sing again? – yes, so long as the building is well ventilated in addition some activities can also increase the risk of catching or passing on coronavirus. This happens where people are doing activities which generate more particles as they breathe heavily, such as singing or raising their voices. For the time being we will sing only two hymns (offertory and post communion) and this is dependent on the majority of those attending wearing face coverings, a dynamic risk assessment will be carried out at each service.
- Sharing the Peace – while this is now permitted, we will continue with the liturgical sharing and not the physical.
- Receiving Communion in two kinds – while this is now permitted there is obviously an increased risk of contamination through the sharing of a common cup. For now the president will continue to receive on behalf of the congregation. Since the start of the
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pandemic, we have taken great care to affirm that receiving communion in one kind is to enter fully into the receiving of the sacrament. There have, and remain, instances in the past when we may not have been able to receive in both kinds. The wafers will continue to be prepared carefully while maintaining strict hygiene (wearing a face covering and using hand gel) and the prayer of consecration will be used with the lid firmly in place. Depending on the church will dictate how communion is administered, we continue to recommend the sanitizing of hands before and after receiving.
- What about tea and coffee? – these can now be served, but it is recommended that disposable cups are used and where possible this is served outside. If this is not possible then rooms should be well ventilated and should remain seated while consuming.
- What if I have COVID-19 Symptoms? – The regulations regarding this have not changed, if you have any of the COVID-19, including the variants, symptoms then you should self-isolate and arrange for a PCR test (please note that lateral flow tests should not be used if you have any symptoms.
- What if I test positive for COVID-19? Please inform your relevant churchwarden or clergy, they will decide if we need to notify the relevant Public Health authorities and those who have been in contact with you while in church or our buildings.
- What should I do if advised to self-isolate? – If asked to isolate please continue to do so in accordance with the regulations that are in force at the time.
Because of the unusual position we find ourselves in as three churches these changes will be phased in. On Sunday 25th July St Francis will continue to meet at 9.30 am and St Mary’s at 10 am. It may not be that they will fully be implemented until the 8th of August which will also be the first ‘normal’ Sunday following the implementation of the pastoral scheme. The service at 4 pm on the 1st of August will again be different as we will be working in a different setting.
The aim of this phased implementation is to provide confidence that returning to a more recognisable pattern and way of worship is as safe as possible. Each church is likely to need assistance in both cleaning the building and restoring the layout. Each church will advise how they are going to do this, and this is one of the reasons that we are phasing this aspect of coming out of restrictions.
It will be up to each church to review these measures as we move into the autumn, based on current regulations that may be in place at the time, infection levels and numbers in hospital as well as any changes to the guidance from the Church of England.
If you have any concerns about how this will affect you or have particular concerns about the implications of these changes please speak to your relevant clergy or churchwarden.
With our prayers
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On behalf of the SWITM Leadership Team