So, at last, restrictions under lockdown seem to be easing. Amongst the modifications is one that loosens the restrictions of churches and other places of worship.
First of all, it might be helpful to clarify the situation that will apply from Saturday 4th July. The first relevant point is that the rules state that:
- Other public places, such as libraries, community centres, places of worship, outdoor playgrounds and outdoor gyms will be able to open.
This though is modified by a further rule:
- It will be against the law to gather in groups larger than 30 people, except for a limited set of circumstances to be set out in law.
So essentially (and without any other consideration) if 31 people meet for worship then they’ll be breaking the law.
The directive then goes on to say:
Moving forward, from 4 July, people will be trusted to continue acting responsibly by following this and related guidance, subject to an upper legal limit on gatherings (as described above).
Taking this into account, we trust people to continue acting responsibly, and to follow the guidance on what they should and should not do.
It then gives a list of things that we should not do. These include:
- Gather indoors in groups of more than two households (your support bubble counts as one household) – this includes when dining out or going to the pub.
- interact socially with anyone outside the group you are attending a place with, even if you see other people you know, for example, in a restaurant, community centre or place of worship.
- hold or attend celebrations (such as parties) where it is difficult to maintain social distancing.
I’m not sure when the government framed this they thought of worship as a form of celebration – it certainly is in the fellowship of which I’m privileged to be a part.
All of this advice (and much more besides) can be found here.
It then goes on to ask a critical question:
Can I pray in a place of worship?
The answer given is this:
Yes, from 4 July, places of worship can open for services and group prayer and strongly advised to follow COVID-19 Secure guidelines. You will be able to independently pray or hold a religious ceremony in a church, mosque, synagogue, temple or other place of worship.
We advise that you limit your close social interaction in these venues to your own household and up to one other, wherever possible. When attending a place of worship, for ceremonies or services, it is important to observe the social distancing guidelines.
This certainly puts some pressure on those who, in addition to exercising a pastoral role that is oft-times onerous, now have the added responsibility of negotiating this particular path too. I’m pretty certain that there are few Christians around who don’t want to meet together, it’s part of our DNA.
I was interested to read this a little further down. Sub-section 1.23, titled, “Can I go to the theatre or a concert?” says this:
At this stage, it is not yet safe for live performances, including dramatic, musical or comedy performances, to take place in front of a live audience. This is because of the increased risk of transmission associated with these types of activities or as a result of patrons needing to raise their voices to be heard over background music.
There may be an additional risk of infection in environments where you or others are singing, chanting, shouting or conversing loudly. This applies even if others are at a distance to you. You should therefore avoid environments that require you to raise your voice to communicate with anyone outside your household.
Please don’t misunderstand me at this point. I am not, for one moment, suggesting that our worship is nothing but “theatre or concert”! But certainly, some of the most memorable worship services I’ve been part of have included (not necessarily all at the same time) drama, music or comedy. Singing is a vital part of worship. I think that there are principals that apply to us here.
I was mulling this over earlier today when I received an email (actually a post from a blog that I follow). It quoted Ness Wilson, the leader of Pioneer Network. She is, on a global basis, a neighbour of ours. In addition to her role with Pioneer Network she also leads the Open Heaven Church just up the road in Loughborough.
This is what she said:
Resist a pressure to rush back into buildings. The Government may say church buildings are open for prayer but that’s not particularly the kind of churches that we are. Churches in other nations that are opening up buildings for in-person gatherings on a Sunday are doing so with social distancing, face masks, no kids work, no singing and people needing to register in advance to go! Perhaps unsurprisingly some are finding only 10% – 40% are returning.
As Pioneer, church has never been about the buildings we use, it’s always been about the people. Many of us have found small groups have flourished in this season. Perhaps small groups gathering for food before or after live streaming and praying together might be a fruitful next step as the numbers who can meet up increase?
I think we all sense this is a time when God is pressing the reboot button on the church’s hard drive and perhaps we will miss what He wants to do if we go back too quickly to what is familiar. This may be the time that God wants us to re-imagine fulfilling His mission through the multiplication of smaller expressions or missional communities, rather than addition to large gatherings. A church will never reach its village, town or city if it stays in its buildings and simply adds to its Sunday attendance.
I think that’s brilliantly put. At Castle Donington Community Church we are certainly one of the “smaller expressions or missional communities.” I’m not a great fan of slogans generally, but maybe, just maybe, “A church will never reach its village, town or city if it stays in its buildings” ought to be front and centre for us somewhere.