COVID’s long tail and the church

Remember when we thought that the pandemic would be dealt with by the short sharp shock of lockdown and then we would be back to church as normal again. We looked forward to those summer services when would be gathering back, packing in to services with a sense of thanksgiving. Those optimistic days seem a long time ago now don’t they?

We are now looking forward to the summer of this year when lockdowns will end and things will start to go back to normal. However, notice the words “start to…” there. The latest noises from the Government and their advisors suggest that whilst lockdown may be lifted at some point after Easter, life will be a long way from normal.

Currently, we are being told that social distancing and facemasks will remain in place until the Autumn. In true establishment style, those throwing such rumours about cannot be fussed to give a reasoning behind it. This has led to loss of morale and confusion. I suspect that the primary concern is that continued transmission of the virus whilst not likely to cause hospitalisations and deaths, may create the breeding ground for new mutations that are vaccine resistant and potentially more deadly.  There also seems to have been an unannounced change in strategy from the days when w were told that NPIs were there to slow down a pandemic, flatten the curve and protect the NHS. 

There is one glimmer of hope, and that is the suggested approach to nightclubs re-opening. Now night club owners are not going to want to reopen with people standing two metres apart, minimising activity, wearing masks and not talking. So, if they are allowed to re-open but with people being required to either show that they have recently had a COVID test or the vaccine then the case may be in place for churches to do the same and then to allow people to sit as normal and to join in activities like singing. 

Now, you and I might consider the current approach rank stupidity, marked by a form of bureaucratic arrogance and likely to be deeply damaging to people’s confidence in authority as well as seriously harmful socially, emotionally and economically to individuals and communities.  However, like it or not, those will be the rules of engagement going forward. We can complain all we like, we can even choose to defy rules -and some will but I’m not sure how helpful such actions will be. Rather, we need to give our attention to adapting in response to the new normal.

It is my view that our priority as churches needs to be on cultivating small groups. It may be easier to get our small groups meeting fully in person before our main church services. So, if you have not done so already, I would encourage you to:

  1. Encourage each church member to join a small group and begin engaging with others via Zoom.
  2. As and when restrictions are lifted provide opportunities for the groups to begin meeting again. I suspect this will initially be outdoors and in groups of six in line with previous restrictions.  Look at the possibility of providing space in church buildings for small groups to meet whilst observing social distance.
  3. Look at the things that need to happen physically in church life but may be difficult to make happen effectively in a Sunday setting at the moment and use small groups for this. That will include open sharing and prayer, potentially communion and possibly baptisms.
  4. Continue to provide online content going forward.
  5. Think carefully about children’s work. How can that be offered safely?  My view is that it will mean offering a weekly all age service where families stay together in bubbles for the duration of a meeting.
  6. Be prepared to repeat your Sunday service two or three times so that as many people can attend physically as possible.

Please feel free to add any further advice you might have.

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