Many of you will have seen the news announcement today that from 4th July, church buildings may re-open for small public worship services and weddings. This follows on from the provisions made recently for funerals to be held in churches as well as space for private prayer to be made available. The Church of England has been clear all along, that guidance to church concerns what they ‘may’ do, not what they ‘must’ do. There is an emphasis on each church community make sensible decisions based on their ability to re-open safely, as well as to consider what’s best for their congregation members.
So what have we been doing at St John’s Hoxton?
Well, since the end of March, at the beginning of lockdown, we’ve been able to stream a weekly service at 10.30am every Sunday. We restarted our weekly evening service in May, though this has been pre-recorded and then released every Sunday at 5pm. We’ve seen wonderfully encouraging engagement on social media during these services, and many of our regular church family have been able to take part. We’ve enjoyed a variety of video contributions to the services from a wide range of members. We’ve even seen people who used to worship at St John’s - but who had moved away - returning to church. We’ve welcomed new members into our church family who have only participated online, and have not yet been inside our church building. The numbers are hard to measure, but we think we’ve seen a small growth in our worshipping community over the past few months.
However, there have been other church members who find it more difficult to access services online, and we recognise that some people will really be missing their regular visits to the church building for services. We’ve made an effort to be phoning people regularly, but undoubtedly some people will have fallen between the cracks - we’re keen to do everything we can to care well for our church family.
So what does today’s news announcement mean for us?
- Firstly, I want to be clear, online services are here to stay - it’s clear to us that there is a wonderful opportunity for people who wouldn’t be able to attend physically to join in digitally. When we recommence Sunday services in the church building, we will continue to stream the services online. Other activities will also continue online, such as Connect Groups and kids / youth ministry.
- Second, we’re not going to rush into re-opening the building for Sunday worship services - and there are several reasons why: we need some time to prepare the building to make it safe, and we need to establish a fair ticketing process to allow different people to attend worship. There is going to be some new equipment needed for our live-streaming, and this will involve an overhaul of our AV and production system. We’re also concerned to work out a good plan for re-introducing kids and youth ministry in person - and it’s not at all clear how to do that yet. We don’t yet know when we will be allowed to sing together in church - and some people may prefer to stay at home and sing rather than come to church and be silent.
All that said, we’re hoping to be able to re-open for Sunday worship services from September. When this happens, the numbers who can attend will be limited, and there will be a pre-booking system in place. We’ll keep some spaces reserved for people who just turn up on the day. We don’t know yet what we will do about children and youth groups.
- Third, we are beginning the process of making the building safe for special services such as wedding and funerals - we have a funeral service being held in mid-July, so we will be getting to work next week on moving pews and furniture, and making sure appropriate signage and hand-washing facilities are available. We will be running a ‘quarantine’ system for chairs, and ensuring adequate cleaning provision is in place.
- Finally, we recognise that some of you are desperate to come and pray in the building - we’ve begun to work on a plan to make the church building available at set hours each day for individual private prayer from early in July. We hope that we might be able to have some occasional prayer meetings in church, but that is yet to be decided. As soon as we have a system in place for you to come to church for private prayer, we will publicise details on all our communications channels.
We recognise that for many of us, this period of separation from one another has been really painful, and we feel the loss of regular fellowship acutely. It’s right that we lament over what we’ve lost - as it reminds us what we truly value. For many of us, we’re longing to sing together, dance together, pray together and hug one another. I’m confident that before too long all these will return. But for now, we still have to move slowly, sensibly and safely towards a new pattern of worship.
If you have questions or comments for our consideration, please do email them in to firstname.lastname@example.org. And please would you pray for us, and all those who are making important decisions, and be assured of our prayers for you.