We have now reached the anniversary of the first lockdown, and as a benefice of churches it has been a difficult year with so many things disrupted. We have had to persevere through many changes in the guidelines for action to minimise risk of spreading the virus. More recently, just before the Government announced the third lockdown, we received a letter from the Staffordshire health department informing us of the local danger of the new South African variant. In view of this our Diocese allowed churches, at their own discretion, not to hold services ‘in person’ until Easter.
So, what have we been able to do? Many things!
1. “In person” services (when permitted – no singing) on Sunday mornings and evenings.
2. Live Benefice services each week using ‘Zoom’ – a video link that allows multiple participants to be part of a service with real singing! This has been put together and run by a team of people from our churches. I am very thankful that we are blessed with enough technical skill to do this well.
3. Weekly short recorded services, prepared by the Vicar and his family at home and uploaded onto YouTube, which are also available via Facebook or the Christ Church website (www.christchurchstone.org).
4. Midweek Bible studies via Zoom.
5. Occasional services (particularly funerals) in the church buildings.
6. Home groups have continued to meet using Zoom.
7. School assemblies have been filmed by the ‘Open the Book’ team and sent to school for viewing.
8. An after school ‘club’ called Ebenezer, has been prepared and filmed by our Children’s and Families’ worker Peter Cuthbert three times a week. This is available on YouTube via the Christ Church website.
9. Pastoral care: thanks to the pastoral care groups we are continuing to keep tabs on the flock.
10. Prayer meetings: we have continued our usual monthly meeting by Zoom at 9.00 am on the first Saturday of the month. We also have a short prayer meeting on Zoom at 10.00 am each Sunday, just before our Benefice Zoom service.
As we inch our way towards returning to in-person services with a very restricted maximum capacity, may I remind you that we have to observe the guidelines, which are:
· We take personal details for ‘Test and Trace’. These can be taken in advance to avoid delays at the start of the service.
· We are required to observe social distancing.
· We must wear face masks. These must be in place before entering the premises.
· We all must use hand sanitizer on entering the building.
· We have to space out seating (this reduces the seating capacity by a lot!).
· We are not permitted to sing.
· We are not permitted to mingle to chat, during or after the service.
· Holy Communion is ‘in one kind only’ i.e. bread but not wine.
It’s unclear what the future months will look like as we await more guidelines, but we ask for your patience and understanding at this time. Meanwhile, let’s continue to read our Bibles and pray – asking the Lord to make his church healthier as a result of this lockdown, which has tested our faith but not robbed us of hope in the risen Christ!