Covid-19 – Returning to Church and Staying Safe

A letter from Mother Anna and the PCC, 1 September 2020

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
My soul has a desire and longing to enter the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.
The sparrow has found her a house
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young:
at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.               Psalm 84.1-3

These words from Psalm 84 have been very poignant during the Covid-19 lockdown – our church doors have been locked and we have been unable to enter the courts of the Lord, no matter how much our souls have longed. Now, at last, we are getting ready to return to God’s house. St Aldhelm’s re-opens on Sunday 6 September.

But Covid-19 is still with us, and, like the sparrow and the swallow in the psalm, we need to feel safe in God’s house. So we need to make some changes.

Mother Anna, the Standing Committee and the PCC have looked at advice from the government and the Church of England about how to minimise the risk of spreading coronavirus. They have done detailed risk assessments and made plans about how we will gather and worship, what we will and won’t do during services, and how we can organise and use our building, so as to make sure that we keep risks to a minimum while we worship God together.

Church is going to be different. There will be a maximum number of people at each service and we will have to be socially distanced – you won’t be able to sit in your favourite place, but will be told where to sit, so that we can keep people safely apart. The services will be quiet – no singing, no raised voices – and shorter than usual.  You won’t come up to the altar rail for Communion, but the bread – no wine – will be brought to you in your seat. You will be asked to sanitise your hands as you come in and go out and to wear a face covering.

You might need to queue outside church before the service and we might ask for your name and contact details for the NHS Test and Trace service. Sharing things is risky, so we will provide single-use service sheets –take them home or drop them in the bin on the way out – and we won’t have toys or books for children. There will be no collection plate, but instead a box or basket as you go out for your kind donations. The toilet will be available, but if possible try to avoid using it.

Perhaps the hardest thing about Covid church is that we will have to cut out the social contact which is such an important part of our worship. No handshakes or hugs, no tea and coffee afterwards, no staying to talk to friends and neighbours – right now, loving our neighbour means keeping a safe distance, so we will all need to leave as soon as the service is over.

It may be that even with all of these safeguards in place the best thing for you is to stay at home. Government guidance is still that people who might be particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 should avoid large gatherings including church services. It’s your decision – if you choose to come to church we will welcome you, but if you still feel you can’t we will respect that choice.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is not what any of us would choose. Some of us might wish that we were not doing any of these things, others might still not feel safe even with these precautions. We are making the best decisions we can in the circumstances and praying for better days to come.

We look forward with joy to our return to church – safe, socially distanced, but praising God.

Covid-safe church – what to expect

What do you need to know before you go to Church?

  • Wearing a facemask is compulsory (unless you are exempt)
  • However, the priest does not need to wear a face mask
  • The toilet is available – but please only use it if you have to
  • There will be no refreshments available – you might want to bring water with you
  • Numbers will be limited – if we get more than 50 people, late comers may be turned away
  • The service will be shorter than usual, with only one reading and some parts omitted
  • Please bring hand sanitiser and face covering for your own use if you can, though we will have some available for people who forget

Arriving at church

  • Please enter via the usual Windmill Road entrance, unless you can’t use the steps – the step-free door on Silver Street will be open for those who need it
  • You might have to queue outside church – please stay 2 metres apart if so
  • We may take your name and contact details for Track and Trace purposes
  • You will be asked to sanitise your hands when you enter
  • You will be shown to your seat by an usher – you won’t be able to choose your own seat
  • You will only be able to sit next to people you live with or who are in your ‘bubble’.
  • There will be a service sheet on your seat

During the service

  • Please stay in your place throughout the service – children too.
  • There will be no singing
  • Please don’t raise your voice – join in with responses quietly
  • The peace will be done by sign language with no moving around to greet people
  • Communion – great care will be taken to ensure the communion bread cannot be contaminated. Mthr Anna will set the communion up alone, the ciborium will be covered when she consecrates the bread and she will sanitise her hands frequently during the service
  • Communion – just bread, no wine – will be brought to you at your seat. Mthr Anna will be wearing a facemask during the distribution and will not say anything. The wafer will be dropped into your hands

 After the service

  • There will be no refreshments
  • Please socially distance yourselves as you leave, using both exits
  • There will be a collection plate/basket for your gifts as you leave
  • Please move away from the doors as you get outside
  • Current rules say that groups of up to six people can socialise outside so you can chat to friends in small groups – but please do it away from the church doors and don’t obstruct the pavements
  • Continue to pray for our church, our parish and the safety of everyone who is part of our community

There may be other changes as government guidance changes – please rest assured that Mthr Anna and the PCC are doing everything they can to keep our church safe.