Posted by Chris Mason on 1st July 2020
We are really excited about all the good things that have been happening during this very different 2020. We have always talked about the church being more than a meeting in a building but never expected God would show us the true beauty of that in the middle of a global pandemic. We’ve been gathering online for our Sundays, our Oak Communities and prayer gatherings as well as board game night, meals with one another over zoom and many other inventive ways of connecting with one another during this time - and these have been good!
We are also really excited because the UK Government has begun to release guidance as to how churches might begin to gather in person again in the coming months. Gathering together, online or in-person, is a significant part of what it means to be the church, so this guidance marks the start of a road map not back to what was but into a new season that benefits from the lessons we’ve learned and the good things of online gathering as a part of what it means to be the church in the 2020s.
We thought it would be helpful to share with you our thoughts on the steps we might make in the coming months as lockdown restrictions ease. These steps will be informed by government guidance but also by what we see as the right step for our church and the wider community. We have many vulnerable and shielding members of our church family and have a role in leading our wider community, so our steps will be measured enabling us to care for and protect our most vulnerable; outworking our church values of compassion, family and hospitality.
Throughout the following steps, our Sunday gatherings will continue to be streamed online with increasing gatherings of people enjoying them together across our cities. We have had many guests joining with us over this season and have found that members of our church family who had struggled to be part of Sundays over the past few years for health, work or other reasons have been able to connect again. We will continue to stream our gatherings online throughout this season and into the next – online is now a vital part of what it means for us to reach out and to be the church.
Also, let's remember that the Church is so much more than coming together. We are sent out to be in the places God has called us to be in, to love others and to share the Good News of Jesus. Yes it’s important we come together, but let's not miss the opportunities we have right now and moving forward to bring hope and light across our cities.
So, here are the three steps we will be taking, aware that government guidelines may require us to adapt them or to step back to a previous step.
Step one - Gathering in homes for online gatherings
Our building remains closed and we continue to gather in homes for our online gathering on a Sunday. During this season we are being served by a wonderful team who are making it possible for us to gather in our homes to worship together using the online streaming of our gathering.
From 4th July, the British government will allow up to two households, if they wish, to join together inside (physically distanced and without singing) to enjoy our online gathering together. We are also allowed to gather up to 6 people (more than 6 people if they are from only two households) outside in gardens and public spaces. The physical distancing guidance and the challenge of not being able to sing together does make this difficult especially for our online Sunday gatherings.
Our Life Groups have continued to meet during this season using Zoom and other platforms. This may be a good time, where you feel comfortable, to begin gathering in gardens or public spaces (or homes if there are only two households in the group) to share life with one another.
We are also permitted to gather in our building if we are able. Whilst it is exciting to be able to do this; our particular building, our congregation demographic, the place of corporate sung worship and hospitality in our life together, and our desire to be open to the public for our Sunday Gatherings make the outworking of them challenging. We will continue to live stream our main Sunday Gathering but begin to gather for other events like Fuel as we are safely able to over the coming months. We will also begin to establish a broadcast venue from our building enabling more of our teams to be involved in our Sunday gatherings.
We would also encourage the social gathering of the church, following government guidelines, to see each other and share life with one another. Our church is much more than a Sunday meeting, this is the season to enjoy all that we are!
Decisions on how and when other gatherings of our church, like Connect lunch, Coffee & Chaos and Foodbank, will begin to operate publicly again will be taken in the coming weeks. Please continue to pray for our communities and for leaders as they take advice on the best ways forward.
7:7 Prayer will continue online and our Fuel Gathering in July will also be online.
We understand this may be frustrating, particularly as other churches may begin to gather publicly again. Please remember that each church will make the best decision they can for their church family. We love you and we love gathering together but, in these turbulent times, we need to honour our government’s guidelines and love one another well by caring for one another - sometimes by keeping our distance. God is not limited by our lack of physical proximity - He is everywhere and has been growing his church all across the world in these times.
Step two - Gathering in Oak Communities for online gatherings
It is so hard to say what the next steps will be and the direction the government will move forward. We are hopeful that some sort of small groups gathering together will be possible, either with or without physical distancing. If this is the case, we’ll look to gather our Oak Communities, where possible, to join our online gathering together on a Sunday. One of the biggest challenges to our church, along with thousands of churches across our nation, is the challenge of singing together, and until there is more clarity from the government on this, it could make things difficult to all be in one place for a Sunday gathering.
We are also mindful of our children. We want to make sure our gatherings are safe for them and easy for them to follow the guidance too. We have been thrilled by the wonderful community that has been built in our Oak Communities over this time making them the ideal next step in gathering together safely, wisely and with compassion for one another.
Step three - Gathering together for live Sunday gatherings
At some point in the future, we will be able to gather together in person for live gatherings whilst continuing to stream online for those who are unable to join us in person. We do not know when this will be, but cannot wait for the day! However, we also want to honour our many leaders across the church who have stepped up in this season. We may not move as fast as you’d like as we take time to give them rest over the coming months.
So, for now, we are on step one with the hope we'll move to step two over the coming months.
We do hope you hear our heart. We want to stay cautious, but full of faith, gentle and full of wisdom. We want to be compassionate and kind, passionate and zealous - we are a family.
One of our values as a Church is to enjoy life as family. As a family, we need to care for one another. If you have a new persistent cough, a temperature or any symptoms of COVID-19, please do not attend any gatherings of The Oak Church. Please let us know through the 7:7 Facebook group or by leaving a message on the office answerphone (07308 110068) so we can pray for and care for you.
Please also be mindful of physical distancing and the need to hold back on hugs and laying of hands until permitted to do so by the UK Government.
For more information on the guidance we are following from the govenment, please click here.
A couple of helpful pointers from the guidance:
From 4 July, gatherings of more than 30 people will be permitted but only in certain public places as set out in law. This will include places of worship and their surrounding premises. There are however activities where it is advisable to restrict numbers to 30 within a place of worship for public health reasons.
Whilst engaging in an activity in the place of worship or surrounding grounds, all parties should adhere to social distancing guidelines. From 4 July, 2 metres or 1 metre with risk mitigation (where 2 metres is not viable) between households are acceptable.
Restrictions on capacity
Limits for communal worship should be decided locally on the basis of the capacity of the place of worship following a risk assessment. The number of people permitted to enter the place of worship at any one time should be limited, so that a safe distance of at least 2 metres, or 1 metre with risk mitigation (where 2 metres is not viable) between households.
- The size and circumstance (including ventilation) of the premises will determine the maximum number of people that can be accommodated whilst also facilitating social distancing; this may therefore be lower than the maximum 30 people who can attend life-cycle events such as weddings.
- The safe number of people should be decided by the venue manager.
- In defining the number of people that can reasonably follow social distancing, the total floorspace as well as likely pinch points and busy areas should be taken into account (such as entrances, exits) and where possible alternative or one-way routes introduced.
Singing, chanting and the use of musical instruments
- People should avoid singing, shouting, raising voices and/or playing music at a volume that makes normal conversation difficult or that may encourage shouting. This is because of the potential for increased risk of transmission from aerosol and droplets.
- Activities such as singing, chanting, shouting and/or playing of instruments that are blown into should be specifically avoided in worship or devotions and in rehearsals. This is because there is a possible additional risk of infection in environments where individuals are singing or chanting as a group, and this applies even if social distancing is being observed or face coverings are used.
- You are advised only to play musical instruments that are not blown into. Organs can be played for faith practices, as well as general maintenance, but should be cleaned thoroughly before and after use.
The government and the medical and scientific communities are urgently engaged in research around transmission risk and how such activities can best be managed safely, and further guidance will follow when available.
Young people and children attending places of worship
- Young children should be supervised by the parent or guardian. They should wash hands thoroughly for 20 seconds with running water and soap and dry them thoroughly or use hand sanitiser ensuring that all parts of the hands are covered. Places of worship can help remind children and young people, and their parents and guardians, of the important actions they should take during the COVID-19 outbreak to help prevent the spread of the virus.
- Any shared facilities for children, such as play corners, soft furnishings, soft toys and toys that are hard to clean, should be removed and/or put out of use.
It is recommended that, where possible, places of worship continue to stream worship or other events to avoid large gatherings and to continue to reach those individuals who are self-isolating or particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
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