The Church Council (PCC) met on Tuesday 20th July to discuss the response to the Government’s removal of legal enforcement of certain Covid-safety measures. It had the Church of England central guidelines available and a draft briefing paper from the Rector.
These are the main decisions which the Rector and PCC have agreed upon.
Congregations are requested to continue to wear facemasks in public church services. This is in line with many other public buildings. Facemasks may not be required for visitors accessing private prayer outside the time of services, or those working alone in the church, or in small informal groups where the group agrees to dispense with them.
Congregational singing will be resumed from 1st August, in the first instance with facemasks being worn. The wearing of facemasks whilst singing has been shown to make a significant reduction in aerosol production. To begin with, we will sing hymns only, not the other prayers within the Communion service, starting with 2 hymns only and adding more later in the year. With regard to the use of hymnbooks, a protocol will be put in place to give clear assurance that there is a low-risk approach to this.
We will retain the current spacing and closure of pews, such that half of the pews generally are out of use, in order to ensure, as we resume singing, that there is a distance of 1 -2 metres between rows of occupied pews. From 1st August there will be no longer any restrictions on the number of people on a pew, with the important proviso that people will be able to request that seats adjacent to theirs be kept empty. Polite seat notices will be provided if required for this purpose.
Social distancing generally
There will be no attempt to enforce this, but an expectation that people will naturally respect and negotiate informally preference between themselves.
To avoid difficulties and respect needs, it is planned that the Peace remains non-contact for the time being.
Although the use of the common shared cup is no longer banned the current plan at All Saints is not yet to offer it, on the basis that we would not wish to cause worshippers to feel they should use it against their better judgement, nor would we want to appear to be careless of safety considerations in what is a life-giving sacrament.
It is our plan to re-introduce the option of a safely-intincted wafer; that is a wafer dipped by the priest into a chalice of consecrated wine from which no one has consumed. This will start to be offered in late August.
Communion will continue to be received standing and kneeling at the communion rail is not yet to be re-introduced.
Hand sanitiser continues to be available at the door of the church and inside the church for use by the congregation and also on the platform for use by the ministers and others handling objects others may also touch. There will continue to be a strong emphasis in messaging on doing this
The use of separate lecterns will be dispensed with from 25th July but there is a request for readers to sanitise their hands before approaching the lectern.
Areas of the church will no longer be roped off outside the times of the services.
Cleaning is reduced to door handles and key touchpoints only, (not every pew) once a day and on Sunday after each service only (dispensing with the 2pm clean on Sundays), except following notification of a suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19 in the building when closing for 3 days may be a preferable option.
Coffee in The Cornerstone after the Parish Communion service
There are no immediate plans to re-introduce this. It will be reviewed when Covid rates are seen to be declining.
Live-streaming the Parish Communion and other services.
For the foreseeable future, the live-streaming of Parish Communion services to our YouTube channel will continue
PCC plans to give thought to how live-streaming can become more purposeful as a means of reaching people not currently engaging with worship in church. This could include:
– providing more information and “marketing” of the existence of the livestream
– enhancing the experience of the livestream through showing some of the congregation (with permission) such as when singing, having the words of bible readings more readily accessible; finding a way to provide live captioning if possible, finding a way to interact with live viewers during the broadcast.
Use livestreaming for other services. The PCC has a grant application to the Diocese for funding of a camera set-up which could be used in services where the current tech team is not available
The background to the discussion.
The following information was noted.
From 19th July the Government has removed all legal enforcements of Covid-related restrictions on events and public and social gatherings, including church services.
Nonetheless, there are strong recommendations to continue to use practices, such as facemasks and social distancing, which mitigate against the transmission of coronavirus where required, such as in enclosed indoor spaces and spaces which cannot be well-ventilated and to avoid close contact where not necessary.
All Saints Parish Church is a large space but not readily ventilated whilst events are taking place because of the noise from traffic if doors are left open, although the heating system can be used to move air through the building. There are a number of pinch points eg the porch and vestry entrances, and the clergy vestry is a confined working space. Cases of the Delta variant of coronavirus are rising in our area at this time. There have been no deaths in Wokingham Borough attributed to Covid-19 since 21st May. Our parish is an area that has a percentage of the adult population double-vaccinated ranging between 62% and 66%. compared to an England average of 67%
Central guidance from the Church of England now places the responsibility on parishes to manage the risk in our local context, whilst listening to the concerns of the vulnerable in our communities. The guidance also states the following:
“Vaccination cannot be the sole means of containing the spread of the virus: hand and respiratory hygiene, social distancing, face-coverings and good ventilation are also important factors in lessening the spread of the disease. While these are not mandatory after 19th July, they are still important public health mitigations and ought to be recognised as such when planning public worship and other church activities.”
The main principles guiding the PCC’s discussion were safety, ensuring church services remain safe events; and inclusion, both of those with particular concerns about the risk of infection, and also of those who want to see the missing elements of our worship, such as congregational singing, restored if possible. The PCC also recommended a step-by-step approach going forward.
We stress that no one should feel under any religious or spiritual obligation of duty, or loyalty to the church or the clergy, to attend services whilst the situation remains as it is; but each must do what they feel comfortable about. If you do choose to attend a Communion service, nevertheless you should feel under no obligation physically to receive communion during the pandemic.
The Rev Canon David Hodgson