Brixton Reopening so far, on 4th July, and thereafter God willing …

Posted on June 29, 2020 by Julian Smith

Churches have had a relatively good idea for some time of what reopening might involve and look like. So quite early on in lockdown we carried out an HSE and otherwise informed risk assessment, concluded that we could reopen in a safe (it would be far less risky than a visit to a supermarket, and possibly a walk-out in Central London!) and worthwhile way for all but those self-shielding on a nine a time rota based on 2m social distancing, drew-up the plan, and obtained lots of surface cleanser, cloths, hand-sanitiser, paper towels, masks and repositories. Accordingly, we were to all intents and purposes all set when the government announced places of worship ought to be able to reopen from 4th July for public worship, and more recently for private prayer from 21st June.

We decided to open on the 21st June because the demand was there, and the better to prepare for public worship on the 4th July which government had confirmed would be allowed. It was a happy occasion, with us all feeling safe and uplifted. Yesterday was similarly joyous, with our even being able to fit-in an unannounced visitor once their details had been entered in our log of attenders for each service. On both Sundays I stood by the chapel gate on Effra Road in my old Geneva gown greeting neighbours and other passers by. This was a very pleasant experience, with my having lots of overdue and other interesting conversations. A number of locals have said they’ll be booking to join our attenders rota in due course and I expect they will, including a lady who works in Waitrose in relatively far away Canary Wharf most Sundays, who was particularly delighted to see us reopened as early as possible and reported she needed to come to chapel on her next Sunday off due soon.

Yesterday was a bit full-on for those of us responsible for delivering Sunday services in all their different aspects. We had a two hour brainstorming session after the private prayers opening, with us all taking each one of us through our duties so as to apply the plan and anticipate different scenarios – an effective lesson I learned in the army. But we’re now confident we’re ready for next Sunday and we are greatly looking forward to it. After the service I hope to be outside, under the porch if its raining, distributing cartons of lemon tea or iced coffee with hand sanitiser etc to hand, and catching up with those leaving and ensuring social distancing is maintained the same way as inside the chapel. I’m pleased to say that these arrangements more than satisfy the guidance from government hot off the press insofar as I can see, save maybe for a slight tweak here and there which I will share with the Sunday team as need be.

Given the success of our two Sundays of private prayer, I anticipate a memorable Sunday on 5th July which will help us all – especially those who have been on the frontline in various ways – to refresh, heal and get renewed resilience, so as to be able to move forward cautiously, but optimistically, building on our personal insights gained, and open to all the good things the ‘new normal’ will bring. I am particularly keen to see again Deborah Maynard, the lead GP at Waterloo Health Centre, who lives nearby and who has been incredibly busy as you might imagine, and Alison Cottee who has been working overtime on the till at the Co-op throughout the lockdown to cover for self shielding colleagues. I also hope we’ll be joined by our in-house Phd (Nott’m) virologist, Richard Malaure, and in-house MSt (Harvard) epidemiologist, Alexander Gordon who have inputted the chapel’s discussions on the when and how of what we’re doing to reopen, guided by what’s in the best interests of the congregation as a whole, all things considered. I am particularly moved by the support we have received from those self-isolating who, while not being able to join us themselves as yet, are keen that the chapel should be meeting for in-person worship and be seen to be so, after all our community has gone through. This is made possible by our Chairman Andrew, Administrator Sue and the best Warden any church could have, Stephen. Bless them all. These are all up there with Debbie and Alison and our other personal heroes who have emerged during this pandemic WHICH CONTINUES and which, I pray, we will ameliorate as effectively as we have done to-date going forward. Our Brixton Legal Centre has remained open via e-mail throughout the pandemic; the new roofs on the hall, administration block and porch go on in August; and when I’m overseas in September and up North in October we are scheduled to have services covered in-house by Bruce and by visiting preachers once again. My thanks to all those involved in maintaining our adventure in faith, witness and ever upward march into the future; I love you all – I truly do!