Reopening: A Summary of Denominational Advice & A Better Suggestion …

Posted on June 12, 2020 by Julian Smith

Real effort has been put into the General Assembly’s and the London District’s (LDPA’s) own guidance on this subject. Having two sets of advice and the GA’s advice covering only England, however, is a needless duplication of effort and unhelpful, and there are other problems. What each recommends in general terms, which ought to have been the main purpose of these documents, is not readily apparant. Existing and likely government / official scientific advice is second-guessed with no weighing exercise of our own carried out in relation to the impact on our worshippers of remaining closed for more extended periods to in-person worship . The benefits of virtual worship and equality in access to worship are overplayed. The view that unless everyone can attend in-person, no-one should so attend is a policy which would have closed all our places of worship long before the advent of Covid-19 and would, in theory, keep us closed indefinitely. On this shaky and misconceived basis our congregations are discouraged from making the most of the easing of lockdown and to drag their feet, with the LDPA adopting Brixton’s advice to our hall user groups that they should not revisit reopening until September.

Brixton’s advice to its hall user groups was based on the size of our hall and the need to maintain social distancing and implement detailed health and safety measures, which made it impracticable for the tea dance and martial arts and undesirable for our large church groups. What we also advised our groups, however, is that we as a small church somewhat in the quietest tradition would be experimenting with reopening as it developed so as to be best placed for each further stage and final full reopening, which experience would also inform our advice to them going forward. The first thing we did was to obtain the HSE template for the re-opening of a small business, paper towels, disposable face masks, 5l of hand sanitiser, several dispensers, and as soon as one-to-one meet-ups out of doors were allowed, we began meeting-up in-person with members and friends of the congregation. Our suspicion that such meet-ups were necessary was quickly confirmed. Those seemingly best placed in our community to weather this storm included some of of us finding it the most difficult. All volunteered they had enjoyed the visit and would appreciate others until we were opened properly again. This experience was communicated widely by us, as was the need to make the most of getting together in groups of up to six outdoors and of further easing. Indeed, Andrew and I look forward to a friend of the congregation staying the night this evening. Sadly, such pastorally sound advice based in in the field experience, runs counter to the GA’s and LDPA’s second-guessing of Government / official scientific advice generally, and is clearly perceived to place potential undue pressure on pastoral leaders, who are seen to have been unduly busy due to Zoom etc and to have somehow been on the front-line and to such an extent as to potentially need further breaks. I’d like to think our pastoral leaders are better than that and they’ll be around NOW to lead us out of lockdown ASAP and into the ‘new normal’, making the most of meet-ups etc and the opening of our places of worship for private prayer on 15th June. Private prayer within our congregational worship has a long and valued history, and the importance of being able to pray privately in our places of worship should not be underestimated. These are our hallowed grounds, sanctuaries and shrines, and those opening them invariably beloved characters central to each of the spiritual communities to which we belong and greatly miss in most cases.

For those in the LDPA, the LDPA guidance gives useful additional advice on re-opening to that provided by the HSE as above. For us all the GA even offers assistance with a bespoke risk assessment. Lets put these practical solutions to full worship and pastoral service ASAP and in so doing get better behind our true front line, which is our members and friends in the NHS etc and our many more stay at home heroes. There is no church but there. Amen.