Our guidance for the next stage of the pandemic

As most people know, there are big changes to COVID-19 restrictions from Monday 19 July. So we need to let people in our congregation and our parish know how we’re going to respond to this, and what they should expect when they come to our church building.

The main thing to say is that we’re intending to keep things the way they currently are at St Paul’s. We’re going to continue asking people to register in advance, keep socially distant, sanitise and wear face masks.

We’re doing this, despite restrictions being relaxed, because we need to look out for, care for and include everyone in the congregation. And that includes the people who are clinically extremely vulnerable, chronically ill or vulnerable in other ways.

Many of these people are worried about all restrictions being lifted for a number of reasons, not least because we can see the COVID case numbers rising rapidly. And although hospitalisations and deaths are not going up at the same rate, they are still going up. In our borough, the Royal London Hospital reopened its COVID intensive care unit last Thursday after seeing the number of patients almost triple in two weeks.

So we can’t afford to be complacent. As a church we have a duty of care towards our more vulnerable members, not just because we want to be loving and caring brothers and sisters, but because the gospel of Christ compels us. We can’t say we are an inclusive church and then exclude some people just because we want everything to go back to how it was before. We really do want to return to normal, but it’s not the time yet.

Some people have asked about singing, and we do think that’s OK if you sing with your mask on. We’ve previously asked people not to sing because it was not in line with official guidance. But we do think it’s possible to sing with consideration to our sisters and brothers around us. Our voices might be muffled, but we can still make a joyful noise to God.

All of this is in line with the Church of England guidance that was issued late last week. The Church is aware of the difficulties in relaxing restrictions, and although they have handed responsibility for decisions to local vicars and churches, they have urged caution. The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, said in a statement that:

“Taking personal responsibility means responsibility for our neighbour, not just for ourselves, and taking precautions to protect those more vulnerable than we consider ourselves to be. Local church leaders know their communities and their own circumstances, and we will support them making local decisions to keep themselves and their community safe.”

In an email to clergy and church leaders, Bishop Sarah also referred to a very helpful guide put together by U Belong, which outlines useful practical tips for making in-person worship accessible and safe for those who are vulnerable. It’s worth a read.

At St Paul’s, we’ll continue with these practices throughout the summer until September, when we’ll have another look at the COVID situation and after a month or so speaking with people in the congregation.

So please feel free to speak to us about this, particularly if you’ve still got concerns and are worried about your health. Or even if you’re unhappy about what we’re doing. Please do talk to us about it! (you can email the church wardens at hello@stpauloldford.com ) But we hope that everyone can understand why we’re doing what we’re doing and that it is out of love and care and a concern that as many people as possible can be included in our worship here.

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