Post lockdown gatherings

I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’

Introduction 

Under new government guidelines, we are now permitted to meet together as a church subject to adopting “COVID secure” measures and so we have been meeting on Sunday mornings and evenings since 12th July 2020.

If you are new to the church and you want to join one of our physical meetings use this button:

Why are we encouraging in-person meetings

We depend on the full cooperation of the congregation for these new practices as we meet together again.

We have permission to meet, but it could be asked, why do we want to take this opportunity when there are still limitations (e.g limited numbers, social distancing and no singing for the time being). These are some of the reasons:

We recognise and totally understand that there are practical, health and family reasons why some of you have not been able to meet in person with us. However, we still firmly believe as leaders that meeting together in person has great spiritual benefits for us, even with the limitations of having to wear masks and there being no congregational singing. These include:

Fellowship: there is the opportunity to be physically present with our brothers and sisters as we queue, walk in, sit together and can enjoy conversations (at a distance) and then listening to God’s word together in the presence of each other. We are of course also free to meet up immediately after church with people. Online church can mean that you are less accountable to others because no one is physically there to see how you are getting on and help you in the spiritual battle.

Engagement: the full experience of seeing each other and the service leaders and preacher rather than the 2-dimensional experience of watching on a screen where there are more opportunities for distraction, multi-tasking and loss of concentration. There is also the danger that you might want to “tick the box” of worship later in the day after you have done something which seems more pressing or attractive.

Witness: by being known and seen as giving a priority of meeting, we are testifying to the importance of the gathering of the church in a context where schools, shops, pubs, restaurants and cinemas are also permitted to open.

Encouragement: our meetings provide an anticipation of what we will experience when lockdown restrictions are fully lifted which is an encouragement to those in the meeting, but also to those who for the time being cannot meet. They can at least witness the congregation meeting as they watch the livestream.

Developing good habits: person to person Sunday gathering of adults and children built over generations is a good habit and tradition. Clearly the writer of Hebrews did not have the online option but nonetheless it is reasonable to assume being in person with the full range of experience is what he had in mind when he encourages them to “not [give] up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

It is also true that the preachers are encouraged by having some people in the room, and it probably gives a better experience for those watching online.

These are some of the reasons why we broadcast live, not pre-recorded, which encourages us to all gather at the same time if we can. We also have worked very hard to make the online experience as good as it can be, and even more so since we returned to meeting in person. It is encouraging to hear of positive ways some of you are watching and singing along.

We want everyone to feel safe, for no one to feel left out. We also want to witness to the wider community that they feel respected, safe and welcome.

If you are not able to meet with us for health reasons or your own assessment of risk we will greatly miss you being with us but want to assure you that you are still very much part of the church family here. We are still brothers and sisters in unity and the Lord Jesus Christ is present in his church. We will still be sharing fellowship in listening to his word, praying and praising him and encouraging one another. As we return to WPPA we will do our best to maintain the high quality of livestream experience that we have been able to deliver up to now, so that we can all continue to feel included.

Why return to Warden Park?

We realise there will be extra work in returning to WPPA and there will be no control about who else has used the building. But as leaders, we believe these are outweighed by these benefits:

More adults: going to Warden Park would allow us more space for our main meetings: we can probably get at least another 50 people in. Normally, we are over-subscribed each week for meeting in our own building.

More children: at the moment our Sunday children’s work is limited by the space we have available. At WPPA we would be allowed all the classrooms we previously used for running children’s groups concurrently with the morning service. 

Giving a commitment to WPPA also ensures that a good ongoing relationship with them. 

Risk Reduction

We cannot eliminate all risks but in order to maximise the safety of the congregation and minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmission as much as reasonably possible, Christ Church Haywards Heath has put in place the following changes and procedures. Overall there are three main pillars for keeping us all safe:

  • Minimising the possibility of those with the virus attending our service.
  • Minimising the possibility of anyone with the virus passing it on to anyone else in the service by social distancing.
  • Minimising the possibility of anyone with the virus passing it on to anyone else in the service by strict hygiene and cleaning processes.

We are grateful to Richard Allan one of our members for his expert assistance in compiling the risk assessment.

Attending a Sunday morning gathering at Warden Park Primary Academy

This is a description of the whole process from initial information and booking through to the exit from the building

Before the meeting 

The building will have been cleaned by WPPA and left unoccupied since Saturday afternoon. However we will wipe all the main surfaces likely to be touched by anyone entering or leaving the building. The children’s groups will have their pre and post-meeting routines.

Attendees will need to book online. We will offer places until all the allocated spaces have been taken (approx 120). 

The booking process will be on the basis that you agree to to follow the guidelines and any instructions, in particular:

  • Anybody, or anybody in the household of a person, who has tested positive for COVID-19 or is showing any of the following symptoms will be told they cannot enter the church building and must self-isolate for 10 days according to government guidelines and follow test and trace procedures after the appearance of these symptoms: a new, persistent cough, a high temperature, a change in sense of taste or smell.
  • Some people, including those aged 70 and over, those with certain underlying conditions and pregnant women, are clinically vulnerable, meaning they may be at higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus. The government advice is that this group should continue to take particular care to minimise contact with others outside their household. 
  • Those with the following health conditions are advised not to attend our meetings in person and will instead be encouraged to watch the service live stream: type II diabetes, ischemic heart disease, severe respiratory diseases, and anyone receiving treatments for cancer or other diseases, that have an immunosuppressant effect.

Attendees will be given a designated time to arrive, in order to ease the queuing process. 

Disposable gloves are not required for attendance, but attendees should feel free to wear them if they wish to. In accordance with the Government guidance, face coverings are required in places of worship. However, children under the age of 11 and people who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability are exempt from this requirement. Exemptions also include employees (or a person acting on their behalf) such as someone leading a prayer or service. In light of this, the service leader and preacher will remove their face covering while they are speaking during the service to ensure what is said remains audible especially for those hard of hearing.

In order to fulfil our obligations we will need to keep a record of all attendees. These will be kept in accordance with our privacy policy. We will also be showing short burst video images of the congregation at various times during the service as part of our livestream and these will be shown on our website and social media channels.

On arrival

We encourage people to walk to the meeting where possible but there will be parking available in the school rear playground (morning) and front playground (evening). We also advise people to bring their own drinks if necessary as we are unable to provide refreshments at this time.

Entry for the majority of us will be at one point – the main school entrance.

However, prior to going to the entrance, on a “normal service” week, families will need to drop off their children (with the exception of crèche) at the door to the classrooms for their groups and then proceed to the main entrance. Crèche children can be taken to creche at a convenient point during the service. Children will remain in their group meeting rooms for the duration of the service. The exception to this will be All Age services when the children are in with their parents for the duration. (Crèche will run every week).

We ask attendees to queue for entry, keeping 2m from other households. A steward will be at the entrance and will ask those attending to confirm that they are not displaying any symptoms of Covid-19 or in a household of anyone who has symptoms or is awaiting a test result. A steward will also check off the register to record who has entered the building. 

Immediately upon entering the building through the main front doors, attendees will need to clean their hands with antibacterial gel, provided in dispensers, and monitored by the steward on the door. 

Attendees will not be permitted further into the building without sanitising their hands in this way. 

All doors will be wedged open so that they need not be touched. If anybody touches a surface, a steward will wipe the surface with disinfectant as soon as is reasonably possible. Congregating in multi-household groups will not be permitted. 

With the exception of needing the toilet or other emergencies, there will be a one way system in operation. Normal fire and evacuation procedures will apply in the event of an emergency including the use of all available exits

No objects such as books, Bibles, bulletins or other papers will be handed out. Attendees will have been reminded to bring their own Bibles and other necessary items.

Attendees will enter the main school hall and be allocated seats with their own households (or household bubble) and will maintain a distance of at least 2m from all other households at all times. Chairs will be in rows, with a 2m distance between each row, and attendees not sitting closer than 1.5m to attendees next to them from another household. (2 chairs gap)

During the service

Speakers will maintain approximately 2m distance from each other. There will be a 3m gap between the speakers and the first row of chairs. Each speaker will use separate audio equipment. There will be no singing from the front or from the congregation. Speakers will avoid shouting. The service, where possible, will be kept to a maximum of 60 minutes. 

If, during the service, a visitor, volunteer or speaker shows symptoms of COVID-19 they will be immediately asked to leave by a steward or the service leader.

Attendees will be discouraged from using the toilet facilities during the meeting, however if they need to do so, attendees will maintain 2m distance whilst entering the toilet corridor, with only one visitor/household in a cubicle at any time (unless taking a child). After using the facilities, users will wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water, drying their hands with a disposable towel and placing this in an open bin. Users will then clean any surfaces touched with disinfectant wipes, including toilet seats, flush handle, taps, light switches and door handles. These wipes will be disposed of in open bins upon leaving the toilet corridor. Children under the age of 11 will be accompanied to the toilets by a parent/carer. 

Communion

As part of our service on the first Sunday of every month we will take communion. We will encourage people to bring their own bread and juice for use by those in their household. 

Bread and wine will not be shared in any way outside of households. Any rubbish or the cups used by individuals will be taken home with them and disposed of there.

There will be some bread and wine available for those who would like to take communion but have forgotten. This will be in separated small cubes of bread and juice in individual cups available as people arrive. People will have moments before sanitising their hands on entry and so the risk of passing on infection by picking up the bread are very low.

This bread will be prepared beforehand with the person doing so washing their hands then wearing gloves to cut the bread. Once the bread has been cut and laid out, it will not be touched by anyone apart from the individual who will then take it.

We will make available small cups for people to use who are bringing their own juice if they wish.

The leader will conduct the service from the front in the normal way but will not share the bread and the cup. The leader will seek to maintain the 3m distance from the front row.

The leader will also arrange his own bread and cup and wash them up afterwards.

People will remain seated throughout the communion service and only the leader will speak.

After the service

Crèche children will be collected during the last song and return to their families ready for departure with the rest of the congregation.

Attendees will remain seated until told to leave by a steward or the service leader. Stewards will ask people to leave one household at a time, through the rear door in order to maintain the one-way system and then turn right to enter the rear playground and return to their cars or exit the site via the playground.  A distance of at least 2m is to be kept between different households at all times, with 2m distances marked out on the floor surrounding the exit. Attendees will be asked to abide by the current rules for gathering inside or outside, including the car park, the exit passageway or immediately outside on the pavement, and to take care to maintain 2m social distancing at all times.

On a “normal service” week, parents/carers will collect their children (with the exception of crèche) at the door of the classrooms after they have exited by the rear of door into the car park.

Wheelchair users will be assisted to exit the building via the main entrance, which has step free access. 

No refreshments will be served at any point, and groups will not be allowed to gather within the building and will be encouraged to move away from the building  in permitted groups under the current regulations for outside.

Any surfaces touched, and the toilet areas will be thoroughly cleaned after the service. 

Sunday evening meetings

We will also invite people to attended the morning service to attend an evening service provided that they all adhere to the same hygiene and social distancing measures and sit on precisely the same seats that their households used in the morning meeting. This will avoid the necessity for deep cleaning between these two meetings.

Conclusion

As we have recently been learning in 1 Peter we want to “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor”. (1 Peter 2:17) 

We realise these restrictions may feel burdensome, legalistic or unnecessary but this is part of our honouring the authorities and loving one another. We do not ultimately fear the virus or trust in our strategies but we fear God and trust him to provide and protect. 

Please note that we have compiled the risk assessments and this guidance based on government guidance and the interpretations used by the FIEC, The Church of England and the Baptist Union.

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