Notices, 29 November 2020

Notices, 29 November 2020

Here are the latest notices and relevant information for the Benefice.

Kent moving into Tier 3 after lockdown – impact on services

Following the Government announcements this week, we now know that lockdown will be coming to an end on the 2nd of December and Kent will move into Tier 3 until (at least) December the 16th. At the time of writing, we are still waiting for Church of England official interpretations of this guidance, but based on the Government’s Winter Plan we are able to say that churches in Tier 3 can open but people cannot interact with anyone outside their household or ‘support bubble’. What this means in practice is that we can host church services but worshippers must leave immediately afterwards and not interact with other households inside the building. You can speak with friends from other households (in groups of no more than six) when outside in the Churchyard.

Christenings, Weddings and Funerals can take place. Attendance at Christenings or Weddings is limited to 15 people and at Funerals, 30 people are allowed to attend. Wedding receptions are not permitted in Tier 3.

So services of Public Worship will resume in church on Sunday the 6th of December in both Offham and West Malling. The first Wednesday service in West Malling will be on the 9th of December.

Private Prayer in church today

Although during this second lockdown we are not permitted to hold regular services, we can open our churches for private prayer. This Sunday (the 29th of November), St Mary’s and St Michael’s will be open between 11 a.m. and 3.00 p.m. for individual private prayer. Stewards will be on hand to supervise the ‘Covid-safety’ arrangements and to guide visitors on what to do and how to look after themselves and others.

The return of All-Age services

With our amended practice for services now bedded in and knowing we can return to church services in December, we are pleased to announce the return of the monthly All-Age service. In Offham on the first Sunday of the month (December 6th), and in West Malling on the second Sunday of the month (December 13th), we’ll do our best to replicate our All-Age format as close as possible; albeit with some things having to change to keep everyone safe.

The plans for Christmas

With the knowledge that lockdown is ending and Kent is being moved into Tier 3, we are now in a position to publicise our plans for Christmas services and other special events. Rev David has recorded a video and you can find out all the information on a special page on our website. Follow this link to find out more.

Volunteer Networks in West Malling and Offham

St Mary’s in West Malling and St Michael’s in Offham are working with the respective Parish Councils, local clubs, other churches, community groups, societies and agencies to provide a network of volunteers who want to help, and link them with people who need help during the Coronavirus pandemic.

In both communities, the networks are being re-started in active service to help those who have to shield and stay at home during this second lockdown. To sign-up to help as a volunteer or to ask for help from the Network, please click the respective button below to find out more about the West Malling Volunteers if you live in West Malling. Or, if you live in Offham, click the button to sign-up to the Offham Community Network.

West Malling   Offham

David’s day off

Rev David’s day off this week will be Friday the 4th of December.

Advent and Christmas 2020

The impact of Coronavirus on our world will have a major impact on our plans for Advent and Christmas 2020. Many of the time-honoured traditions of our worship and celebrations at Christmas will have to adapt to the changes in our circumstances.

We remain committed to celebrating Christmas, the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ, as fully as possible. However we are also committed to being loving neighbours and responsible members of our local communities and want to ensure everyone is kept safe and healthy.

Our Vicar, the Rev David Green, has recorded a video to give you a breakdown of the plans for 2020. ** UPDATE ** – please note that we’ve had to make a change and the live-streamed Carol Service will now be on the 23rd. We’ll update the video as soon as we can.

Dates for the diary

What’s happening and what’s not happening this year?

Offham’s Travelling Nativity
The knitted figures of Mary, Joseph and the Donkey (all less than 10″ tall) complete with their own stable unfortunately cannot be passed around the parish this year. As an alternative this year everyone is invited to print one of the downloadable pictures of Mary and Joseph and their trusty donkey, and perhaps colour it in and display it in your window during Advent.

The West Malling Nativity Treasure Hunt
Large pebbles decorated with the Nativity characters will shortly be appearing in the windows of local shops on West Malling High Street and further afield around the community. Families will be invited to download a Treasure Hunt checklist and go hunting! See how many of the Nativity characters you can find.

12 Days of Christmas Online Raffle in aid of Relief in Need
Running during December with the draw taking place on Christmas Eve, we will be hosting an online Raffle via the platform Raffall. With a variety of prizes available, raffle tickets will cost £2.50. All the money raised will go towards St Mary’s vestry charity, Relief in Need, which seeks to provide support to individuals or families in the local area who find themselves in crisis, emergency need or simply need some encouragement in tough times.

Thu 10 Dec, 7.30 pm
Christmas Quiz on Zoom in aid of Relief in Need

Hosted by Phil & Gemma Coupland on Zoom, a little bit of fun for all the family. Nothing too serious with participants marking their own answers. An opportunity to gather and get a taste of the Christmas spirit with friends from St Mary’s and St Michael’s.

Like the Raffle, this event is raising money for St Mary’s vestry charity, Relief in Need, which seeks to provide support to individuals or families in the local area who find themselves in crisis, emergency need or simply need some encouragement in tough times. The Quiz will cost £2 per person to enter or £4 per family (or make a donation of your choice). You can sign-up to take part now by using our Online Donations facility.

Thu 17 Dec, 8.00 pm
Pub Theology on Zoom with Rev David

Being in Tier 3, we cannot meet in one of our local pubs so Rev David will be hosting a special Christmas Pub Theology at 8.00 p.m. on Zoom instead. Crack open a bottle of wine or pour yourself a beer, start the Christmas tipples if you prefer, and bring your Christmas-themed questions to grill David and discuss with the group.

Pub Theology is an occasional group (roughly once a month) that meets to talk about God, ask questions and discuss opinions in a relaxed and friendly environment. Suitable for beginners and those who aren’t sure as well as Christians of many years. All opinions and views are welcome.

A photo of the choir from the Carol Service at Offham, 2012Wed 23 Dec, 8.00 pm
Live-streamed Carol online service from St Michael’s, Offham

St Michael’s, Offham
We will be live-streaming a special service online for all those who wish to take part in our Carol Service for 2020. From the beautiful, ancient church of St Michael’s we will be hosting a candle-lit evening service of Christmas readings and carols with our Director of Music Stewart Biggs, guest Choirmaster Richard King leading a special guest choir. An Order of Service will be available to download and we encourage you to use the words to sing along with all the Christmas Carols from your front room.

Please do not turn up to church on the night. You won’t be able to get in. If you can’t join us for the live-stream on the 23rd, you will be able to watch it later on catch-up via YouTube.

Congregation, St Mary's, Christingle 2011Thu 24 Dec, 4.00 pm
Pre-recorded Christingle online service with nativity from St Mary’s, West Malling

St Mary’s, West Malling
Although the highly popular Christmas Eve Christingle cannot take place in church this year, we will be posting a special Christingle service on our YouTube channel at 4.00 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Rev David will be talking about the Christingle and showing you how to make your Christingle at home, our Sunday School are recording a special Zoom nativity, while Richard Hammond-Hall and St Mary’s Choir will be recording the Christmas Carols. An Order of Service will be available to download so you can sing along from home.

Fri 25 Dec, 8.00 am
Holy Communion (BCP) in church

St Mary’s, West Malling
Traditional language, reflective and quiet Book of Common Prayer Holy Communion service. This service will be ticketed. 21 households maximum capacity.

Small girl, St Mary's, Christingle 2011Fri 25 Dec, 9.15 am
All-Age Communion service in church

St Michael’s, Offham
Child-friendly Eucharist service to celebrate Christmas Day. The children are encouraged to bring one of their presents to ‘show and tell’ as part of the service. This service will be ticketed. 8 households maximum capacity.

Fri 25 Dec, 10.00 am
All-Age Communion service in church

St Mary’s, West Malling
Child-friendly Eucharist service to celebrate Christmas Day. The children are encouraged to bring one of their presents to ‘show and tell’ as part of the service. This service will be ticketed. 21 households maximum capacity.

Sun 27 Dec, 10.00 am
Benefice Service for first Sunday after Christmas in church

St Mary’s, West Malling
There is no 8 am at St Mary’s or 9.15 at St Michael’s on this Sunday. Instead, we come together as one congregation for a joint Benefice service. Canon Alan Vousden will be leading and we gather at St Mary’s, West Malling. There will also be an act of Online Worship available from 7.30 a.m. for those who are unable to come to church in person.

This service will be ticketed. 21 households maximum capacity.

What is not happening this year

For the avoidance of any doubt, here’s the list of things we are sadly unable to host in 2020.

  • The Christmas Tree Festival (St Mary’s, West Malling)
  • The West Malling Community Choir Christmas Concert (St Mary’s, West Malling)
  • The Heart of Kent Hospice Christmas Concert (St Mary’s, West Malling)
  • Carols in the Pub (Kings Arms, Offham with St Michael’s, Offham)
  • Christingle services in both churches (although there will be a service online)
  • Midnight Communion on Christmas Eve (St Mary’s, West Malling)

Notices, 22 November 2020

Notices, 22 November 2020

Here are the latest notices and relevant information for the Benefice.

Second national lockdown

Until the end of this second lockdown, please note that St Mary’s and St Michael’s church buildings are closed except for the following purposes:

  • Funerals
  • To record and broadcast acts of worship
  • Times of individual prayer

Individual private prayer

Although during this second lockdown we are not permitted to hold regular services, we can open our churches for private prayer. This Sunday (the 22nd of November) and next Sunday, St Mary’s and St Michael’s will be open between 11 a.m. and 3.00 p.m. for individual private prayer. Stewards will be on hand to supervise the ‘Covid-safety’ arrangements and to guide visitors on what to do and how to look after themselves and others.

We hope that we can return to public worship on the first Sunday in December, subject to Government decisions on ending the current period of restrictions.

Archbishops call for a month of prayer during November

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York and a number of senior church leaders are inviting Christians across the nation to participate in the month of prayer as a second lockdown in England comes into force.

Throughout the month, Christians will be encouraged to pray daily for a specific area of national concern, wherever they are, culminating in a collective moment of prayer at 6pm each evening.

Rochester Cathedral is going live each evening at 6pm on their Facebook page. as they help us share in this time of prayer.

To find out more information about the invitation to pray visit: churchofengland.org/PrayerForTheNation.

Volunteer Networks in West Malling and Offham

St Mary’s in West Malling and St Michael’s in Offham are working with the respective Parish Councils, local clubs, other churches, community groups, societies and agencies to provide a network of volunteers who want to help, and link them with people who need help during the Coronavirus pandemic.

In both communities, the networks are being re-started in active service to help those who have to shield and stay at home during this second lockdown. To sign-up to help as a volunteer or to ask for help from the Network, please click the respective button below to find out more about the West Malling Volunteers if you live in West Malling. Or, if you live in Offham, click the button to sign-up to the Offham Community Network.

West Malling   Offham

Plans for Christmas

At this stage it is very difficult to say what we will be able to do this Christmas. Rev David, the Lay Ministers, the Churchwardens and PCC and Directors of Music are hatching plans but much will depend on what we are allowed to do, or not allowed to do, and everyone’s health and their safety remains paramount. Please keep an eye on this website for updates. After the 2nd of December, we hope to know more about what might be possible.

David’s day off

Rev David’s day off this week will be Saturday the 28th of November.

Notices, 15 November 2020

Notices, 15 November 2020

Here are the latest notices and relevant information for the Benefice.

Second national lockdown

Until the end of this second lockdown, please note that St Mary’s and St Michael’s church buildings are closed except for the following purposes:

  • Funerals
  • To record and broadcast acts of worship
  • Times of individual prayer

Individual private prayer

Although during this second lockdown we are not permitted to hold services, we can open our churches for private prayer. Please note that, during these next two weeks of lockdown, St Mary’s and St Michael’s will be open each Sunday (November 22nd, November 29th) between 11 a.m. and 3.00 p.m. for individual private prayer. Stewards will be on hand to supervise the ‘Covid-safety’ arrangements throughout and guide visitors on what to do and how to look after themselves and others.

In order to offer these times of prayer safely, we are in the process of building the rota of Stewards. If anyone would be willing to offer an hour of their time to help, please contact us using this link. Stewarding is not onerous – you would simply need to ensure that folk follow the standard requirements of wearing a face-covering, sanitising hands etc and registering either with the QR code or signing in with their contact details. When a person leaves you would need to check that their seat has been wiped down with the disinfectant wipes.

We hope that we can return to public worship on the first Sunday in December, subject to the government ending the lockdown.

Archbishops call for a month of prayer during November

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York and a number of senior church leaders are inviting Christians across the nation to participate in the month of prayer as a second lockdown in England comes into force.

Throughout the month, Christians will be encouraged to pray daily for a specific area of national concern, wherever they are, culminating in a collective moment of prayer at 6pm each evening.

Rochester Cathedral is going live each evening at 6pm on their Facebook page. as they help us share in this time of prayer.

To find out more information about the invitation to pray visit: churchofengland.org/PrayerForTheNation.

Volunteer Networks in West Malling and Offham

St Mary’s in West Malling and St Michael’s in Offham are working with the respective Parish Councils, local clubs, other churches, community groups, societies and agencies to provide a network of volunteers who want to help, and link them with people who need help during the Coronavirus pandemic.

In both communities, the networks are being re-started in active service to help those who have to shield and stay at home during this second lockdown. To sign-up to help as a volunteer or to ask for help from the Network, please click the respective button below to find out more about the West Malling Volunteers if you live in West Malling. Or, if you live in Offham, click the button to sign-up to the Offham Community Network.

West Malling   Offham

David’s day off

Rev David’s day off this week will be Saturday the 21st of November.

Second national lockdown

On Saturday the 31st of October, the Prime Minister announced a second national lockdown in England to start on the 5th of November and last for one month.

The Government guidance for this announcement makes clear that places of worship must close, apart from for the purposes of independent private prayer, to record and broadcast services for the online environment, or to host funerals.

As a result, all other regular services at St Mary’s in West Malling and St Michael’s in Offham are suspended until early December. If things go as planned and the lockdown is lifted on time, our next church services could take place on the second Sunday in Advent, the 6th of December. Obviously things may not go to plan and we will try to keep everyone informed as we go along.

This week, our focus is quite rightly on Remembrance Sunday. However, next week Rev David, the Churchwardens and PCCs of our two churches will be considering how we might be able to make use of the permission to accommodate people in church should they wish to visit for individual private prayer.

Online worship and the phone-line will both continue each Sunday throughout November.

Welcome back to St Mary’s, West Malling

We are delighted to be able to announce that we are re-opening St Mary’s for Public Worship from Sunday the 26th of July.

However, there are a number of things that we need you to know and a number of things we need you to do. To start with, can we encourage you to watch this short two minute safety video to give you a brief rundown of how things will work and what we need you to do.

What will services be like?

  1. Every service will a service of Holy Communion. If, as we expect, you may only be able to attend two, three or four weeks, it is important that when you do attend, there is the chance to receive Holy Communion.
  2. Every service will be somewhat child-friendly. We cannot run Sunday School for the time being. Neither can children use toys or busy bags (other than ones they have brought from home). Neither is it appropriate to make every service an All-Age service. So every Minister leading or preaching will need to account for the fact children will be present and sat in a pew alongside their parents.
  3. Every service will be 30 to 40 minutes maximum. The risk of infection goes up the longer we stay together in the building, so we’ll keep services short.

What services will there be?

  1. Initially there will be one service on a Sunday in Offham at 9.15 a.m. and one in West Malling at 10.00 a.m. There will be a sermon. Both services will be based on Common Worship Holy Communion.
  2. There will be a Book of Common Prayer Holy Communion service at St Mary’s at 9.30 a.m. every Wednesday during August. There will not be a sermon. We will review again at the start of September as to whether this service can return to Sundays at 8 o’clock.
  3. Christenings will not take place in the Sunday service for the time being.
  4. If there is a Christening in a lunchtime slot on a Sunday, the congregation present that morning will be asked to help sanitise after their service.
  5. Online Worship will continue as pre-recorded videos and pre-prepared web pages to be published each Sunday. Each week, the rota will allocate ministry leadership to the online environment; separate to offline leadership for that week.

How many people can come?

Sadly, because of the regulations concerning physical distancing and maintaining two metres distance, our maximum capacity is based on 14 households. If you’ve watched the video (above) and are coming on your own, we may be able to take more than 14 households with individuals sat at either end of a pew.

If more people want to return to church services than we accommodate, we will need to allocate people into groups and then inform each group which Sundays they can attend. It may be that we have a group on the first Sunday and another group on the second Sunday and so on.

If you don’t want to return to church now and are happy to continue worshipping online, you will be able to let us know later when you do want to come to church. If need be, we will allocate you to a group. Hopefully, the physical distancing regulations will relax in time and we will be able to welcome more people into the same service until such time as we can all be in church together.

How do I let you know what I want to do?

At present, we are conducting a survey. We would be really grateful if you would click on the link for the survey and complete your details to let us know what you would like to do.

The more households that let us know their plans and wishes, the better we can fairly and equitably enable as many people as possible to return to church.

What do I need to bring when I come to church?

You don’t need to bring anything, but you might want to think about bringing the following items:

  1. A face covering.
  2. Your own pen (to fill out a sign-in slip if you’re asked to do so).
  3. Your own Bible (spare Bibles will not be available to pick-up and use in church).
  4. If you have young children, you may like to bring a busy bag for the children. We can’t provide any of our materials at present because of the difficulties sanitising those items.

Concerning Coronavirus and Public Worship IV

19 June 2020

Dear Worshipper

Concerning Coronavirus (COVID-19) and re-opening for funerals and private prayer

I am sure you may be aware that the Government recently gave permission for churches to re-open their buildings for private prayer and for funeral services.

Anecdotally, it seems that about a third of churches and cathedrals have been able to do that already, while the rest remain closed.

Here in West Malling and Offham, I have been working with our Churchwardens and our PCC, the church council, to work out what is best to do here. We have carefully read the Government guidance when it was eventually published and we’ve also poured over a variety of documents published by the Church of England and the Diocese of Rochester.

We have put together a plan on what needs to happen and put together a risk assessment. I want to say thank you to the various people in the two churches who have been helping me to do that.

Re-opening our buildings at this time is not simply a matter of propping open the front doors and letting people come and go as they please. In order to re-open, the buildings must be cleaned and then cleared of all hymn books, prayer books and other items you might usually touch. We also need to cordon off some pews and cordon off parts of pews to maintain a 2m physical distance. Hand-washing stations need to be set-up, floor markings and notices put in place. Much like you might see in one of the local supermarkets.

But unlike the supermarkets, we don’t have lots of paid staff to do this. We are already underway with doing all that’s required and we should complete these preparations in the next two weeks at the latest. Thank you to those who have offered to help already, we will be contacting you soon if we haven’t already done so.

I am hoping that the buildings are ready by July the 5th.

But ready for what?

I have met with both West Malling and Offham PCCs this week to decide on our priorities. We have also polled our Electoral Roll for both churches to hear how those who attend our churches regularly were feeling.

Government have said we can only currently do funerals and private prayer. But those two things are not necessarily pulling in totally the same direction and they need different things.

In both churches, having discussed it with our leaders, we are agreed that our priority is to be able to re-open for funeral services in church. While we have had graveside burials regularly through the lockdown, the compassionate response for our wider community is to have the option ready for families of conducting a funeral in church.

As well as the various restrictions I’ve already described, we would have a maximum capacity that would still mean attendance is restricted. At Offham, we would only have room for five households. At West Malling, the number is fourteen households. But that’s still way off our usual capacities. But it’s a start.

Being able to handle a funeral safely is the first step on the road to other things and it’s a good first step. Not only does it offer compassion to grieving families, but generally people attending funerals know each other. They are often from the same households or bubbles. So there is less risk than opening in a way where lots of people from lots of disparate households come together like your average Sunday service.

If we can do funerals well, I anticipate weddings might be next. Although whether wedding couples want to change their plans and host small, restricted ceremonies will be up to them.

Gathering for Sunday worship still lies some way down the tracks and I’ll talk more about that and the challenges of that another day.

Being in church for worship is not the same as going to Marks and Spencer. You behave differently, you physically do different things, you touch and interact with the building and space in different ways, you’re there for different lengths of time. There are complexities. In that sense there are very good reasons why churches were allowed to re-open in the earliest phases of the lockdown being eased.

And that brings us to private prayer. Although the Government have said we can re-open for private prayer and that no supervision is necessary, I am personally uncomfortable with that. I have discussed it with the PCCs and, while we recognise it’s a loss to some of us, and we know there’s a wider community of people who do pop in, the majority view in both churches shared my level of discomfort. Indeed, when we asked you, between 70 and 80% of people on the Electoral Roll of both churches were not keen to re-open for private prayer at this stage.

Although Government have not required it, I think supervision for private prayer is absolutely necessary at the moment. There have been cases worldwide of people being infected after going to church and sitting in a seat or a pew where someone with covid-19 coronavirus, a few hours earlier in a different service of worship, had previously sat.

As you’ll know, opening for private prayer means people come and go as they wish. But when you come and go in that way, you have no idea who has sat where before you. The only solution is to have someone in the building who does know, who supervises, and when someone leaves, they quietly go over to that place and sanitise it… just as the supermarkets sanitise the shopping baskets after someone has used them.

Different churches may adopt different approaches. You may disagree with me that this is necessary. But, ultimately, the person responsible to decide in this instance for West Malling and Offham is me. And I’m not happy with opening if we don’t also supervise and take responsibility for keeping each pew sanitised.

Supervision means people to supervise and that limits what we can do. But it also cuts across the purpose of opening for private prayer in the sense that we don’t have the people to supervise all day every day. And if you can’t do that, people can’t just pop in when they want… and popping in when you want is kind of the point of having the buildings open in the way we normally do. You’d have to know when the church was open and then make the special trip.

So, having discussed it with the PCCs, we are not saying a total no to opening for private prayer but we’re going to do it a in very limited way and it’s not our priority. We’re going to suck it and see by perhaps opening one Sunday from mid-morning to mid-afternoon in a few weeks time and see whether people come. We’ll advertise it to you in due course when we’re ready to host such a time.

Public worship, Sunday services, remain some way away, I’m afraid. We will continue to offer online worship each Sunday and it’s been encouraging to see so many of you taking part in that. I’m also interested in coming days to talk with our church leaders about we can best supplement and improve what we are doing now.

As I said to you in March, there is a calling upon us during lockdown. We were to be people of prayer in our homes, to go deeper with God in study of his word, to take ownership and responsibility for nurturing our faith. And there’s also a calling to humbly serve those around us in our communities. To be the healing hands and feet of Jesus to a broken world.

Lockdown may be easing in some ways, but that calling for us as the Christian church has not changed.

May the Lord watch between us while we’re apart from each other.

Love God, love your neighbour.

I hope very much to see you soon.

Yours in Christ

Rev David Green
Vicar

Concerning Coronavirus and Public Worship III

 

18 March 2020

Dear Worshipper

Further update regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Public Worship

I am writing to let you know that, as of yesterday, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have taken the difficult and extraordinary decision to suspend the Church of England’s usual pattern of Sunday services, mid-week gatherings and all other regular church activities until further notice.

I have also received reports from a couple of local households that the virus may be present already amongst some people who regularly attend our two churches. There are possible symptoms locally but no confirmation that it is COVID-19 because those people have not been tested.

Clearly, the decision to suspend activity in all parishes is not a decision to be taken lightly and it does not mean the Church of England has shut up shop. As the challenge of Coronavirus (COVID-19) grips the whole world, and as the British Government asks every individual and every organisation to rethink its life, the Archbishops are now asking the Church of England in all its parishes, chaplaincies and ministries to serve the people of England in a new way.

Here in our Benefice, several things will be happening with immediate effect.

  1. Both churches will remain open during daylight hours for anyone to visit and offer their own private prayers. Please observe all current hygiene recommendations.
  2. At 9.05 a.m. in Offham and 5.05 p.m. in West Malling I will be in church, I will ring the bell to symbolically let the Parish know I am praying and then say Common Worship Daily Prayer. Please don’t attend. However you may want to join in with me by saying the offices from home at the same time. Daily Prayer is available online from the Church of England website, or a copy of the book can be purchased online. You don’t have to join in every day, or twice a day. Join in when you can.
  3. I am preparing resources to feed your faith and spiritual life while at home. I am also preparing a Booklet especially for those who have been told to stay in self-isolation. Each Sunday, I will publish material on this website. I will provide written prayers, notices, a recorded sermon from me, and links to hymns to sing.
  4. We will also be taking steps to link people pastorally together. In particular I want to make sure those who are more elderly or vulnerable have support from someone younger amongst the church community who may be willing to offer help with shopping, picking up prescriptions, phone contact, encouragement and friendship. Even if we’re in isolation, we don’t need to allow anyone to feel isolated.
    If you are under 70 years of age and could volunteer to help others, let me know or keep an eye on the website for how to sign-up to help. Likewise, if you are over 70, or if your immune system is compromised and you’ve been told to self-isolate, or you are unwell already, please let me know or use the website to let me know so that we can offer you assistance and help.
  5. Finally, in coming days, some of the ‘machinery’ of our parish’s life will need to continue. I will need to work on a plan with the Churchwardens and our PCCs to make sure we can continue in ministry and mission, decision-making, attending to the fabric of our buildings, and managing parish finances. Provided you still have an income in this extraordinary global situation and you have the means to do so, I would strongly encourage you to continue your giving to your parish church. If our churches see a sudden drop in income, it does present a significant risk in the medium to long-term. If you don’t already give by Standing Order, I would ask you to seriously consider setting up a regular gift with your bank. Even if you don’t want to leave it in place long-term, doing so while this situation continues would really help while we are all unable to put anything into the collection Sunday by Sunday.
  6. On the other side of that coin, can I also ask that if you are in financial difficulty as a result of the Coronavirus situation, please do let me know in confidence. We would like to help you as much as possible. There are places I can turn for help and I suspect our Churches Together Foodbank and our vestry charity Relief in Need may need to be very active in the days to come.

Theologically-speaking, the Church is the Body of Christ and that is true whether we are gathered together on a Sunday or dispersed in our daily life. Regardless of these times, we continue to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a broken world. For a while, being Christian and being Church together will simply look and feel different. We have a calling now to private prayer and to humbly serve those in. I would encourage you to play your full part in the days, weeks and months to come.

This will most likely be the last Pastoral Letter for a while since the situation is now clear and most likely won’t change until such time as we are given permission to worship together again. Perhaps, with such freedom taken from us from a while, we will gain a new appreciation for the blessing of our amazing buildings, and the blessing we find when we gather as a community to praise God and pray. What a day that will be when we can sing in worship together once again!

Please do keep in touch. Let’s keep doing community together and being church together. Pick up the phone, send an email, use the website, Facebook or Twitter, get creative where you can. Whether we are unwell or not, vulnerable or not, I suspect we will all need one another, let alone the Lord’s everlasting grace and love, in the days that lie ahead.

Please be assured of my prayers for you. Please pray for me too.

Yours in Christ

Rev David Green
Vicar

Concerning Coronavirus and Public Worship II

13 March 2020

Dear Worshipper

Update regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Public Worship

I am writing with a further update and instructions concerning our activities at St Mary’s in West Malling and St Michael’s in Offham given the current public health concerns.

Firstly in regard to our local communications, what has become very clear is that this is a fast-moving and fluid situation and sending letters is a relatively slow way in which to try and communicate with everyone, even if it does ensure everyone gets the information. Therefore, while I will continue to write if there are major changes in guidance, I would ask you to keep an eye on the church website for updates. If you do not have any Internet access, please phone me so I can add you to a list of people I know I need to communicate with in other ways.

The Church of England has now issued further advice to churches to both replace (in some cases) or supplement all that I shared with you before. The key new information is:

  • Do not attend church if you are unwell or asked to self-isolate.
    Please phone me if this is the case so that I am aware and together we can make suitable arrangements for your inclusion and pastoral care.
  • The administration of the Chalice at Holy Communion is suspended.
    Holy Communion will be offered in one kind only (the bread) and the Priest alone is to receive the wine.
  • Everyone should stand at the Communion Rail.
    Please do not kneel at the rail or touch the rail with your hands.
  • Shaking hands, or other direct physical contact is suspended.
    During the Peace, simply greet those in your immediate vicinity with a smile and the words “Peace be with you”. Don’t move around the church to greet others.
  • Priestly blessings or prayers with the laying on of hands are suspended.
    Prayers will be given in such circumstances without physical touch.
  • Refreshments are suspended.
    There will be no tea and coffee after services until further notice.
  • Passing around Collection Plates or Bags is suspended.
    There will be a collection plate at the back of church as you enter. Please place your offering in the plate as you come in (or if you don’t already do so, take this as an opportunity to start giving by standing order instead). There is an important side point here in that I would ask that you do make sure you continue to give, as best as you’re able and within your means. Our churches cannot easily withstand a massive drop in giving if people are not in church and therefore are not making any financial contribution.
  • Use of the Chasuble is suspended and other robes are to be regularly cleaned.
    Because I lack confidence that our historic and somewhat elderly Chasubles and Stoles would survive regular deep cleans, the only other option is not to use them. Clergy will be responsible for regular washing of their own cassock albs, cassocks, surplices, stoles and preaching scarves (as is always the case anyway).

Where it does not contradict what is written here, all of the previous advice I passed on to you still applies. The most key bit of advice remains that the best way of protecting everyone from the spread of a virus is for everyone to use universal good hygiene, – this means everyone, all the time, effectively disrupting the virus.

  • Catch it – sneeze into a tissue.
  • Bin it – bin the tissue.
  • Kill it – wash your hands.
  • Do not touch your face unless you’ve washed your hands.

Could church services and other church events be cancelled?

At this time there is no guidance to do that. Parishes have been asked to prepare a contingency plan should government advice change. I am now preparing that plan with our Churchwardens, other Clergy and Lay Ministers and PCC. Everything I said before about the benefits of meeting still applies and it is in times of adversity, that our community strength gives testimony to our faith in Christ, provides encouragement to all, and supports the weak, the vulnerable and the isolated. If the Government does ban public gatherings, the contingency plan will cover what happens next but, amongst other things, I intend to try and use our website to try and provide worship, prayer and a sermon each week for you to engage with from home.

Pastoral Visiting

Church of England guidance is now that those who are told to self isolate and/or are unwell, cannot receive pastoral visits. Instructions are for Clergy to do pastoral care over the phone in such circumstances. When I am visiting others who have decided not to attend church as a precaution, other ministers and I will continue to observe all sensible precautions in personal hygiene myself before and after such visits. Of course, if I or other Ministers get unwell, our contingency plan will need to cover that eventuality as well.

Keep talking!

It’s obviously vital that we keep a good flow of communication. Keep an eye on the website. I will write when appropriate. If you are one of our older members and decide to stop attending for a while, please let me know you’re doing that so we can support you. If your immune system is compromised for any reason, please let me know. If you become unwell and are told to self isolate, please let me know.

As we do each week, please join me in prayer for all those in authority, for our medical services and those on the front line, and for those who are unwell and their families.

Yours in Christ

Rev David Green
Incumbent

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