On the evening of Monday the 4th of January 2021, the Prime Minister announced a new lockdown for England. The pressure on hospitals and the impact of a new, more transmissible variant of Coronavirus amongst many factors meant that Mr Johnson felt the situation was very serious.
Perhaps surprisingly to some, Places of Worship were not formally closed by the Government amongst the measures announced and they were given the freedom to remain open.
Indeed, over Christmas, we stayed open and you may have read Rev David’s pastoral letter written at that time in which he explained his concern about Coronavirus, even though we were allowed to stay open. In essence, his advice at that point was ‘we are open, we advise you not to come’.
As church leadership, we have been growing increasingly conscious of the difficult situation we face and the way in which every Doctor, Nurse, Epidemiologist or Politician on the television or radio is telling us all to stay at home and not to go out unless you really have to do so.
Since Monday, our Vicar, David, has been talking with our Lay Ministers and the retired Clergy who live locally and often help minister in our parishes. Some of them are over 70, some have underlying health conditions and others have family members with vulnerabilities and so their own involvement in worship is a concern. Three of our six regular Ministers feel unable at this time to be in church and offer their ministry. A further member of the team is over 70 and, while happy to help if asked, also feels we should close.
Having discussed and reflected upon the decision, the unanimous recommendation of our team of Ministers was that we should seek a temporary closure. Therefore, Rev David has had formal discussions with our Churchwardens in both parishes and our Parochial Church Councils and sought their counsel. Together we have requested formal permission from the Bishop of Rochester to close our doors for Public Worship temporarily until the 14th of February. That permission has now been granted and so all Wednesday and Sunday services are now suspended.
We are still open to host Funerals in both parishes. Rev David will continue to use the churches to record material for our online worship. But, for the time being, we are closed for Public Worship, including times of Private Prayer.
We all want to stress that while the church buildings are closed, it doesn’t mean that the Church is closed. We will continue to offer online worship and phone-line worship each week, we can continue to pray from home and seek to serve our neighbours and share God’s love. The church is open, even when our buildings are closed.
This decision has not been made lightly. Rev David, our Lay Ministers, retired Clergy, Churchwardens and PCC members have made this decision unanimously but also with a very heavy heart and great sadness. Nonetheless, we believe it is the right thing to do at this time. The situation will be reviewed in early February as we approach the end of the agreed suspension.
If you have any questions or comments you wish to make, please do contact Rev David in the usual way.
Rev David Green
8 January 2021
on behalf of himself, the Churchwardens and PCCs
of West Malling and Offham