Stage 4 out of Lockdown

On 16 July, the House of Bishops’ Covid-19 recovery group issued new guidance in response to the Government decision to move the nation to ‘step 4’ on the roadmap out of Lockdown. The approach taken by the Government in this step is to remove most coronavirus legislation but to promote guidance that emphasises personal responsibility.

Our Vicar, Lay Ministers and retired Clergy colleagues, our Churchwardens and the PCC have considered this new phase of life and we are providing our agreed plan online and in letters sent to members of the Electoral Roll in both churches.

Within the Church we believe that everyone is known and loved individually by God and that as many members within one body we are called to be responsible to and for one another, respecting the more vulnerable whose suffering is our suffering (1 Cor 12:12-27).

Within the New Testament, we also see the principle clearly established that those who are ‘stronger’ should curtail their relative strength in order that ‘weaker’ brethren are not caused to stumble (Romans 14). For a while yet, we will be a mixture of able-bodied people and less able-bodied people in a complex Venn diagram that overlaps with those who have been vaccinated twice, those who have yet to be offered their second jab, and those who (for whatever reason) have not been vaccinated at all. We believe it is imperative, therefore, to curtail some of our freedoms so that all may walk in pilgrimage together.

Each set of Churchwardens and PCC has to act for itself and decide what’s best and there are differences between our two churches that mean the rules are broadly similar, but there are one or two key differences for each venue. Those differences are clarified below. With our individual contexts and such theological principles in mind, we have updated our risk assessments and agreed a plan. It could be considered cautious but it also represents careful and steady progress.

Pattern of services

  • From Sunday the 15th of August, the Sunday 8 o’clock service at St Mary’s, West Malling will re-start.
  • The Wednesday 9.30 a.m. service at St Mary’s, which was started in the last year, will also continue.
  • Offham’s 9.15 a.m. Sunday service continues as normal with All-Age Worship on the 1st Sunday of the month and either Morning Prayer or Common Worship Holy Communion on the other Sundays.
  • West Malling’s 10 o’clock Sunday service continues as normal. From September, with the launch of our new Choral Scholars project, All-Age Worship will continue on the 2nd Sunday of the month with the choir invited on 1st and 3rd Sundays. The fourth Sunday will be either Morning Prayer or said Holy Communion. Choral Evensong will take place roughly once a quarter.

Capacity and seating and face coverings

  • In Offham, from Sunday the 15th of August, the A and B labelling on the pews will be removed and we will no longer use a fortnightly rotation of attendance. There is no need to book to attend church. Just come when you want to come.
  • In West Malling, we will retain the A and B labelling on the pews. For Wednesday and Sunday services, we will continue to use that pattern and the deliberate spacing of people. We have a big church and we will use that space sensibly to keep people distanced. There is no need to book to attend church. Just come when you want to come.
  • For Weddings and Funerals, we will allow full capacity attendance.
  • Social distancing is still required but the key distance is now 1m+ and not 2m.
  • We continue to request that you sanitize your hands when you enter the building and wear a face covering throughout the service (unless you are medically exempt).

Liturgy

  • From Sunday the 15th of August, in both churches, we will resume singing. Congregations will not remove their face coverings to sing. The Choir at St Mary’s will not wear face coverings to sing but they will use the spit screens.
  • From Sunday the 15th of August, we will resume the use of our seasonal Service Booklets and the Hymn Books. If you have been keeping church hymn books or prayer books at home, we would be grateful if you could now bring them back. Between services the books will be quarantined for 72 hours.
  • Holy Communion continues to be received in one kind (wafer only) because the One Cup is still suspended. We plan to explore ways of enabling the presiding Priest to intinct (dip) each wafer before distribution so each person could get bread and wine.
  • At St Mary’s in West Malling, children’s work cannot re-start yet because we lack sufficient leaders. Volunteers welcome!
  • At St Michael’s in Offham, children’s work is re-starting.

Opening for private prayer

  • From Monday the 9th of August, both churches will once again be left open during daylight hours for individual, unsupervised private prayer.
  • Those who wish to visit should sanitize their hands on entry and use a face covering.

Pastoral visits

  • Clergy and Lay Ministers may now undertake Pastoral Visits. If you are house-bound and would like Home Communion, or would otherwise appreciate a pastoral visit at home, please do ask. Rev David and our pastoral carers will be available for visits from Monday the 9th of August onwards. We would expect to wear a mask and sanitize our hands when visiting you at home.

Online worship

Online worship continues to be provided each week. We have recently acquired the ability to live-stream services at St Mary’s and we’re currently testing that out. Going forward, we anticipate a mixture of pre-recorded and live material for those who cannot attend.

What is not coming back yet

  • The Common Chalice at Holy Communion.
  • Use of kneelers or pew cushions or other soft furnishings.
  • Freedom to sit where you like. Social distancing of 1m+ between household groups remain key.
  • Physical contact at the Peace.
  • The Offertory bags are not being handed around. A Plate is at the back of each church. St Mary’s can handle contactless card giving. We continue to encourage giving by Standing Order as the best way to give.
  • At St Mary’s in West Malling, for the time being, we will continue to use a Nave Altar.

It is vitally important that we continue to look after one another and support each other, regardless of circumstance or health or vaccination status. It is really important to us as leaders that no-one feels excluded or unable to participate and we would reject any notion that only the vaccinated, or any other division of people, are allowed to be included in our church’s life. So please do contact us if you would like to ask questions, talk about our plans or if there is any other help or support we can offer. Please be assured of our continued prayers for you during these difficult and extraordinary days.

Rev David Green,
the Lay and Ordained Ministers,
the Churchwardens and PCCs
of West Malling and Offham
22 July 2021