Grab a cup of tea and pull up a chair, this is quite a long post.

I’m sure you know by now that last night Boris Johnson announced a new national lockdown for England, that began at midnight today.  The Prime Minister’s broadcast made it very clear that reducing the spread of this new variant of Coronavirus will be a difficult challenge and we were fully expecting to hear in that broadcast, or to read in the detailed government guidance, that churches and other places of worship would have to close – as they did in the first lockdown.

However, while “Lockdown 3.0” will be broadly similar to the first lockdown that began in March last year, there is one key difference — even compared to the November “national restrictions.”  Places of worship will be able to remain open for communal worship in this new lockdown, and are being treated differently to schools, hospitality venues, entertainment venues, non-essential shops and gyms, etc. 

The latest government Coronavirus Guidance for England, published by the Cabinet Office on the 4th January 2021, states that people will be legally permitted to leave their homes during the new lockdown to attend a place of worship:

"Communal worship and life events – You can leave home to attend or visit a place of worship for communal worship, a funeral or event related to a death, a burial ground or a remembrance garden, or to attend a wedding ceremony. You should follow the guidance on the safe use of places of worship and must not mingle with anyone outside of your household or support bubble when attending a place of worship.  Weddings, funerals and religious, belief-based or commemorative events linked to someone’s death are all subject to limits on the numbers that can attend, and weddings and civil ceremonies may only take place in exceptional circumstances."

This is good news for us at Grace Church, and for other churches across our nation.

After prayer, thoughtful consideration and discussion, Matt, Peter and believe we should continue to hold our weekly Sunday services in-person.  Having said that, we also believe we must proceed wisely, and make some changes and recommendations in light of the ongoing situation:

1. We will be moving back to only one in-person service on a Sunday morning at Pomphrey Hill Pavilion, that will begin at 10:30am, and will be simultaneously broadcast live via our YouTube channel.  We will also be continuing to invite people to digital coffee and chat at the end of each service.

(NB: This decision is contigent on the agreement of Pomphrey Pavilion management, which will are still waiting for.)

2. It is our very strong recommendation that all those in our church family who would consider themselves especially vulnerable, together with everyone over 60 years of age, ought NOT to attend an in-person service but instead participate in the service from home, for as long as this national lockdown period continues, or until government guidance changes.

We want to be wise in protecting individuals in our church family, and in the wider community, from the risk and effects of Covid-19, whilst balancing the opportunity to continue holding in-person services.

In light of this strong recommendation, we want to let you know that both Peter and June, and Matt and Lizzie and family (who fall into the category of 60+years, and vulnerable, respectively) will not be attending in-person services, but will contribute to and participate in the services from home.

3. We must be much more careful about how we gather and conduct ourselves before, during and after all services.  For all those who do attend we must reiterate the vital importance of using hand sanitiser, wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, not singing, and not mixing with people outside our households or support bubbles, both inside and outside of Pomphrey Pavilion.

Everyone in the country has been told they must not mix with people outside their households (or support bubbles) and must only leave the house for specific limited reasons. If the people in the local community see us at or around Pomphrey Pavilion mixing with one another, or failing to maintain social distancing, they will rightly be resentful of our apparent “privileges”, or outraged – in the way that many people were when we saw government advisors seeming to get away with breaking the rules of the first lockdown. It would be a very poor witness to the neighbourhood.

We appreciate that these measures make it harder to be the friendly, welcoming and relational church family we aspire to be, but in these challenging times it is vital that we should comply fully with the Government’s guidelines, playing our part in the national and local effort to contain the pandemic, and being a good witness and loving neighbour to our local community.

We ask that individuals and households who attend “in-person” gatherings should lovingly adhere to and encourage the measures we undertake to ensure the safety of church members and the wider public.

4. We also understand that there may be those in our church family who do not necessarily fall into either category (of vulnerable or 60+) who may not wish to attend an in-person service during Lockdown 3.0. In order to help us plan effectively, please could EVERYONE fill in the very short online survey to let us know whether you plan to participate in services online, or whether you would like to continue to receive in-person invitations.

We fully recognise that there will be differences of opinion on our decision to continue to meet physically during this difficult period for our nation. It is important that we love and respect each other and the decisions that we make as individuals and families, and not make judgements or cast aspersions on the motives that others may have for either choosing to attend in-person or remaining at home for online services.

It is clear that this is going to be a frustrating and testing time for all of us, but unlike the lockdown last March there is hope that the new vaccines will eventually provide protection for the most vulnerable and eliminate the need for restrictions of these kinds. 

We need to keep praying that the Lord would have mercy on our nation, that the government would be granted wisdom to know how best to deal with this crisis, that Christians would have confident faith in the inscrutable good sovereign purposes of God, and that we would continue to hold out to a lost and dying world the glorious good news of the gospel.  Salvation is not ultimately to be found in lockdowns or vaccines, but only in the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose again to give the gift of eternal life to all who repent and put their trust in him. 

We will be keeping a close eye on the government guidance. If anything else changes, we’ll let you know as soon as we can.

If you have any questions, we’ll be happy to answer them as best as we can.