I understand lots of us are still getting to grips with all the COVID-19 restrictions. The new measures announced yesterday that are nationwide make no real difference to us here in Oldham, where we have been (and remain) under much tighter restrictions. But I suspect many churches will find exactly what we did 6-weeks ago when our local restrictions were announced: as far as church goes, there is no material change.
One of the other things worth saying is that there really is no one way to navigate all this stuff. My church context – we have our own building, we have our particular community, we have specific measures to deal with here – is likely not to be the same as yours. I do think it’s really important that we have enough grace for one another working these things through in our own areas. Some will feel they can meet, others will feel not. Some will feel certain bits of advice are vital, others will not. Some will apply those bits of advice one way in their church, others in an altogether different way. Two principles hold: let each one be convinced in his own mind and it is before his own master that he stands or falls. In other words, let’s not be getting on at each other for doing differently to us.
But I can’t help but wonder if some of us aren’t making something of a meal of all this. I don’t mean that there are people choosing to do things very differently to us. That’s all perfectly legitimate. We all have to decide what works for our particular churches and contexts and then do that to the glory of the Lord. But I do get sense some of us are making much more of all the restrictions – and particularly getting to grips with them – than perhaps they warrant.
Let’s just review, essentially, what we typically have to do for an average Sunday service. Walk around your building and make a note of any potential COVID-19 risks and mitigate them as best you can, space your chairs 2 metres apart, get people to sanitise their hands on entry to the building, tell them to stick a mask on when they turn up (unless they’re medically exempt, of course), try to manage their coming in and going out and keep a record of who has been. The only real restriction on us as to what we would typically do in a service is that we can’t sing together – that’s not something extra to do, but one thing less to manage. That, in a nutshell, is about it.
Now, we are perfectly welcome to look at that stuff and say, ‘it’s not worth meeting under those restrictions’. It’s not the view we have taken, but you are perfectly at liberty to do that. You can, like we have, do those things and then crack on with your meetings. That has been our preference. You can choose to live stream or not, that’s entirely up to you. You can focus your meeting on the people in the room, decide you are actively having a ‘hybrid meeting’ or focus principally on camera. All these things are decisions you are free to make in line with whatever view of the local church you happen to hold.
What I am struggling to fathom, however, is those who are implying that this stuff is especially difficult to get your head around. The FIEC (other bodies offering advice are available) have put out loads of information distilling this stuff for churches. Most churches who are meeting have put up public Facebook posts and such like detailing the things that will need to happen if you arrive at a service. We, for example, put out the following post and pinned it on our Facebook page, which is there for anybody to copy and or edit to suit their context should they feel the need.
The restrictions have been spoken about ad nauseam and the same questions have been asked (and answered) again and again and again. It strikes me all you really need to able to meet is a tape measure and a pot of hand sanitiser!
We have been in the position as churches to meet since July. We have had around 2-months to get our heads around what needs to happen in our buildings. I appreciate that we may want to slowly introduce different elements over time; starting with the things we know we can do and then moving on to introduce things later as we become comfortable with reintroducing them. I think that is all perfectly reasonable if you feel the need. But the actual mechanics of opening up and starting a meeting (if you are physically able because you have your own building or the people from whom you rent are happy to open for you) really are not that onerous. There isn’t a vast amount with which to get to grips.
Open or don’t, to the glory of God. Decide what is best in your context before the Lord. But let’s not pretend that this is extremely difficult to get our heads around. It really isn’t.