The Delta variant has seen Covid rates in Tameside rise higher than the peak numbers of the last lockdown and we know that hospital admissions are rising again. Many are afraid still to venture out, others while willing to go shopping are worried about spending too much time together in an indoor setting. Those, who until recently, were shielding still face significant risks in public places, the likelihood for them of catching the virus has reduced but many of them will still be very badly affected if they do become infected. Others, however, point to the major positive effect of the vaccination programme and long for times to revert to what life was like pre-pandemic.
When our PCC met on Thursday evening, we had a wide-ranging discussion about public worship and about the use of our church buildings. The various perspectives, which I have mentioned, were aired and discussed. It was noted that in Church Wardens meetings across the Diocese of Manchester there have been no reports of churches being the source of anyone picking up the Covid infection. It was stressed that this has been because of the cautious approach taken by so many churches. The guidance that we have received from the national government and the national church, from The Diocese and local politicians is clear that while the legal position has changed the need for caution has not.
After very careful consideration, PCC decided that we should continue the cautious approach which we believe has kept people as safe as possible when they attend worship. We were particularly concerned to continue to be that place of safety for those who feel most vulnerable. The words written by St. Paul to the Philippian church seem most apposite: “Look out for one another’s interests, not just for your own. The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had.” (Philippians 2: 4-5)
We are aware that for some members of our congregations this will feel as though we are moving too slowly. We ask those of you for whom this is true, to bear with us over coming months and continue to join with us in worship.
Our plan is that we:
• Remain in our usual congregations over the Summer, rather than meet together for Sunday morning worship, and that we review measures in September.
• Continue to ask people to wear face-coverings during public worship, at occasional offices and at events held in our buildings.
• Continue to receive communion in one kind with only the priest drinking the wine.
• Continue ensuring social distancing inside our buildings.
• Permit congregational singing with masks in place. We will take gradual steps in re-introducing signing over the next few weeks. The approach may vary slightly in each of our congregations.
• Permit choirs to sing hymns and lead worship without needing to wear a face-covering provided social distancing can be maintained. • Ask that our risk assessments, and those of building users, are reviewed in the light of the changed legal position.
• Ask groups using our buildings to continue to follow a cautious approach over the next few months with face-coverings being worn my most people in most contexts, but aware that for some groups this will not be practical. A particular example is the various choirs that are using and may wish to use our buildings for rehearsals.
We will have some new yellow posters put up in our churches which explain these things in general terms. We continue to be grateful to you for your faithful commitment to the Gospel and the life of our churches and long for a day when we can gather together without fear. We hope that the measures we have outlined might help each of you who has struggled to attend worship to feel that you will be safe if you choose to come to church each week.
<span style="font-size: 1rem;">Love and prayers </span>
Revd Roger Farnworth
The Parish of the Good Shepherd