I wrote this article with Laura Neale on behalf of the You Belong Community.
I'm sharing it here so that it gets the widest audience possible and so I can easily find it again in the future.
Flames of excitement
Cloud awareness of worry
As the UK government announces the probable end of all Covid related restrictions on 19th July 2021, many people are looking forward to not having to wear a mask and are jubilant at the idea of singing in church again. We understand the desire to sing together in the church building again, many of us wish we could come into church and worship God by singing at the top of our voices; but it isn't possible for everyone and it won't feel safe for many. As a community of disabled and chronically ill people, we have concerns that singing in a church building without masks or social distancing will make many people not feel safe attending and therefore, will exclude these people from church buildings. We know churches want to invite everyone back into their buildings but might struggle to know what they can do to make it safe for those who are vulnerable. We hope that the following tips can help make worship in your church building as inclusive as possible. After all, that is the message Jesus shared in his ministry.
Hybrid church charter
We also encourage every church to keep their digital provision alive and interactive and to sign up to the Premier Digital hybrid church charter, which you can find out more about here: https://www.premierdigital.info/charter "As social distancing regulations are relaxed it is vital that as we re-open the building doors of the church that we do not shut the digital doors! The future of the Church is hybrid, combining the best of what our buildings and traditions allow with the best of digital opportunities." Theology of inclusion There are many biblical passages about including everyone in the body of Christ. Here are a few as a reminder to us all… Genesis Chapter 1, verse 27: “God created humankind in His image, in the image of God He created them, male and female, He created them.” Every single one of us is made in the image of God. In our strength and in our weakness, we are created and loved by God. Galatians 28: “You are all children of God through faith.... for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” We are all one in Jesus, we are all part of the worldwide Church and the purpose of the church is to bring people together. This doesn't mean having everybody in the same building, that would be impossible across the world; but it does mean that we need to make every effort as church leaders to provide a space, place and welcome for everyone. Church can only really be church if every person can worship, belong and lead. Matthew 25: “I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you gave Me clothing, I was sick and you took care of Me, I was in prison and you visited Me” …. “Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did it to Me”. Hospitality is at the core of our lives as disciples and of every church. God tells us to live hospitably, treating everyone as if they are God. If, as a church, we make decisions that exclude people, we are separating ourselves from God. Practical tips for making in building worship accessible and safe for those who are vulnerable Check in and sanitiser provision It might not be essential to check in but it will provide an extra level of reassurance for everyone to know they will be informed if someone in the service with them tests positive Ventilation Ventilation is one of the best ways of reducing the risks of spreading Covid-19. Fling open the doors and windows Leave the areas near the open doors and windows available for those who are more vulnerable Share worship with your community Wear masks when singing It might not feel as freeing to sing with a mask on, but this is a good compromise to allow those who are anxious or vulnerable to feel safer Keep some distance between bubbles of people where possible Space out your seating as much as possible to allow bubbles to keep some distance from each other Or provide an area of the church building where people can distance themselves from the crowd Remind everyone not to get too close to others without asking if they are comfortable This is a simple but powerful way of making people feel safe Put notices up in the space, announce it from the front and put it on your social media reminding everyone to check before moving close to people Be clear about what is expected of people before they come into the building and what is provided
Information, information, information This is actually less about telling people how you expect them to behave and MORE about reassuring those who are anxious to stay safe that their concerns are being taken seriously Update your website with details of what worship will look like and operate, with photos of the worship space and systems in place to ensure everyone feels welcome and safe. Put up posters on the outside of the building or in the entry so everyone knows what to expect and what they is expected of them Final thought: all life is real life We have spent 18 months worshipping and connecting as a church online. This is not a lower or lesser form of church, it is a different way of being church. Of course many people want to get back into the church buildings, but many never could and more now can't or don't feel safe enough to so. Many churches will have new members who joined during the pandemic and they may well wish to keep worshipping online. This is church as much now as it was when we were all in lockdown. We all live in real life, whether we are in a church building or online; let's ensure that online church is just as valued as attending church in a building.