NOTE: Sunday Services of worship are continuing to take place at Bromsgrove Methodist Church at the current time. However the following details if, when and why we will suspend services.

At the recent Church Council the Management Committee was given authority to make decisions as to if and when services should take place at Bromsgrove Methodist Church. The situation regarding Covid remains fluid. Though we are currently adjudged to be in Tier 1 of the Government’s system of Covid alert status cases appear to be rising in the Bromsgrove area. The Chair of the management committee has discussed the matter with the senior steward Terry Clarke and the minister Rev Steven Levett. We have concluded that for the sake of clarity, to play our part in locally reducing social contact through which the virus spreads, and to better protect the more vulnerable amongst us IF AND WHEN BROMSGROVE MOVED INTO TIER 2 OR ABOVE PHYSICALLY GATHERED SERVICES AT BROMSGROVE METHODIST CHURCH SHALL BE SUSPENDED WITH IMMEDIATE EFFECT. This decision is subject to confirmation by the full Management Committee. A fuller explanation for this decision will be given at the service on Sunday 25th October and made available in printed form, by email and on our church page on the Circuit website. Rev Stephen Levett.

Fuller explanation:
You will have seen in the bulletin on Sunday 25th October an announcement on our policy for suspension of church services. In short, we will suspend physically gathered on-site services if and when we move into Tier 2. We thought a little more explanation might be helpful.

Legally, whichever Tier we find ourselves in, we can open and hold services. However just because we can does not mean that we should.

As the numbers of Covid-19 cases go up, many people feel less safe.
The whole point of the risk assessments relating to the opening of our church building, and the procedures flowing from them – including the sanitisation, distance, face coverings, one way system, ventilation and the like – is to reduce and minimise the risk of someone who attends passing on the Coronavirus should they have it.
It is intended to help us all feel a little safer and provide some reassurance.

It is also intended to help us actually be safer.
However, whilst the actions we take can reduce the risk, we cannot eliminate it.

As cases of Covid-19 go up in an area, so does the risk of catching and spreading it.
As numbers go up, we are less safe.

Being candid now though we have clear procedures not everyone is finding it easy to stick to them, especially in the conversations and mingling before and after services. THERE IS NOT MEANT TO BE ANY MINGLING BEFORE AND AFTERWARDS! Perhaps a sense of complacency can set in. This has the unintended consequence of increasing the risk of spreading the virus through social contact.

Reducing the number of social contacts is the best way to reduce the spread of the virus.
Church services very much involve social contact.

We should take steps to do what we can to look after one another, especially the most vulnerable who are most likely to be impacted in a devastating way should they contract the Coronavirus. (There is guidance provided by the Methodist Church that suggests we should consider holding services exclusively for those aged 70+ so as to reduce the risk of them coming into contact with younger people likely to be having to mix more in wider society because of work commitments and thus more likely to bring the virus with them. This is not really practical. It also says those most vulnerable should consider staying away.)

We should play our part in reducing contacts to help slow the spread of the virus in our community and prevent hospitals being overwhelmed, so that aspects of society deemed essential to keep going – schools, workplaces etc. – can keep going.

All this indicates that there may come a time when it sensible, and an expression of love for one another and our neighbours, to suspend services.

How do you judge when the time has come? The most straightforward way is to have a clear trigger event recognised by all. Moving to Tier 2, with the increased restrictions that come with it, is a sensible trigger. It has been used in other Districts such as London and Notts & Derby, where the District chairs have strongly urged churches to suspend services for the sake of the wellbeing of their memberships and communities.
However ultimately the decision must be made at local church level.

Here at Bromsgrove Methodist Church the Church Council gave the Management Committee authority to decide on such matters; this policy is their properly considered decision, which I trust you will accept.

What of the most isolated?
There is another side to the equation: The impact on those whose sense of, and actual, isolation is most likely to increase if they cannot gather in the company of others for worship and fellowship. These are primarily, though not exclusively, those who are in single households and who are not currently able to easily connect to the internet. If they could, they would be able to access any number of recorded and importantly LIVE means of gathering for worship, fellowship and conversation. If and when we go into Tier 2, It is beholden upon us as a Church to do all we can to reduce the sense of isolation amongst these people.

What are the options for seeking to enable people to be connected?

On a one to one basis a thoughtful card or letter, a telephone call and even a safely distanced door-step conversation may help.

For group and corporate gatherings there are two primary means:
Firstly the telephone.
There is a way to use the telephone for live group gatherings whereby through telephone conferencing people can ring a central number and join in a service. Rev Latika Singh is already using this with some groups in the churches under her pastoral care, using a service called WhyPay. This process allows for people to hear a service or other devotion, and where carefully managed join in conversation and even sing together. The other attraction is that it is free.(Thanks to Latika for leading the way in this regard.)

Secondly the internet.
There are any number of possibilities for joining in activities via the internet, including live and pre-recorded services, and opportunities to meet and discuss in groups. However to engage in these activities people need to have access to the internet. Of course quite a few people are not currently connected in this way, and the best they can hope for is to be given recordings of these activities after the event.
The ideal solution is to find ways for people to be connected to the internet and so bridge the ‘digital divide.’
There are creative possibilities for enabling people to be connected to these group and corporate activities without the need to get the engineer from BT or Virgin in to install a broadband line and have people signed up to a monthly contract.
These include:
– By providing people with handheld computers (often called a tablet) connected to the internet by a generous and trusting neighbours’ WiFi
– By providing people with a similar device that is able to be connected to the mobile phone network to gain access to the internet through that means.
Some of these options are not cheap, but it might be a price worth paying by someone (be it the circuit, local church, generous individuals or the recipients themselves) in order to maintain fellowship and build connection with those at risk of being cut off.

Initially we need to undertake some research to find out whether such people want to be connected in this way if it can be facilitated. Presuming many would value this I consider we need to do all we can to connect with all who want to be included.

Rev Steve Levett 25th October 2020

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