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Plans to resume public worship

Plans to resume public worship

# Internal Updates
Published on Thursday, 1 April 2021 21:56


Vicar's Letter: Plans to resume public worship

I seem to be writing a lot of Vicar's Letters these days - the situation around us changes so quickly, and we're having to react to the coronavirus regulations and guidance so often (as well as to what we believe God is saying to us at the moment). Unbelievably, this is the second Vicar's Letter I've had to write within a year about the same subject: public worship resuming in person after a lockdown. We have to recognise how extraordinary that is, and how unthinkable it would have been at the beginning of 2020.

Context of the Plans

When we suspended public worship in person, the rate of infection in Southampton was around 650 new cases every day per 100k and was rising sharply. That had dropped significantly to around 56 new cases every day when the schools reopened on 8th March. Despite the rate rising a little as schools went back, it has now settled back to about the same level. As I write, the rate is 57 cases every day per 100k people in Southampton (down 28% over the last week), with hospital admissions also down sharply in the same time frame (39%).

When we discussed the situation on Monday 29 March, I'm really glad to say that the PCC were strongly in favour of resuming public worship in person (and of holding services at Easter in advance of this, an exception justified by the significance of the festival and the reality that it was not legal to do so last year). We have also spent considerable time praying through these plans at two recent prophetic gatherings (involving both Standing Committee members and our discernment group) and believe them to be the right way forward.

What are our plans?

We have decided that the best point for public worship and its related ministries to resume is after Step 2 on the government's roadmap will have come into force. Step 2 will allow both children's work and youth not associated with the YTH CHRCH service to resume in person. It will also only come into force if the government has reached the judgement that it is safe to do so. 

The government roadmap is allowing five weeks between each relaxation to see the cumulative impact of each further loosening of restrictions. Thus, Step 1 (the reopening of schools on 8 March and the permitting of two households and groups of 6 to meet outdoors on 29 March) will not be fully evaluated until 12 April (the earliest date for Step 2 to be implemented). Recent information about a squeezing of vaccine supply and a worsening of the situation in Europe might also slow progress through the roadmap. It seems, therefore, unlikely that we will be told whether Step 2 is happening on 12 April until on or shortly before that date.

Such a late announcement would leave us with little time to gear up for the following Sunday (in terms of booking forms, and teams for HF Kids, operations and stewarding). It seems wise, therefore, to allow at least one clear Sunday between the announcement of Step 2 coming into force and resuming public worship in person. This delay will also give us more time in the intervening weeks to grow the teams involved in live streaming to support these 'hybrid' services when they start (visuals, cameras and sound).

In practice, this would mean the earliest public worship in person could resume would be Sunday 25 April, the date we chose months ago for our Vision Evening and APCM (NB business meetings in person are still not as yet permitted). Rather than unpick all our APCM plans, the proposal is to resume only the 10.30am congregation (with HF Kids and YTH CHRCH) on Sunday 25 April. The Vision Evening and APCM will run from 6.30-9pm over Zoom on that day, beginning with an act of worship lasting around 45 minutes. The plan is for the 9am service and the 6.30pm service to resume in person on Sunday 2nd May. Until that point a pre- recorded 9am will continue to be streamed every Sunday.

In summary the PCC agreed that:

- public worship in person should resume after Step 2 of the government roadmap comes into force.

- we should allow at least one clear Sunday between the announcement and the resumption of public worship in person to enable us to put all teams and operational processes in place.

- the earliest date for the resumption of public worship in person is, therefore, Sunday 25 April for the 10.30am and Sunday 2 May for the 9am and 6.30pm congregations.

- both the Liturgical and Contemporary morning services will be 'hybrid' services (in person and online) when they resume.

Reflection on the PCC Debate

After an introduction from different points of view, the PCC discussed the matter at some length in small breakout rooms over Zoom. A small minority pressed for an immediate resumption of public worship in person, one voted against any resumption for the time being, and a significant majority of over twenty members voted for the plan detailed above. I think that captures the reality that many of us have different attitudes to risk at the moment, and that these are informed by our own circumstances and experiences of lockdown. Still so much is uncertain: I hope and pray I will not have to write a third letter about resuming public worship in person after yet another lockdown, but the worsening situation on the continent gives us all pause.

I hope that the plans we've outlined and committed to will allow us to serve both those who feel confident to come to worship in person as well as those who are finding that too much to contemplate at the moment. Live streaming enables both groups to participate in the same act of worship, as well as allowing many beyond our fellowship to watch from the digital fringes. We think the next season will be about connecting with God, reconnecting with one another and making connections with others (not least with those who have joined us digitally over the last year). Please pray that the situation in our city and our country continues to improve to allow these plans to be fruitfully implemented (and, of course, for vaccine fairness and healing around the world).

We have a particular need for new team members to come forward to help with stewarding and with the behind-the-camera roles which have become so essential (at the moment, we are still heavily dependent on staff making this happen). We urgently need help at all the congregations. Please consider whether you can be part of one of these teams. If you're competent using a computer, you can learn to do at least one of these roles (I have!). 

I recognise that many of us are feeling discouraged and weary, even exhausted, at the end of lockdown 3. Please pray that God will use these new 'hybrid' services (both in person and online) to lift us by His Spirit and encourage and inspire us to follow Him ever more closely in this new season.

Every blessing


Mike Archer

Priest in Charge

Current Plans 

11 April - 9am Pre-recorded Service - Online Only

             - 10.30am Pre-recorded Service - Online Only

18 April - 9am Liturgical (HC) - Pre-Recorded Online Only

             - 10.30am All Age Contemporary Service -  Live Streamed

25 April - 9am Liturgical (HC) -  Pre-Recorded Online Only

             - 10.30am Contemporary Service - In Person and Streamed

             - 10.30am Highfield Kids -  In Person

             - 10.30am YTH CHRCH - In Person and Streamed

             - 6.30pm Vision Evening and APCM - Over Zoom

Our new Sunday pattern will then start on 2 May as follows

             -  9am Liturgical (HC) -  In Person and Streamed

             - 10.30am Contemporary Service - In Person and Streamed  

             - 10.30am Highfield Kids -  In Person

             - 10.30am YTH CHRCH - In Person and Streamed

             -  6.30pm Contemporary Service -  In Person