Summer 2021 Pastoral letter
‘Freedom Day’ beckons and the end of all restrictions on the 19 July. We await the final confirmation of this on Monday and then the guidance from the Church of England to follow, but it seems clear that we are moving into a new phase where ‘personal responsibility’ is replacing Government legislation as to how we deal with the ongoing realities of Covid. While we are so looking forward to life returning to normal as much as possible, there is the concern of rapidly increasing numbers of infections and an uncertainty as yet as to quite what that will mean. Our vaccination programme has been amazingly successful, but with 64% of the adult population double-vaccinated, there are still a significant number of people at risk of infection and illness. Our younger people are now the ones most affected and we still don’t know all the implications of long-Covid.
In responding to the Prime Minister’s announcement last week, The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, chair of the Church of England’s Covid Recovery Group, said;
“I welcome the Prime Minister’s presentation of the latest scientific data which underpins their decision in principle to lift most restrictions from July 19. The vaccination programme has been an answer to prayer but, while it has transformed the outlook of the pandemic, it has not eliminated all risk. So it is right, as the Prime Minister has said, that we all must exercise personal responsibility and carefully manage the risks from Covid-19. As Christians, called to love our neighbour as ourselves, we must also exercise collective responsibility and continue to take appropriate precautions to protect others.
Over the past 18 months we have mourned the tens of thousands who have died from Covid-19. We have also all made sacrifices and seen previously unimaginable changes to our way of life as we sought to protect one another and especially those who are most vulnerable. In churches that has meant unprecedented restrictions on the way we practise our faith itself, affecting our ability to meet together, to sing together and to celebrate the sacraments together, all of which are at the heart of our worship. We have also seen particular restrictions on the way we marked major events in our lives through baptisms, weddings and funerals; sadly many were denied the basic comforts of sharing moments of joy and pain with others.
I’ve been inspired by the way churches have risen to the challenge, finding new ways of gathering to worship God, reach out and serve their neighbours in these difficult times. I have been deeply moved by the extraordinary efforts of those working on the front line in our NHS and social care. And I would also like to highlight the sacrifices, often overlooked, made by children and young people to protect us all for so long during such a formative time in their lives. I am also mindful of those who lives have been radically changed by the effects of long covid. We will await the new Government advice for places of worship and adapt our guidance to churches accordingly.”
In our Benefice we will continue to follow the Church of England guidance and to take a phased approach to changes so we can carry on keeping everyone safe, giving us time to adjust and for those who are still anxious to be reassured.
Assuming things go ahead as proposed following the Government’s announcement on the 12th July (if not we will simply delay each of these steps accordingly) my suggestion is that from 19th July we might look to relax the general seating restrictions in both churches, but keep some areas available for social distancing for those who would feel safer this way. At St John’s you will be able to sit anywhere in the pews, but there will be chairs set at a distance from each other at the back. At St Mary’s we will reinstate the north side pews as an area where every other row can be used. If you choose to sit in the unrestricted areas, please be aware of others around you who may still wish to maintain some social distancing. Please check with those already seated in front and behind if they are happy for you to sit nearby.
For everyone’s safety, while we are gathered in groups inside for any length of time, we would encourage you to continue to wear a face mask, following the advice of the Government’s scientific advisers.
We will look to gradually introduce congregational singing (hooray!) from the 1st
August and review how this feels after the first couple of weeks, and with regard to Covid figures locally at that point.
We will not as yet, reintroduce receiving wine at communion from the common cup and will continue to receive the bread standing, coming forward and returning to our seats as before – moving in one direction around the buildings works better on several fronts. Of course, if you have difficulty walking, please feel free to return to your seat by the shortest route.
We will be able to share the peace with a handshake or hug but once again, please check before you touch others that they are happy for you to do so and respect the fact that some of us will still wish to refrain from physical contact.
I am consulting with those on the refreshment rotas to see when feels right to
reintroduce coffee after services and how best to do that. With our Patronal Festival at St Mary’s on 15th August we have a date to aim at for enjoying hospitality and fellowship and we plan to have a BYO Picnic in the churchyard, Vicarage Garden and Bede House.
There is much to look forward to with the prospect of social events and times of
celebration – and the possibility of growing our church and activities again over the coming months. We still need to take the time to allow God’s voice to be heard among us as to how the emerging church needs to be rather than rush to reinstate how it all was before. There is a work of healing and restoring to be done for so many of us and none of this can or should be rushed.
Let’s find ways to talk together about our hopes, fears, insights, dreams, longings – perhaps you might come along to the ‘Come on Board’ evening on 21st August at 8pm in The Bede House to share in exploring the Leading Your Church into Growth programme as we look at the areas of our Benefice and consider where we are already making an impact and what we might need to do to reach out to areas where we have little contact.
Thank you to you all for looking after one another and so many across our communities and for being so caring and considerate despite the understandable anxiety and frustrations we have all been experiencing. I hope you are able to enjoy some rest, relaxation and time to catch up with family and friends over the summer. Chris and I will be taking a much-needed fortnight off from 12th July and will be able to share time with my Dad, Tom & Anjalee, Georgie and Bella, and see my brother, Mark, and his family, and some friends who live and work abroad who we haven’t seen for a couple of years and I am looking forward to all of that. I am extremely grateful to my colleagues who are making that possible as well as encouraging them to enjoy some time off too!
We are all of us so blessed in each other across our church families and communities. Take good care, keep in good heart and strong in faith!
With my love, prayers and best wishes to you all,
The Revd Michelle Dalliston Interim Vicar
The Deanery, 14 Minster Precincts, Peterborough PE1 1XX and
The Vicarage, Wood Street, Higham Ferrers NN10 8DL
Tel: 01733 569147/07961 003352