Transitioning out of lockdown
21st June 2020
In the first update (on 24th May) we set out the process the Elders will follow to plan Chalmers' exit from lockdown in line with government guidance, specifically the Scottish Government’s route map (which you can access here). The government is following a phased approach to lifting current restrictions. There are four phases in all. This past week, on 18th June, the Scottish Government moved to phase 2.
It was encouraging to hear the First Minister speak warmly of the role churches and other faith groups have in society. As minister of Chalmers, Robin has been invited to participate in the consultation process for churches as we move through the different phases. He is glad to be able to engage with the government in that way.
What are we doing as a church?
To help us think through the process, a working group of Chalmers’ Elders and members of the Redeemer Leadership Team, facilitated by Fiona MacKenzie, has been set up. The members of the working group are Andy Buchan, Graham Gibb, Alan MacKenzie, Jay Parsons and Robin Sydserff from Chalmers and Colin Fishbacher and Sam Orr from Redeemer.
We are working with an agreed set of principles. Let me remind you of the first three:
Meeting together physically as a church family is a biblical mandate and therefore something we want to be able to do.
Compliance with government policy as a church is also a biblical mandate. We comply not because we have to, but because we want to. Moreover, complying will ensure that we are protecting the health of others, as well as ourselves.
Recognising that a hybrid approach will be necessary through the different stages. This will be particularly important in phase 3, when there is the possibility of meeting together in larger numbers and in the church building.
In many respects, the move to phase 2 will mean little change to the way we are currently functioning. Staff will continue to work offsite. Sunday services will continue through livestream with small groups, children and youth work and other church activities continuing via Zoom.
Many of you are asking about baptisms, dedications and communion. While we are welcoming people into membership remotely, we want to wait till we can have larger gatherings (of whatever size) before doing baptisms, dedications and other ceremonies like ordinations. That is likely to be phase 3. For baptisms and dedications there are obvious difficulties with social distancing. Communion is an area the Elders are giving a lot of thought to. We do miss remembering the Lord’s death in this way, but want to ensure we are doing the right thing and, as ever, mindful of the unity of the church family.
There are significant changes in phase 2 about meeting other people. And we need to think about these changes in terms of how we might rebuild in small steps our physical contact with others in the church family.
People who are shielding are now able to leave their home for exercise and to meet with one other household outdoors (keeping to a maximum of eight people in total) with physical distancing.
People who are not shielding can now meet with up to two other households outdoors (keeping to a maximum of eight people in total) with physical distancing. They can also use the toilet while visiting the outdoors of another household (with appropriate hygiene measures).
The government has also introduced the concept of an ‘extended household’. If you are an adult and you live alone, or if all the others in your household are under 18, you and the members of one other household can agree to form an 'extended household'. This will allow people who live alone (or those living only with children under the age of 18) to be considered part of another household in order to reduce loneliness, isolation and to provide mutual social support.
Can I encourage us as a church family to embrace these changes as we are able? One way would be for small groups to encourage meetings between their members (in appropriate ways).
Phase 2 allows places of worship to re-open for individual prayer or contemplation. And marriages are now allowed with minimal attendees – outdoors only.
With respect to opening the church building for private prayer, having carefully and prayerfully considered this, the elders have decided not to do this. For four reasons:
Practically, it would be difficult for us to facilitate this in July with people being on holiday. Yes, ‘holidays’ will be at home, but we want people to have a rest in July;
The health and safety protocols required would be very rigorous;
Napier leaving the building in July would complicate this; and
With no ability to engage people in conversation (the guidance is clear on that), we think the time required of people to open and supervise the building being opened for prayer would be better employed in evangelism in other contexts, for example offering to read a Gospel with someone. Soon, there will be links on the website enabling you to access resources on Mark’s Gospel (the ReadMARK material) and John’s Gospel (The Word One to One).
There are some other changes in phase 2 which will indirectly affect us as a church, for example: college and university staff can return to make essential preparations for restart in Phase 3. That means Napier will be able to remove their equipment from the building in July when their lease ends.
Finally, let me say something about phase 3. This is where we anticipate gatherings of larger numbers being possible in the church building. On Friday past the working group met to considering planning for phase 3, identifying all the issues and questions and looking at various scenarios. In due course the working group will start engaging with ministry leaders. As soon as the Elders have a clear plan in place we will give further updates.
The Lord has kept us united in lockdown. And we trust to Him to keep that unity, giving us wisdom and discernment, step by step. Good planning will be vital. Good communication will be vital – speaking and listening. Just as important will be loving and bearing with one another. Let’s keep on doing that.