“It is very difficult to maintain the kind of structures that allow our spiritual life to remain healthy, and yet this is the very wellspring of leadership ”
The Place of the Parish: Imagining Mission in our Neighbourhood
Renewing the Covenant
On Thursday of this week ForMission College was involved through its Journal (the Journal of Missional Practice – JMP), with an international group of church leaders, educators and thinkers from the UK, Canada and the USA. N More than 100 registered for the main event on Zoom and hundreds of others saw the event on Facebook and joined us using that piece of social media.We were only able to give a few days’ notice and so the response was astonishing. It demonstrates that we are touching an issue that is close to the heart of many senior Christian leaders.
So why does this matter to so many? Many church leaders recognise the importance of building local relationships. There was a time when churches could easily build or sustain relationships with their community just by being there. Today churches have to work hard to build those connections and we don’t necessarily have the skills to do that.
The other issue is the suggestion that we need to move from contract to covenant. That is a more complicated issue and needs some further explanation. We recognise the language of covenant, which has to do with long term committed relationships of service and love. The language of contract is always short term, and deals with people as units, and even as commodities to be exploited. For the last 100 years, increasingly, our western world has based public life on contract rather than covenant. The challenge of the church is to model a different basis for community life.
We will return to these themes over the next few weeks. For more information on the seminar that took place and the open letter that accompanied it, go to the following this link. Or watch a recording of the seminar below.
Covid 19 restrictions
As you will all be aware, there are new government restrictions on how people can meet together. They do not seem to affect church services as such but obviously people need to use common sense in terms of what is safe and acceptable in each local situation. The restrictions can vary in particular cities. We reproduce below the National Advice to churches from the Evangelical Alliance and then below that the local advice that has been issue by Birmingham City Council as an example of a local variation.
The Government is introducing new regulations in England on Monday, 14 September which will limit indoor and outdoor social gatherings in private premises, churches or other venues to six people.
There are a number of places where more than six people can attend at the same time, and this includes places of worship. Therefore, church services can go ahead as long as they operate according to the Government’s guidance, with social distancing maintained and other hygiene measures in place.
The primary exception to the ‘rule of six’ is for households or exclusive support bubbles that have more than six people. In these situations that group can gather together and attend venues together.
To understand how this rule will work, it is important to recognise the distinction between attending a place and socially interacting with other people. There are a number of contexts where more than six people can attend at the same time: this could be at church, in a restaurant, at the cinema, or in a shop. Following the change, those attending these places must not socially interact in groups larger than six people. When interacting in these groups social distancing should be maintained between people from different households.
What is the impact on church services?
Church services can go ahead in the same manner that has been permitted since 4 July; as long as a risk assessment and social distancing and hygiene measures are in place, services can continue. There is no maximum limit on the number of people who may attend – this is subject to the capacity of the building. Congregational singing is strongly discouraged, however, and those singing from the front should take mitigating measures such as the use of a screen.
Currently, churches are encouraged to record who is attending services so that this can support the track and trace system. Following the announcement of changes from 14 September, it will be mandatory for all hospitality venues to record this information; however, it is not clear at this stage whether this compulsion extends to churches. We would strongly advise churches to record this information.
The primary impact of the changes will be on what happens before, after and within the service between members of the congregation. You must not attend in groups larger than six unless everyone is from the same household or support bubble and government advice is to limit your interaction to the group you are attending with. Within these groups, while interaction may take place, social distancing between different households should be maintained. This means that up to six people may arrive together, or go to the park together after the service, but not interact with other people while at church.
Theoretically you could form different groups of six people at different points; however, this would not be in keeping with the intent of reducing social interaction between households.
What does this mean for meeting in homes?
Until 14 September only a maximum of two households should meet together indoors. The changes that come into force next week mean that this is actually more permissive and provides some further scope for church meetings in private homes. Six people from any number of households will be permitted to meet together.
Two important things to bear in mind regarding this change: first, it is our expectation that this includes everyone in a house at that time. So, if a couple has two children, even if they are asleep upstairs, they can only have two further people in their house. We’re seeking clarification from the government on this and will update when we have more information.
The second aspect is that social distancing should be maintained between households, so if you have six people from six different households meeting in a living room you would need quite a lot of space.
A further consideration is to understand that these changes have been brought in both to clarify what is required, but also because infection rates are rising. It is therefore wise to limit the number of people meeting together in private homes. At this stage it is probably sensible for mid-week church groups to meet in church buildings where possible, as the density is likely to be lower and COVID-secure measures will be in place. If meeting in a church building, all those participating in a small group will need to wear a mask – the exemption is only for those leading services, for example teaching a Bible study group.
What does this mean for children’s and youth ministry?
Children’s and youth ministry are largely unaffected by this change: groups for children over five can meet in groups of up to 15, and there is no limit on the number of under-fives that can meet together.
This rule does affect informal childcare arrangements, as in these situations the total number of people who can be gathered is six, unless they are all from the same household or support bubble.
Children’s playgroups are also noted as exempt from the restriction on six people, but as with all settings social interaction should not occur beyond groups of six people.
What does this mean for other church activities and ministries?
Other ministries and activities that churches run can continue to operate as long as they do so within a COVID-secure framework and with appropriate social distancing and hygiene measures in place. This means that voluntary services such as foodbanks can operate with more than six people present, so can support groups such as bereavement or addiction recovery groups – as these are classed as charitable services.
In these settings social distancing should be maintained between different households and no more than six people can socially interact before, during or after the session. This might mean working out how discussions take place and may mean organising the session into smaller groups.
New restrictions announced to drive down infection rate- Birmingham City Council advice
Published: Friday, 11th September 2020
New restrictions on meeting other people have been announced in order to push down the coronavirus rate of infection in Birmingham.
From Tuesday 15 September Birmingham residents will not be able to mix with any other households, indoors or in private gardens, except for those in a support bubble. This applies both inside and outside the city boundaries.
The rate of infection has increased to 75 per 100,000 compared to 30.1 per 100,000 for the period between the 8 to 14 August.
Cllr Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “I know this is difficult, particularly when we have got used to seeing friends and family, but it is vital we stick to these rules and protect each other given the sudden rise in infection rate. If we all follow the rules we will get the infection rate down, but we have to work together on this. The virus has not gone away, it has not weakened, in fact it is relentless and we must be relentless in our efforts to control the spread.
“I understand that it may be frustrating that you can go to the pub but not see your family, but the data we have shows that the infection rate has risen mainly due to social interactions, particularly private household gatherings. In shops and hospitality venues there are strict measures in place to ensure they are Covid-safe, whereas it is much easier to inadvertently pass on the virus in someone’s house where people are more relaxed and less vigilant.
“So people can still go out to shops and to restaurants and other venues that are open, but remember to be vigilant; if a venue doesn’t look safe and you are not asked for your contact details, take your business elsewhere.
“Continue to wash your hands regularly and wear a face-covering in enclosed spaces and if you feel unwell, get a test.”
The publication Christianity has sent us an article and an invitation to read more on the subject of depression and how to overcome it. We have reproduced their invitation below just as it came to us:
“We want as many people as possible to read the articles on our website and Social Media is a great place to share a link to articles on our website with your friends and family. This week I’d like you to share our article on depression. Depression is a complex illness. Scientists don’t know the full biological story of what causes it. It can be triggered by one upsetting event or by a combination of factors. It could be genetic. Some people have personality traits that make them more vulnerable to depression such as low self-worth or a tendency to be very self-critical. Depression can affect anyone, whether they have a religious faith or not.
Christians speak of their faith giving them peace and joy but it does not make them immune from depression. Suffering from depression is not a sign of spiritual failure or punishment for wrongdoing. It is not a sign that God has stopped loving someone.
I think this article on the Christianity.org.uk website is really powerful. You can find the full article here and can I please encourage you to share it on your own social networks? Feel free to copy the image tile at the top of this email if you wish. If someone does reach out to you about this, you can always direct them to our ‘Help Me God’ page which can be found here. “
Till next week, Martin Robinson…