Resuming Public Worship at St Mary’s

A letter from Revd Will Gibbs

I want to begin by acknowledging that the past four months have been really challenging and worrying for everyone. It has been a time when we had no clear sense of how things would turn out and certainly no handbook to guide us. Thank you to everyone who has sent such encouraging messages in appreciation for what we have been offering by way of ministry and worship through this time. It has made the grappling with new skills, the efforts of a wide team of people and the many hours spent all worthwhile to know that we have been able to pray and worship together whilst not physically being able to gather.

We have tried to offer variety and some innovation whilst providing services that were still, we hope, very recognisably ‘St Mary’s’ in terms of the style and tradition. I’m sure, despite our best intentions and efforts, that what we have offered hasn’t suited everyone equally and can, in any case, only go some way to providing for all that we cherish and have missed in our worshipping life as a church family.

The good news is that in recent weeks the Government advice along with the guidance from the Church of England and the Diocese of St Albans, has allowed us to resume public worship from 4 July. In close collaboration with the ministry team and churchwardens, I have been developing plans for the phased reintroduction of services at St Mary’s. These plans have been discussed and were unanimously approved by the PCC at their meeting on Wednesday 8 July.

I want to first set out a few general principles before then going on to say in detail how things will work.

Introduction and Thanks

Since the March lockdown the ministry and worship of St Mary’s has continued but much of it has had to be offered in a very different way with online services, printed resources for those without access to the technology, emails and contact via social media, Zoom meetings (and occasionally Zoom Morning Prayer) and pastoral phone calls between members of the congregation.

I want to record my thanks for the many people who have shared in this ministry – some of it very obvious and visible – and some of it less easily seen but no less important. It has been heartening to know of the way that members of the Mothers’ Union, our textile group, Spotlight groups, the Day Centre, the pastoral visiting team and other activities, as well as many individuals, have been contacting one another to offer support and care. The ministry of the church has always been by the church for the church and never solely mediated through the Vicar, and never has that been more evident than in recent weeks.

It is always dangerous to name people in anything like this, for fear of offence or omission, but I do want to say particular thanks to Paul Vernon, Kate Ford and Stephen Boffey for their amazing work with mixing the audio, recording music and videos of readings and prayers, mixing the videos into the final packaged service and Kate’s great work with the website and social media, for members of the ministry team for their really thoughtful and creative contributions which are always valued but have been appreciated more than ever, and to Jonathan and the choir and instrumentalists for all their hard (and lonely) work in recording the music that has so enriched our services.

Alongside this, we have faced very real concerns about a loss of income and the financial impact of the pandemic on our church finances. These concerns have been communicated and the financial response has been incredible and the impact largely, if not wholly, mitigated. That has brought massive peace of mind where many churches are facing immediate and long-term questions about their financial health and viability.

For all of the above, thank you. These have been yet further reminders of why St Mary’s is such a special church with incredibly gifted, caring and generous people.

Going Forward

As you can imagine, it is much easier to lockdown than it is to re-open and we do need to take all reasonable care so that as our services resume they can be offered in a way that maximises the safety and wellbeing of all who come and fully complies at all times with the guidelines that have been issued.

Our approach will be as follows:

  1. We will undertake a phased process of re-opening so that we can implement the changes gradually over several weeks, in a way that is safe and manageable.
  2. The plans we have made, and which are set out below, may need to change as we regularly review how things are going and by always placing the safety of you and others as our highest priority.
  3. We will continue to broadcast an online service via YouTube every week (both now, and for the foreseeable future) to cater for those beyond Redbourn who have been joining us for these services and for those in our community who will want to stay at home and will feel unable to come to church for services yet. There are implications in doing this and we need to be careful to manage workloads and avoid burnout.
  4. The phased return to worship in church is as follows:

Thu 9 July           9.30 am Morning Prayer and 5.00 pm Evening Prayer and on all weekdays thereafter.

Wed 15 July        7.30 pm Wednesday Holy Eucharist resumes each Wednesday evening

Sun 26 July                 

8.00 am Holy Communion (Book of Common Prayer) resumes each Sunday

9.30 am Parish Eucharist (Common Worship) * resumes, initially as an outdoor service on the church lawn (until September, and then reviewed).

*       This will be subject to the weather and if it is wet will not take place. If that happens, then please stay at home and watch the online service broadcast at 9.30 am as we have been doing. Assume it is happening but if you’re not sure check the St Mary’s website or the St Mary’s Facebook page where a message will be posted if the service is not happening.

    1. There will be no sharing of the peace, singing or catering and the distribution of communion will be in ‘one-kind’ i.e. the consecrated wafer only and the chalice will not be offered at this time.

Let’s look at some layouts and plans:

Those arriving for Morning and Evening Prayer and for the Wednesday Eucharist are encouraged to take spaces furthest from the entry point into the chancel from the Lady Chapel to assist with spacing and distancing.

Those arriving for the 8 am service, please come in, use the hand sanitiser, leave your collection (if you give by envelope) and take your own service booklet. It won’t be handed to you. We won’t mark out seats to use and not use because it all depends on how many individuals and how many couples are present. But please use common sense, make sure you are 2 metres from anyone other than your own householders and this will mean using alternate rows of the pews and some diagonal spacing.

Feel free to use the North and South aisles where seats will also be set out spaced apart. You can also use the choir stalls. You can even use the seats in the chancel which will still be in place for our weekday services. At the end of the service, please return your order of service to the top of the hymn trolley, use the hand sanitiser and leave church.

If you wish to socialise please do this outside rather than in the church where bottlenecks may form, and social distancing may become harder to maintain. You can also leave via the link door to the Transept courtyard if that assists in this.

One significant change with the 8am service is that we will not be handing out Prayer Books (just the orders of service) and for the time being we will use the same readings as at 9.30 am. I know that may disappoint one or two people, but it does mean that the same sermon can be preached at the 8 am, 9.30 am open-air service and 9.30 am online service that Sunday and this will help to manage the additional workload. The words of the service will remain the familiar and loved prayerful service from The Book of Common Prayer.

9.30 am Open-Air Service

For the 9.30am service we want to offer this as a relaxed weekly open-air service on the lawn as it means we can have more people in attendance without turning people away or ticketing. You are encouraged to bring your own chair or rug, but some will be available if you forget. The lawn will be marked out to guide you as to where to sit in order to preserve social distancing at 2 metres at all times. We will use a PA system so that the service should be easily audible to all whilst trying to ensure it isn’t too intrusive on neighbours.

For the 9.30 am open-air service you can arrive from Church End or the main gates on Hemel Hempstead Road. Please use the hand gel, take a service booklet (if you want one) and leave your collection – if you give by envelope.

Then find a space filling from the front first and leaving the spaces on the north side next to the avenue and church drive for families to use. These are larger spaces and will also allow children to play to the side whilst the service is going on. The service will be shorter than usual as there will be two readings rather than three and a psalm and sadly because there will be no hymns.

Please stay in situ for the distribution of communion and at the end please return any orders of service to the tables. Feel free to stay and socialise but please maintain social distancing at all times.

Some other points to note:

  1. We need to keep a record of all attendees and phone numbers for 3 weeks to assist with track and trace. For weekday services this will be the responsibility of the officiant and for Sunday services all attending will be checked in by the sidesperson or a churchwarden. If you are attending a service would you please make sure that your name has been recorded. This register of attendees will be kept securely in the vestry for 3 weeks as required and then shredded and will be fully GDPR compliant.
  2. All people will be expected to sanitise their hands as they enter and leave the church for a service. You may, of course, use your own sanitising gel, but a supply will be kept at the main door for you to use.
  3. If you give to the church by weekly white envelope in the planned giving scheme or wish to give by cash or blue envelope, then there will be a collecting plate on the side as you arrive for a service. Please place your offering in that. The collection plate will not be passed round during the service.
  4. There has been a recent announcement about the compulsory use of face coverings in shops from 24 July. It remains to be seen if this will apply to churches as well and we will monitor this and advise you accordingly. In the meantime, people may choose to wear a face mask but it is not a requirement. This is your own choice and will be informed by your confidence (or nervousness) about attending services and any underlying health conditions you may have. There will be no comment or stigma attached to those who do or don’t decide to wear a face covering – it is a matter of your own personal choice.
  5. Sadly, there will be no singing of hymns or any other singing, but we will be exploring the use of instrumental music and perhaps include the recording of the choir for that week in the 9.30 am service.
  6. There will be no sharing of the peace. If that is a usual part of the service you are attending it will still be included verbally and at which point you may wish to turn and acknowledge those around you. Please don’t leave your places to do this as we want to minimise pedestrian traffic.
  7. Communion is allowed and whilst the chalice will be used for the celebration of the Eucharist, communicants will receive in one kind only for the time being. The person presiding will be the only person to handle the vessels, bringing them from the vestry, setting them out, using them and putting them away. For this reason, servers will not be on duty for services for the time being, but members of the congregation will be invited to read at the Wednesday Eucharist and 8 am and 9.30 am services. A member of the congregation has kindly loaned us a lovely pair of silver sugar nips and these will be used to distribute communion so that the wafer is never handled by anyone, except you as you receive it.
  8. For the Wednesday Eucharist people will be asked to stand and remain in their places and the president will come to them and communicate them in that place to minimise the movement of people. For the 8am service people will be invited to come forward, queue at 2 metres space, receive standing up at the chancel step and then move through the Lady Chapel and flow back to their places in a one-way system. At the 9.30 am open-air service please stay in your place and the president will bring communion to you. It is easier to do this if you stand up (if you can). Anyone who doesn’t receive communion will be offered a prayer of blessing but prayed from a little distance and without physically touching the top of the head.
  9. There will be no catering on site for the time being. At the 9.30 am service, please feel free to bring a bottle of water or a flask and stay afterwards to circulate and socialise.
  10. Any service booklets used in any of our services will be quarantined for 72 hours before being used again. For the service books for Morning and Evening Prayer, those attending are encouraged to use the app or, if using a red book, to use the same book each time and make that ‘their copy’. Orders of service for the 8am and 9.30 am services will be available to download from the church website and you may choose to print your own copy that you bring each time or follow the service in church from a tablet or device.

I do apologise that this is a long document for you to read but I hope it helps you to understand what we are planning, reassures you that we are doing all we can to make this as safe and straightforward as we can and helps you to know what to expect.

Please do bear all of the above in mind and stick to it. I don’t want our services to become like safety announcements from airline cabin crew and so I make no apology for the details which I hope are easy to follow. My hope and prayer is that we can quickly get into some safe and familiar new patterns where all of this becomes easy habit and so our focus and attention can rightly be on prayerfully and reverently worshipping God.

If you have any specific concerns or questions on any of this, please do not hesitate to contact me.

This comes with my love, prayers and very best wishes


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