Category Archives: Worship

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

Will

St Mary’s Virtual Choir Recordings

Those who have been joining the virtual Sunday Services in recent weeks will have heard our St Mary’s ‘Virtual Choir’ in fine voice.

You can listen here to their most recent recording of ‘Now the Green Blade Riseth‘ arranged by our churchwarden and choir member Paul Vernon, with instrumental parts from the Beaman family.

Click on the play button below:


A huge amount of time, effort and expertise goes into the making of these recordings of the anthem and hymns for our weekly worship.

Here’s how they happen:

  • First, organ backing tracks are recorded on a keyboard for the choir to follow as they record their individual parts, often with a conductor’s voice-over added too.
  • These are e-mailed along with the sheet music to choir members who then practice their parts at home – the Juniors are having a weekly online choir practice, and the adults are practicing on their own, (whilst washing up is usually Jonathan’s suggestion!).
  • To record their parts, each choir member listens to the backing track through earphones on one device (eg their mobile phone) whilst recording their singing on another (eg a tablet or computer).
  • They send back their individual recordings early in the week, which are then ‘mixed’ in a special computer programme – usually by Paul and Kay’s son Tom.  Each part is added one by one, trimmed until it starts at exactly the same point as everyone else, and then the volumes of all the individual parts are adjusted until the voices are blended into the beautiful choral sound in the finished recordings.
  • The recordings are then sent on to Will who adds the words of the hymns to sing along to at home, photographs etc, then adds them to the final ‘movie’ of the complete Sunday service.

Huge thanks to everyone for giving of their time and talents in making these recordings happen each week.


If you are interested in finding out more about joining the ‘real’ choir (either juniors or adults) when church reopens, please contact our Director of Music Jonathan Goodchild.

Doing Church Differently

A pastoral letter from Revd Will Gibbs – revised and updated on Wednesday 25th March:

We live in bizarre and unprecedented times. The news is completely dominated by Coronavirus, with confirmed cases globally now approaching 420,000 and a palpable sense of fear and uncertainty around. We have seen the best and worst of human behaviour as some seek to stockpile and jostle and exploit while at the same time there are many stories emerging of extraordinary kindness and service shown to strangers as well as neighbours and friends. I’m sure we will look back in history to this period as a very significant moment in time and it will be talked about and reflected on for years to come.

But what will people say?

Will this period be marked by selfishness, fear and greed, of loss and grief, or will it be a period which changed us but perhaps for the better? A time when people realised what was most important and re-calibrated their lives and priorities? A time when people were reminded, albeit by such unwelcome means, that human relationships and virtues and values like care, compassion, gentleness, faith and trust were more precious than the ones we chose to show or live by before?

You will have heard much in the news and I wanted to write to everybody at St Mary’s and share some thoughts and information about our church and what is going on.

Firstly, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have directed that, in accordance with wider Government guidelines, there all churches must be locked and remain locked at this time. Click here to read the Archbishops’ letter.

This obviously brings enormous sadness and our natural instinct is to want to gather and pray and reassure one another all the more at a time like this. And yet, to do so, will risk the health and wellbeing of others. And so they have suggested that this is a time for us to be the church but in a new way. The detail of this approach is set out below:

Church carries on

Although there can be no acts of worship in church for the foreseeable time, the work of prayer continues is more important than ever.

I will continue to pray Morning Prayer at 9.30 am and Evening Prayer at 5.00 pm but now from home and be assured that I will praying hard for you and for our community at this time.

If you would like to pray Morning and Evening Prayer in your home you can access the words by downloading the app called ‘Daily Prayer’ onto your phone or tablet or by going to the Church of England website here.

Pastoral Support

I continue to spend a considerable amount of time working with key members of The Redbourn Care Group, Neighbourhood Watch, the Surgery, the Parish Council and others to build a coordinated community response to those who may be in need through this time ahead.

We’re having a couple of virtual meetings a week to carry this work forward and we’ve had an amazing response of around 400 people, many of them parents in the village, who want to reach out to their neighbours in need and play their part in helping at this time. But we need to channel that good-will in ways that are helpful and neither duplicate or miss people.

The printed handbill has now been delivered to all 2,200 homes and is also available online. On it are details of how we can respond and help but also seek help – so if you, or anyone you know in the village needs reassurance, a friendly chat, prescriptions, food or anything else but are at home and self-isolating please ring 01582 794 550.

Alongside this I, and several others at St Mary’s, will be trying to contact members of the congregation to keep in touch and offer help and pastoral support as well. Please do contact me – the details are in the letterhead – if I can help you in any way in the coming weeks.

This is also something you can do for each other – if you belong to a church group – a cleaning team, a Spotlight group, the Choir, Bell ringers, or you regularly sit in a particular part of the church (i.e. all of you!) why not get in touch with others and see how they are doing? It doesn’t have to be when someone is over 70 or feeling poorly – we may just need some human interaction and a chat as this goes on for some time.

Sunday worship

We will be offering a streamed simple act of worship each Sunday morning at 9.30 am but this will now have to come from the Vicarage. Please have a look at the homepage of this website for details. I hope you can access this time of worship from your home on your computer or tablet and it may be that we can offer a few other services as we approach Holy Week and Easter and the most important services of the year.

You can access a special form of the pew sheet with the words of the service, readings and news if you wish to follow them. You may like to print those off so you can have the screen open on the service and the words in hand. If you don’t have a printer then you could open this on one device so you can still see the service on your main computer or screen.

We hope that this is something others in our community will engage with as well and my hope is that whilst it won’t be the same as being together, we may actually have a larger ‘congregation’ than usual. Last Sunday, when we did this for the first time, the number of visitors to the church website exceeded 700 and broke all our records!

Another lovely initiative is that we are being asked to light a candle at 7.00pm every Sunday evening and carefully place it on a window sill at the front of your property (please take care to do this safely and away from curtains etc.). This wave of prayer with these candles of hope will spread across our nation at this time of need. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could look out of our home and see lots of lots of candles glowing as a sign that – whilst we can’t gather together – we are still very much united.

Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals

You may be wondering about these services and what will happen. Well, we’ve been issued with updated guidance from the Church of England and will be following that.

No baptisms or weddings can now take place and will have to be postponed until the measures are lifted. We have two weddings booked at St Mary’s in the first half of the year. I suspect they will be postponed to later in the year but if not, they will go ahead and I will offer them a thanksgiving for their marriage at a later date, either in the Autumn or on their first wedding anniversary.

Funerals will need to be conducted but will be for a minimum number of mourners in attendance and can only take place at the Graveside or at a crematorium. I will encourage a Service of Thanksgiving to follow later in the year when all who would like to have attended the funeral can then be present if they wish.

On this last note, the Memorial Service for Patricia Wheen is not now taking place on Saturday 21 March and will be rescheduled for later in the year.

Also, and very sadly, I must share the sad news that Catherine Robertson passed away yesterday. She has been a valued member of our church family and a stalwart of our choir for many years and will be greatly missed. I suspect her funeral, in light of the above, will be a very quiet affair but I hope we will have the opportunity later in the year to have a Memorial Service at St Mary’s with lots of lovely music as we celebrate her life.

Keeping up to date with church news

I will continue to publish a pew sheet with service words, readings, a prayer section and news but in a different format that will hopefully be easier to print or read from your computers at home. This will be posted towards the end of each week in readiness for that Sunday’s service.

I will also work closely with Kate Ford and try and make sure we add extra news and information as we have it, so do check often to keep in touch and up to date. I won’t inflict another long missive like this on you! Instead we will use the pew sheet and website along with social media for those who use it, to keep our fellowship strong.

On which note, do get in touch with me by email with news, offers of help, any thoughts you have. While the pew sheet will have less of our usual material in this new way of being church, we can use that space to celebrate birthdays and share news from the congregation. In similar fashion our monthly editions of Common Round will still come out and will be especially valuable, as they always are.

I hope that in time we can explore some creative things through this period including an outdoor Easter Garden, a Kindness Tree where people can leave messages of encouragement, working in the churchyard and other activities and ideas are all being actively explored at the moment.

We now have a wonderful rainbow on the churchyard fence to bring hope and joy to passers-by in the coming weeks. Thank you to Virginia and Penny for this. If you have ideas about things we can do while the restrictions are in place, then do let me know. Out of this challenging time and adversity could emerge some really amazing things.

I’m also encouraging people to embrace technology so that fellowship can continue. One thought is that we can use Zoom to get a group together online where you can see and hear each other and enjoy some fellowship. This might work well for Spotlight groups and other groups in church so do explore this and I can help get you started if you get in touch.

One piece of important information is that it is almost certain that our APCM will not now be taking place on 29 April. I suspect that the prohibitions about gathering together will almost certainly still be in place. We have been reassured by the Bishop of St Albans that in these circumstances parishes will have special dispensation and we will have until 31 October to hold this, and therefore a new timescale to update our Electoral Roll in preparation for this, as well to carry out the election of Churchwardens, PCC members, approve the accounts and other statutory business.

Stewardship

On to the rather mundane but important. The life of the church continues as does our ministry, albeit in different ways and forms. We still have many expenses and overheads, the Parish Share, staff salaries, a lease on our photocopier, no doubt some large phone bills at the moment, insurance and utility bills and many other things that don’t go away even if we’re not gathering. With this in mind, I want to say a big thank you for your stewardship which is always valued and necessary for us at St Mary’s.

Thank you to those who give by standing order but of course, in the time while we’re not gathering for worship, we will miss out on cash collections, blue Gift Aid envelopes and the white envelopes in the planned giving scheme.

I realise that with all that is going on some may be experiencing financial hardship but others may find that their expenditure has dropped as they are staying at home much more. For those of you who give by cash or white envelopes, if you are able to continue to support St Mary’s through this time we would be so grateful.

Please do drop any envelopes through the letterbox of Jim May at 13 Rickyard Meadow who will handle them in the usual, confidential way. Or now might be a moment to switch to a standing order.  You can download the two separate forms you need to do this here and here, or contact Jim May by email for further information.

Concluding Comments

I am sure that after these challenging times our country will never quite be the same again. Nor will the Church. That needn’t be a bad thing as we discover what worship, prayer and pastoral care can look like in new ways. There are many things we will miss and long to get back to but in the meantime I believe that God never wastes anything and whilst this is not a situation that God has willed I have no doubt that it can and will be used for His glory.

We have heard the word resilience used a lot recently, but that rather implies that we have to absorb the difficulties and withstand them. Something I read very recently talked instead about buoyancy and I really liked what he said:

“Buoyancy” is a term I far prefer to “Resilience”, and it comes into play now. This situation is not about sucking up trauma; but finding a way to float over the big waves, with an occasional kick here or arm stroke there, until the water calms in due course.

I know that you are praying for me at this challenging time, and I thank you so much for that, as I am most certainly praying hard and often for each of you.

This comes with my love and very best wishes

Will

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