A Message from the Vicar
Hi everyone! Welcome to the start of the new academic year, with much that is familiar and much that is unfamiliar about this September.
It’s been nearly 6 months now since the restrictions came into place which closed our main Sunday congregations in mid-March. In the months since then, I have been amazed and encouraged at the way that the church has responded, with so much creativity, commitment, and generosity.
At the start of the autumn, I wanted to take this opportunity to update you on a number of aspects of church life, as well as to invite your feedback to help us shape our next steps as a church.
As many of the pandemic restrictions have been partially lifted, shops, pubs and restaurants have re-opened. Most of the nation’s children have returned to school this week. Public worship has recommenced since July, and some things feel like they’ve returned to nearly normal. However, at the time of writing, there are a number of restrictions in place which still affect our church life quite profoundly:’
No more than two households may gather together within a home
Up to 6 people from different households can gather within a garden
Live bands are now permitted to play indoors, but the congregation must wear masks and may not sing, the service time must remain shortened, and our capacity for public worship remains limited to 50 at St T’s.
Life events (weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc) should be limited to 30 people.
Youth and children’s groups are limited to 15, and should remain within a consistent group outside of an educational setting.
Community groups are now permitted to meet in Covid-secure public spaces, but are limited in number by remaining socially distanced, wearing masks, and without serving refreshments. Realistically at St T’s, this limits groups to approx. 15 if conversation or discussion is desired, bearing in mind the competing demands of social distancing and conversational acoustics.
All of these restrictions mean that we cannot yet gather for large Sunday congregations (which are typically between 120 and 300 at St T’s). It is also not possible yet for Life Groups to meet within homes, although it is now possible for a Life Group to meet in a public space such as the church building (but socially distanced and wearing masks).
Imagination and Innovation
From the very beginning of lockdown, the St T’s community has shown an extraordinary degree of imagination and innovation, adapting again and again to an ever-changing situation. Having moved much of our church life online initially, in more recent months we’ve been exploring ways of meeting again in person, including:
Youth huddles meeting around the city in groups of 6
Live worship bands starting to play for online services
Sunday communion services offered within the building, which are now approximately 2/3 full.
As ‘digital fatigue’ grows for many of us, and the novelty of Zoom and YouTube church wears off, we are keen to explore fresh ways of meeting and worshipping in-person, as well as online. Some of the ideas we’ve come up with so far include:
Family service in church: with households sitting round tables which are socially distanced, with crafts, activities, challenges, short talk, etc – 30-40 mins max, probably monthly on Sunday afternoons)
Family Service online: each Sunday, specifically aimed at children (15 mins max), separate from the main YouTube service
7pm-style extended sung worship service with live band, socially distanced and without congregational singing (30-40 mins max, recorded and made available online)
Songs of Praise service (live hymns/songs with liturgy, readings and short talk, socially distanced and without congregational singing, 30-40 mins max)
Life Groups – encouraging more church members to join Life Groups for regular small-group Bible study, prayer, friendship and support.
Church / Life Survey
As we look to re-imagine church life once again within our ‘new normal’’, we’d love to hear from you. We want to hear how you’re doing, and what would help you connect with God and church this autumn. That’s why we’ve put together a Church / Life Survey, and we’d be so grateful if you could take a few minutes to give us some feedback that will help to shape the next steps for us as a church.
If there is more than one adult in your household, you are each welcome to answer separately. The survey will close at 9am on Wednesday 23rd Sept.
Heart of the City Project
Thanks to the enormous generosity of church members, 90% of the funds needed for the Heart of the City Project have now been pledged and raised. Over the summer, the church centre was cleared, ready for work to begin. The electrics are now disconnected, and we are just awaiting the gas disconnection, so that our contractors (Pinington’s) can begin work on site. We anticipate that work will begin at the end of September, or the beginning of October.
We are so grateful to God and to the church for the gift that the existing centre has been to mission and ministry for the 40 years since it was bought and renovated. So we’re holding a special online service to celebrate the work of God through the church centre on Sunday 20th September (available on the church’s YouTube channel from 3pm), filled with testimonies from church members about how the centre was built, and how it’s been used in the years since then.
This coming Sunday, we are starting a new sermon series in our online services, looking at the encouraging and inspirational book of Ephesians. If you are in a Life Group, you might want to follow that up with small group studies in Ephesians this autumn.
We will be hearing from Nadine Parkinson for our annual Tearfund Sunday on 27th September, and many church members make a major financial gift to Tearfund at this time. We are also planning to invite a Harvest gift for the Olive Branch foodbank on 4th October, and we’ll update you on the practicalities of how to give those gifts once we’ve got the details arranged.
I’ll leave you now with those wonderful words from Ephesians 3:
‘Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever.’