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Vicar's Letter for this month

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Dear Friends,

August seems to have flown by, and here we are with the schools starting back again already! September is, as always, a time of new beginnings.

New beginnings will be a focus for our church life too, in the weeks ahead. We have not been able to worship together at the Community Centre since 15 March. It has felt an awfully long time! There has been so much we have missed during these past months: our worship and fellowship together week by week in church; the ‘buzz’ of Sunday mornings as we meet and greet one another and catch up on news; the joy of our music and singing God’s praises together; the shared moments of quiet contemplation and prayer; the times in worship when we feel we are standing, like Moses, on holy ground; the wonderful joy of receiving communion together, and oh, so much more!

Churches and faith communities have been allowed to return since the beginning of July. We have taken to heart the wise advice of our bishops not to rush back. There have been consultations with church members on this twice since early July. The first time it was clear from your responses that it was too soon to return. Very few of you were ready to come back at that stage. Following further consultation just a few days ago, the response was far more encouraging and positive, with just over half of those responding keen to return. There have been more offers of help too. In the light of all this, the PCC has agreed to resume services at The Good Shepherd from Sunday 20 September.

There are still people who cannot yet come back to church, due to their own particular circumstances. There is also still plenty of anxiety around, and that is understandable given all that has happened both globally and nationally this year. Each of us needs to make our own decision about when the time is right.

As you will be aware, we are not returning to church, ‘as normal’ – if only! Instead, we will be back to yet another ‘new normal’, resembling to some degree the ‘new normal’ just before going into lockdown.

Booking in advance will be helpful, though probably not essential. Doing this will help us to arrange seating according to household groups. The Community Centre has had to set a limit of 30 people allowed in the Victory Hall for the time being. This will be a challenge, given our usual numbers, but we will try to ensure a fair system so that everyone who wants to attend a service will be able to do so, on a regular basis. As not everyone will be coming back at this stage, I am hopeful those wanting to attend should be able to come.

Everyone will need to follow careful and regular hand hygiene. There are plenty of hand sanitisers available at the Community Centre now – do use them! If you can, bring your own with you.

As you will know, wearing face coverings/masks is now required by all congregational members, unless they are exempted from wearing masks – such as children under 11, or those with certain physical or mental health conditions. Those leading worship are not required to wear a face covering during services, providing a 2-metre social distance is maintained. I will be wearing a mask when administering communion. Those reading or leading intercessions can remove masks to enable themselves to be heard.

Sadly, congregational singing is still not allowed - although we have heard in recent days that small church choirs or singing groups and/or soloists may sing now, provided appropriate social distancing rules are followed.

The Peace will be shared in similar ways to just before lockdown i.e. no physical contact other than those within the same household - waving (as we have at zoom services) or bowing the head with palms clasped together (as at Burnham Abbey) are all acceptable ways of sharing the Peace with each other for the time being.
Communion will continue to be given in one kind only, as it was before lockdown. Ministers have been given advice on best hand hygiene precautions during Communion.

Sadly, for the time being we are not allowed to serve refreshments after church. Please do take opportunities as you arrive at the Community Centre, or once outside again after the service to catch up with one another.

We discourage use of the Centre toilets unless in urgent need. The practicalities of cleaning and disinfecting between each use will be complicated to say the least! The service is going to be shorter which should help. Some churches are keeping toilet facilities closed. Many of us will remember years of going to church without any toilet facilities. None of the churches in my three former parishes had toilets.

There will be a risk assessment available for those who would like to see it.

We are following Church of England and Government guidance in all that we are doing, to keep everyone safe. Please help us.

With my love and prayers,

Joan