To read the letter from the Rector on the changes to our services and how we will work together as a church throughout this crisis.
Dear friends, Friday 20th March, 2020.
I’m writing to you now in the midst of difficult and challenging days. You’ll all be aware of the situation our country is facing, but recent government and Church of England advice has now had a profound impact on the life of the church. I’m sorry it’s so long, but there is a lot of information to pass on right now.
The purpose of this letter is 5-fold:
- To outline the changes that the current situation has led us to introduce.
- To remind you of the current health advice to protect us, our families and community.
- To suggest how we can continue to function as God’s family in our churches, albeit in new ways.
- To suggest ways that this time might help us grow in our faith.
- To point you towards a website where you can find answers to other questions.
1: IMMEDIATE CHANGES
Following advice from the government and the Church of England, we have now suspended all our usual services, groups and meetings. This includes all face-to-face gatherings including Lent groups, PCC meetings and prayer meetings. The Ceilidh on Saturday has also been postponed. Such a move has not happened in the UK since the 13th century, but these are uncertain times and we need to be prudent and follow the best medical advice.
2: A REMINDER OF THE BEST CURRENT ADVICE
However inconvenient we may find it, we must all abide by the advice being given.
- If you have symptoms of coronavirus, you will need to stay at home for 7 days
- If you live with someone who has symptoms, you will need to stay at home for 14 days from the day the first person in your home started having symptoms
A summary of the guidance on how best to protect yourself and your family and what to do if you are ill is at the end of this letter or you can go to: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/
Health advice can be found on the NHS direct website. https://111.nhs.uk/
If you don’t have the virus, please follow the advice to work from home where possible and limit your close social interaction, keeping a safe distance from others even when you meet them, so that together we might help stop or slow the spread of this disease. This is particularly important for those with underlying health conditions.
3: WAYS TO CONTINUE TO FUNCTION AS GOD’S FAMILY
Despite these issues, as God’s people, and brothers and sisters in Christ, we have a responsibility to care for one another and our neighbours, friends and families. Let me suggest 5 ways we might do this:
A: Pray for one another daily. If you worship at St Nicholas, why not pray your way through the church family list. If you worship at St Mary’s Graveley (where we don’t currently have such a list), why not write a list of all those who come along and pray for one another. Our Lent course this year has given us some wonderful things to pray for one another. Let’s put this into practice. Please also remember to pray for me and Judy, and our Bishops, Alan and Michael. Please also pray for our front line workers, support staff and all those involved in dealing with this situation.
B: Telephone each other weekly. If you worship at St Nicholas, please focus on the four people above you and below you on the church family list, and make it your aim to phone each of them once a week. It needn’t be a long call; and they may even beat you to it. If you worship at St Mary’s Graveley, phone those you know, or send an email or write a letter. Let’s stay in touch with each other throughout this time of greater isolation.
C: Serve one another freely. Through these contacts, it may be that you find out that someone has had to self-isolate and is in need of a prescription or some shopping or some help with your laundry. You may need to take precautions to keep yourself safe, but don’t be afraid of helping out where you can. And let’s make sure we are not too proud to ask for help. At some point we are all going to need assistance from others in our family or church family, let’s make sure we ask for it when we do.
D: Gather together where possible. Whilst we can’t gather together inside the building for our regular services, there are a number of ways where we can continue to find fellowship in larger numbers.
1: In small groups. It might be possible to arrange video or telephone conferences for short Bible studies, perhaps working through the rest of the Lent course. At least one group has planned to do this already, and another has arranged a video conference to pray together. We are blessed with many ways of communicating, let’s try and make use of them during this time of isolation. If you are not part of a small group, you can still join in ‘virtually’. Do contact one of the home group leaders or get in touch with me, or start your own small group with a few friends from church. What’sApp works very well with 2-4 people, but there are many other means of video and voice chats too.
2: Come and pray. Regular Services in church may have been halted, but the Church of England is keen that our buildings are opened for private prayer. Materials to help with prayer will be made available, but anyone coming will be expected to use hand gel by the door and to maintain a good distance from others not in their household.
Until the work finishes at St Nicholas Church, St Marys Graveley will be hosting sessions as follows:
- Saturday mornings between 10am and 11am.
- Monday afternoons between 2:30pm and 4pm.
- Wednesday afternoons between 2:30pm and 4pm.
Once the building work at St Nicholas has been completed, we hope that there will be opportunities to pray at St Nicholas Church as well. If you’d be happy to help church-sit for these sessions in either church, please do get in touch with me.
3: Outdoor Church. In the 17th century, during the outbreak of plague in London, the disease reached the tiny village of Eyam in Derbyshire. At the urging of their minister, the Rev Mompasson, the village quarantined themselves to stop the disease spreading to nearby settlements and across the north of England.
During the outbreak, the only time the community truly came together was on Sundays when the vicar would hold services out in the fields with the people standing in family groups, well-spaced from each other. And so, building on this great example, and with the full backing of Bishop Michael, and after consulting experts in public health, we will be holding services outside each Sunday, weather permitting, during the coronavirus outbreak, unless the advice from the UK Government changes to prevent this.
For the next three Sundays (22nd, 29th March and 5th April), a service will take place in the St Nicholas churchyard at 10am.
On Good Friday there will be a gathering at St Mary’s Graveley from 2pm, and on Easter day, this will be followed by a service at St Mary’s Graveley at 11am. Depending on the demand, there may be services each Sunday at both churches after Easter.
Services will be short (about 30 minutes in length), and will not include communion. Service sheets, Bible readings and song words will be sent via email a few days before. If you are able, please print these out at home or download them to your phone or tablet. There will always be a few printed copies for those who are not able to do this at home.
To keep everyone safe, all those attending these outside services must follow the following protocols:
- Do not come if you are infected with the virus, or should be self-isolating.
- Please wear appropriate clothing – we don’t want anyone catching cold!
- Stand alone or in your family group, making sure that your family group stays together, and remains some 4 to 5m away from any other groups.
- At the end of the service, individuals or groups should leave one after the other, making sure that the recommended distance is kept.
- There should be no physical contact.
- Do bring a chair if you’d need to sit down, or your own flask if you want a hot drink.
E: Please continue to give financially. Although the running costs of the church are obviously a little lower when our buildings are not fully in use, our greatest overheads, the Parish Share and utilities bills are fairly constant. Since we will not be taking up an offering at these outdoor services, please may I encourage all who do not currently do so, to move their regular giving to standing orders. Details of how to do that are attached to this letter.
If that isn’t possible for you, might I encourage you, as St Paul did to the church in Corinth, that you put your offering aside each week so it is ready to bring to the Lord once we are back meeting together.
4: MAKING THE VIRUS OUTBREAK A TIME OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH.
Many of us, as long as we don’t catch the virus, are soon going to find that we have a lot more time on our hands. How might we use that time to strengthen our faith? Again, let me suggest a number of ways:
A: Read your Bible more. At reading out loud pace, it takes around 70 hours to read the whole of the Bible. That’s just an hour a day for 10 weeks. Why not give it a go?
B: Read Christian books. St Nicholas church website has a direct link through to www.10ofthose.com who sell a vast range of excellent Christian books. Of course, other online booksellers are also available. And I’m more than happy to recommend something. Give me a call or drop me an email.
C: Listen to sermons. There are dozens of sermons available on the St Nicholas Church website, but if you want to listen to someone else why not check out these websites.
https://www.truthforlife.org/ Here you’ll find talks from Alistair Begg, the author of our Lent book.
https://www.allsouls.org/Media/AllMedia.aspx This is the website for All Souls Church, Langham Place, London. Here you’ll find talks by the likes of Rico Tice, John Stott, Richard Bewes and many more fantastic preachers.
https://www.clayton.tv/ If you’d rather watch than listen, this site gives you access to a huge range of talks, seminars and course, such as the Identity Course and Christianity Explored.
I’ll also be sending out regular links to songs and articles, blogs and podcasts that I hope you might find engaging and interesting. And if you find something worth sharing, do let me know.
5: OTHER WEBSITES FOR ADVICE
If you want more to see exactly what the church of England is saying, do take a look at the diocese of St Albans website. The front page has a Corona Virus section which will help you see all the advice and how it applies to churches. https://www.stalbans.anglican.org/
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
Many people in our country are very frightened right now, others are overwhelmed with anxiety, but we should not be amongst that number. As Christians, we have a sure hope for the future, and the promise of God’s otherworldly peace in the present. What’s more, we have a God who delights to hear us when we do get anxious, and who, if we trust in him, promises to guard our hearts and minds and give us the strength to cope with every situation we face.
The words from Philippians 4 below will be well known to many of you. Take some time to read them, to meditate on them, to learn them off by heart, and to pray that what Paul writes here would be true for you and all of us as God’s people in our benefice. You’ll note that it starts with praise and rejoicing. And despite these testing and difficult times, we have so much to give thanks to God for. Our homes, our loved ones, our National Health Service, our food and drink, and that’s before we get on to the immense number of spiritual blessings that are ours in Christ Jesus.
So let’s follow the advice we’ve been given and stay positive. Let’s keep trusting the LORD. Let’s keep rejoicing in God’s goodness. And let’s keep praying that through this outbreak, God would be at work both in us and through us for his glory and the building up of his kingdom.
May the Lord bless you and keep you, may he make his face shine upon you. May the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you all, and give you his peace.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7
Yours in Christ,
Rev Dave Brown
Rector of St Nicholas Stevenage and St Mary’s Graveley
SUMMARY OF HEALTH ADVICE ON CORONA VIRUS (COVID-19)
COVID-19 is a new illness that can affect your lungs and airways. It’s caused by a virus called coronavirus.
You should stay at home if you have coronavirus symptoms which are:
- a high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
- a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. Use the 111 online coronavirus service to find out what to do. This can be found at https://111.nhs.uk/covid-19/ Only call 111 if you cannot get help online. The advice is correct as of 20th March, but it gets updated regularly, so do keep a check on the website, and listen to TV and Radio updates.
HOW LONG TO STAY AT HOME
- If you have symptoms of coronavirus, you’ll need to stay at home for 7 days
- If you live with someone who has symptoms, you’ll need to stay at home for 14 days from the day the first person in the home started having symptoms
- If you live with someone who is 70 or over, has a long-term condition, is pregnant or has a weakened immune system, try to find somewhere else for them to stay for 14 days.
- If you have to stay at home together, try to keep away from each other as much as possible.
HOW TO AVOID CATCHING AND SPREADING CORONAVIRUS (SOCIAL DISTANCING)
Everyone should do what they can to stop coronavirus spreading. It’s particularly important for people…
- Who are 70 or over
- Have a long-term condition
- Are pregnant
- Have a weakened immune system
- Wash your hands with soap and water often – do this for at least 20 seconds
- Always wash your hands when you get home or into work
- Use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
- Put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash your hands afterwards
- Avoid close contact with people who have symptoms of coronavirus
- Only travel on public transport if you need to
- Work from home, if you can
- Avoid social activities, such as going to pubs, restaurants, theatres and cinemas
- Avoid events with large groups of people
- Use phone, online services, or apps to contact your GP surgery or other NHS services
- Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean
- Do not have visitors to your home, including friends and family