Letter to the parish
The south east of England is ground zero of this new strain of coronavirus. We are told that its transmissible power is up to 70% more aggressive than the strain our church has currently been managing. The figures published today show that Surrey Heath has experienced nearly 3,400 new cases of Coronavirus in the last seven days and the Tier 4 restrictions being implemented are made under scientific advice. Our parish response must be rational and balanced, not driven by panic, and should take full account of all the health and spiritual consequences of the latest restrictions. We must be governed by the available data, the latest advice from the government and our Bishops, as well as scripture and the historic experience of the church during pandemics. Technically we are allowed to continue public worship by law, but the final decision has been devolved by the Bishops, to local parishes.
Under the guidance we have been following this year, our risk assessments gave us the confidence that we could conduct services safely. So far, by God's grace and the professionalism of our team, no one has been infected with Covid-19 in our church. Unfortunately this new strain of coronavirus has created new and unknown factors that we do not yet understand and could be lethal to members of our congregation. What we cannot understand we cannot manage. It is the responsibility of the clergy and wardens to ensure that your worshipping environment is safe within the procedures we are given and at this time of writing I can no longer say with confidence that either of our two churches are safe enough to worship in. It would be negligent to pretend otherwise. It is therefore with the greatest sadness, that I am announcing that we will not be using our two parish churches for worship, as of today. We will be reviewing this decision on the 30th December.
I am equally mindful of the importance of worship and the need to be flexible. Today I met with our Standing Committee to agree a way forward for our Christmas programme and the following has been decided:
Christmas Eve Crib services: Cancelled
23:30 Midnight Mass in St. Lawrence church yard (now an outside service)
09:00 Christmas Mass St Saviour's church yard (now an outside service)
10:30 Christmas Mass in St. Lawrence, cancelled
Online service for Christmas available
St Lawrence will not be open for private prayer as we are not able at this time to confirm the new levels of risk to public health.
No further services have been planned until we review any new information available on the 30th December. Services will be online.
Everyone who has signed up to services will be notified. There is no need to sign up for outside services as we can accommodate these due to the wider space.
This closure is agonising for us all. It robs us of some of the most precious qualities of our faith. Yet (God willing), it will be only temporary and when our parish is given sufficient guidance as to how to manage this new strain safely, we will immediately re-open and will declare with King David together:
"I rejoiced with those who said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.” (Ps 122)