Advent Greetings, Public Worship and the Omicron Variant

Dear Friends,

This comes with warmest greetings in early Advent.  It comes in gratitude for your ministry and work in God’s name and in the care and support of His people.  It comes also with my prayers for you, alongside a recognition that we all strive to offer our best efforts in a situation that remains complex and that continues to evolve.

You will be aware of a further development at the beginning of this week.  This is the new challenge posed by the variant of Covid-19 known as Omicron.  Arising from this, there is now the ‘expectation’ of Government that masks will be worn in public indoor settings.  How do we respond to this?

Within the Church we believe that everyone is known and loved individually by God and that as many members within one body we are called to be responsible for one another, respecting the more vulnerable whose suffering is our suffering (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).  As we navigate the next few weeks, I strongly advocate the following measures, in order that public worship can continue both safely and joyously.

  • Provision of sanitiser at the entrances to our churches.
  • Wearing of masks at public worship.
  • The self-administering of Lateral Flow Tests before attending worship.
  • Arranging seating so we can give space to each other.

I encourage Incumbents, Local Ministers, and Churchwardens in vacant parishes to undertake a risk assessment for your church which includes all of the above.

Regarding practicalities:

  • Singing can continue, but masks should be worn (with the exception of soloists and cantors).
  • Those leading worship, reading or taking intercessions may remove masks to do so.
  • Please feel free to receive Holy Communion ‘in one kind’. The chalice/cup must be consecrated and consumed by the celebrant, but everyone else need receive communion in the consecrated bread only.  That is still the ‘fullness of communion’.   There is a continuing right of choice in this matter, so I do not propose to suspend the administration of the chalice, but I ask clergy to make this point clear to congregations.  The practice of ‘intinction’, by the congregation or by the celebrant, is not permitted, for very evident reasons of safety and hygiene.
  • Those distributing Holy Communion should wear a mask for doing so.
  • The Sharing of the Peace is, for now, best conveyed by gesture rather than by physical contact.
  • Please feel that you can carry on with coffee and refreshments, if you wish to, since social interaction is important. But allow space for those who wish to depart beforehand.  Emphasise that the people who stay are asked to be responsible by not crowding together and by giving each other space.
  • Carol services and other larger services can take place, but plan ahead and consider the safe limitation on numbers and how this might be communicated to your community.

Within all of these, we know that not everyone is able to wear a face-mask, and respect for individual judgment remains vitally important.  Nonetheless, in wishing to respond positively to the requests and guidance from Govt, it would be advisable to have a supply of face-masks available at the entrance to church.  You might also consider investing in a Carbon Dioxide Monitor (cost £50-80), particularly in the case of a building that does not have large indoor space, high ceilings, or reasonable ventilation.  Lateral Flow Testing beforehand is the most effective way of ensuring that we are safe to come to Church, or indeed to any indoor gathering: safe for ourselves, and safe for others.

Most of all, we will serve Christ and one another through the graces of kindness, compassion and care, as we rejoice in the promises of Advent and look forward to the wonderful gift that is Christmas.

In Christ,

+ Peter