Emerging from lockdown

Have you managed to eat out somewhere, get your hair cut or go to the dentist yet? I have managed all three and felt a great sense of returning to normality, but of course we are not yet back to normal and the risk of infection by Covid-19 remains. We must all still observe social distancing and lock-down regulations, even as they are eased. That applies to our church buildings too: if we are to restart public worship in our churches, there will be the need to maintain social distancing, observe one-way systems to avoid unnecessary contact, avoid singing, regularly sanitise our hands and keep a register of those attending each service – at least for the time being. Then the church will need to be thoroughly cleaned after each service.

In these circumstances, it is understandable that our parochial church councils (PCCs) are cautious about resuming services in church too quickly. Many of the PCC members who will be responsible for the cleaning and administration are themselves over 70 and discouraged from taking risks with their health. Many of those who attend our services on Zoom at 10.00am each Sunday, or link into the Diocesan worship at the same time, are themselves still sheltering and are very content with attending worship that way. The service rotas in the centre of this Benefice News show the services that we agreed on at the Benefice Council meeting in mid-July, but these are still subject to the risk assessments that each church will need to undertake. For the time being we shall be continuing with the Benefice services on Zoom, but these will move to 5pm once services restart in our churches in September. And thankfully at least three of our churches (Epwell, Swalcliffe and Sibford) have now reopened for private prayer and we have resumed Morning Prayer in rotation around our churches on weekdays.

The search for a new Rector for the Benefice has begun: the advertisement for the role was placed in the Church Times and on the Church of England recruitment website at the beginning of July, and we hope to be interviewing short-listed candidates on 17 September. Each parish contributed to an impressive Benefice Profile which is available to applicants. Please pray that the Holy Spirit will steer a good number of potential candidates to apply, and if you know any suitable clergy candidates, please encourage them to apply yourself. There is a new more suitable rectory in Sycamore Close, Sibford Gower and the diocese expects to have a buyer for the old rectory shortly.

The new Rector will be joining us at a challenging time for the Benefice and the Church more generally: many parishioners are anxious about keeping safe; many more have new worries as a result of the financial impact of lock-down; many have suffered psychologically as a result of being locked down. The impact of the virus has been very unequal in terms of its impact on the poor, the handicapped and ethnic minorities. We all need to be conscious of the need to help those who have suffered or are suffering wherever we can. The Church, as it emerges from lock-down and returns to normality, needs to set an example of what it means to be Christian today.

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John Tattersall