The following post comes from a letter sent to the church family on 1st July 2020.
What is this post about?
Passages like Romans 13 remind us to submit, in the Lord, to the governing authorities God has established and set in place for the protection of the people. We have sought to follow the Irish government’s decisions and guidance throughout the COVID-19 crisis, and continue to do so, in obedience to the Lord and with love for one another and for our neighbours in the wider community.
Now the Government has announced that church buildings can re-open from Monday 29th June. It is possible therefore for Sunday services to resume in Brannockstown from Sunday 5th July. That’s certainly good news! However, in order to continue to submit to the governing authorities, and thereby to do our bit to look after public health and to safeguard those most vulnerable, we will have to make some changes concerning the way we come together and what happens when we meet. How long these changes will last is unknown, but this will be a step in a positive direction.
What is our aim?
Biblically speaking, ‘church’ is the assembly of the whole family of those believers in a local area who have committed to one another as a church. The local church is formed and maintained by gathering together. That makes one ‘gathering’ with which we can all engage (even if some tune in remotely) more like ‘church’ than some other possibilities. Other options include gathering in fixed small groups or repeating Sunday services throughout the day for smaller fractions of us to attend and experience at separate times. However, because church is the assembly of the whole family, we’re treating as most beneficial those options that bring us all together as best they can. We’re also trying to minimise disruption of our buildings, coming-and-going in our buildings, the cost of new equipment and reliance on good weather (for ideas like meeting outdoors). We are not yet considering any gatherings other than the Sunday morning service; everything else will wait for now.
How have we got to this point?
The elders have been sharing a video conference call weekly to discuss matters including the way we re-open. More recently, the deacons have considered various sources of guidance, conducted a formal assessment of risks and recommended measures, and prepared the church buildings and procedures for re-opening. The procedures and guidance below come out of that process.
We hope to accommodate everyone as best we can, but ultimately the success of the coming months will be measured not by preferences, practicalities, and programmes so much as by our active and self-sacrificial love for one another (John 13.34-35).
Can I come back to church services?
You should not return if you are unwell, particularly with the symptoms associated with COVID-19. These most commonly include fever, dry cough, and tiredness, but other symptoms are observed; look for government advice. More generally, it is good to stay at home if you are experiencing symptoms of any illness that is likely to be communicable such as a heavy cold or upset stomach.
You should not attend if you have reason to suspect that you have come into contact with someone with the coronavirus. Instead, stay at home for the next two Sundays.
You don’t have to return straight away. Some of us may have other health concerns or family needs that prompt us towards greater caution and no-one is under obligation to return without feeling confident to do so.
You can join in from home. For those at home we will continue to provide a way to join in remotely. This will involve a live broadcast of the service from inside the church building. It will look more like security footage than Songs of Praise, but it will hopefully be clear and functional, and certainly audible. The best way to access the service each week will be via the green button on the home page banner of the church website: https://brannockstownbaptist.com Remember that it’s LIVE on Sundays at 11am! We are looking for ways to make it more interactive for those tuning in from home, so do send any ideas you have about that and watch this space.
You can come! You can come to our Sunday gatherings from 5th July but things will be different for the foreseeable future. Of utmost importance is this: we will need to extend love, care, patience and grace to one another. What follows is a list of procedures that we will need to follow closely.
You must tell us if you develop symptoms associated with COVID-19 and you have attended a church service in the 14 days before developing those symptoms. We will not share your identity with church members, but if needed we must play our part in the government’s contact tracing, and we will suspend services for the next 14 days or until we are allowed to resume. If that happens, it’s just one of those things and we must do what is right.
What will it be like to return to church?
- We will ask you to confirm that you plan to attend. Please check your email around Thursday nights and let us know by Friday lunchtimes if you intend to come. This helps us to plan to have the right seats laid out. If Sunday comes and you can’t come along, don’t worry, and you don’t need to let us know.
- Please bring your own Bible, and preferably some tissues and hand gel if you can.
- The toilets at church will be open, but you might prefer to try not to need them.
- Please wash your hands before you leave home.
As you arrive
- We hope to meet you with a steward in the car park so you might have a friendly reminder of these next steps when you arrive.
- To avoid lots of crossing over with one another, there will be a one-way path around the church. Please walk around the road side of the church, keeping your distance if there’s a queue. You may be advised to sit in the church or to proceed to the halls where the service will be projected on screen to see and hear.
- Please use the hand sanitiser at the entrance to the church (if you’re going in there) or the halls (if you’re going in there).
- Please see the steward at the entrance to the room you will enter so that we can record attendance. We will keep a record of every person/family in each room for several weeks in case contacts need to be traced by the health service. Visitors will be asked to leave a name and telephone number for this reason.
- You’ll be asked to fill up each room from the back to reduce close contact with each other.
Face coverings – asking everyone to bring them
- Government guidance does not mandate the wearing of face coverings for gatherings such as our services. However, we have tried to gather our various preferences on face coverings so that we can try to accommodate one another as much as possible. It has been encouraging to see people submitting their preference but at the same time offering to go along with others’ preferences if that would help. This is an excellent posture of love!
- We have several folk/families who would, for now at least, prefer to sit in a space where most others are wearing face coverings. We have several rooms, so we want to accommodate this.
- For that reason, until further notice, the kitchen hall will be reserved for those wearing face coverings.
- Furthermore, we would like everyone to bring your own face covering, in case you end up sitting in a room where you are asked to wear one.
- Government guidance states that face covering are not suitable for children under 13, nor for anyone with trouble breathing, nor for those with special needs who may find coverings upsetting or uncomfortable. This will be one of several areas in which we all need to accommodate one another with grace.
- We may rotate the room in which face coverings are required, so that on occasion those who prefer to wear them can come and attend a service in the church building, for example. Please bear with us on that over the summer months…
- Please follow any directions/tape marking inside, sit in family groups and don’t move around the room.
- Seats have been measured and placed to maintain 2m distance. Please keep your distance from others and do not move chairs.
- Please do not offer hugs, handshakes etc, and observe good hygiene, such as coughing or sneezing into a tissue or an elbow, etc.
- Guidance recommends that indoor gatherings be well ventilated. To that end, all windows will remain open. While some heating will be on, you may want to bring a coat. Please do not close the windows or doors. If there is horizontal rain or some similarly compelling reason to close over a window, please call for a steward.
During the service
- Services will be short and hopefully sweet. Following guidance, however, we will not sing.
- There will be no creche, Bible Tots or Sunday School until we know the restrictions facing schools in the autumn and can plan accordingly. Services over the summer will hopefully be engaging for all ages.
- To reduce points of contact, there will be no offering or collection. For more information about giving, please refer to https://brannockstownbaptist.com/about-us/giving/
- Sadly, there will be no communion for the time being.
Toilets & Baby-Change
- Toilets will be open for use as follows and will be marked with signs showing which one to use. This is to reduce crossover and common points of contact between groups from different rooms.
- Please accompany children to the toilets to ensure proper handwashing and drying with paper towels.
- Those seated in the church are asked to use the toilet in the creche hall (the single self-contained hall).
- Those seated in the kitchen hall are asked to use the left cubicle of the hall toilets.
- Those seated in the carpeted hall are asked to use the middle cubicle of the hall toilets.
- The disabled access toilet is reserved for those who need that facility.
- The baby changing unit remains open in the small single creche hall.
Broadcasting the service
- The service will be streamed live on YouTube using a camera mounted towards the back of the church building. This will be watched by those in the halls, and others at home, and may be found by anyone who accesses the church YouTube channel. Though it will mostly show the back of the heads of those in view, if you do not want your face, or children’s faces, to be accessible in that YouTube video, you will need to sit in the halls. The broadcast is likely to begin before everyone is seated so you may be seen arriving. You will not be easily heard, however, as the sound will come from the pulpit mic.
At the end of the gathering
- We aim to ‘dismiss’ each room, but please exit row by row, from front to back.
- You are encouraged to make your way home promptly to begin with.
- Please don’t let children run off together, but maintain social distance for the duration.
Access to church buildings
Key holders must make an appointment with Laura (secretary) or Richard in order to enter the building for any reason for the foreseeable future, in order to control cleaning and maintain periods of inactivity between meetings.
Data Privacy and Recording Attendance
In line with government recommendations, to aid with contact tracing for the Public Health Authorities, the church will be recording the attendance of ALL VISITORS who attend a church service for the foreseeable future. If we do not already have your contact details, we strongly request that you give us your name and contact telephone number. These will be used for the sole purpose of contact tracing in the event it is required. The church has a responsibility to put safeguards in place to prevent, limit, minimise or slow the risk of infection to those attending events. We all have a moral responsibility, and a civic duty, to respect the measures put in place in order to protect ourselves and others. All personal details (data) will be processed in accordance with the GDPR, further information can be found in the Data Privacy Notice [COVID-19 (Coronavirus)] on the Data & Privacy page of the church website.
All of the above is important, but may be somewhat overwhelming at first glance. It seems that church gatherings will be restricted in various ways for the foreseeable future. Certainly we hope and pray that many of the measures that will be in place at first can be safely eased over time as guidance develops. Let’s continue to look for ways to love and encourage one another in these coming months.