Well, I’m excited. After three months of coronavirus lockdown, the British prime minister has begun to announce the easing of restrictions. We are still a long way from the new normal that awaits us, but there are plenty of positives for us to celebrate together as a church family. We have been given permission to reopen our buildings for private prayer, and from 4th July we will be permitted to perform marriages. Many of you will be aware that two Everyday Church weddings had to be postponed due to lockdown, so we can all celebrate this big news together as a church family.
While Boris Johnson was preparing to make his announcement earlier today, I was meeting with the leaders of our Everyday Church venues to discuss our pathway as a church out of lockdown. They encouraged me to write this blog to bring you up to speed with our current thinking. Much of the detail still depends on further government announcements and on whether the ‘R’ number remains low, but it might still help if I tell you our overall plan, based on the information that we know right now.
Phase 1: Opening our buildings for private prayer.
I am excited to be able to share with you that, from this coming Thursday 25th June, we will be opening up our Wimbledon building for private prayer from 12:00-2:00pm each Thursday and from 5:00-7:00pm each Sunday. Yes, it is only one of our buildings and, yes, it is only for four hours of the week, yet this reopening marks a major milestone on our journey back from lockdown. Do come and pray in the Wimbledon building if you can.
During phase 1, in-person prayer meetings continue to be forbidden by the government. Our doors are opening for private prayer, not for corporate prayer. We will therefore continue to gather together on Zoom for our 8:00-8:30am daily prayer meetings and for our 8pm ASK prayer meeting on Sunday evening 5th July.
Phase 2: Gathering in small groups for our online church services
During lockdown we have gathered together in households for our online services. From 4th July, the British government has granted us permission for two households to join together, if they wish, to enjoy the online service together. We would encourage you to do this, if you feel comfortable. It is no coincidence that we began the year with a sermon series on the Five Habits of a Healthy Christian, rediscovering the importance of our personal daily devotions, followed by a sermon series on The Gathering, reminding ourselves of the importance of pursuing fellowship together. We did not know that Covid-19 was about to descend on our world, but God did! We would therefore encourage you to use the easing of lockdown restrictions, not just for barbecues and dinner parties, but for attending the online service together with your friends.
As restrictions ease further, we are looking forward to the day when entire Life Groups can gather together to enjoy the online service – worshipping together and praying for one another. That day may still be some way off, but when it comes we won’t be lamenting the fact that we cannot yet gather together as large congregations on a Sunday. The Lord has been reinforcing to us in this season the paramount importance of our Life Groups, so we will be delighted when we can finally attend our weekly church services together in our Life Groups.
Phase 3: Gathering together in larger groups for our online church services
Each of our Life Groups is part of a collection of Life Groups, which we call a Pastorate. If you are part of one of our smaller venues, then your venue may still be a single Pastorate. The likelihood is that we will be permitted to gather together in groups of less than 50 before we are permitted to meet in groups of 100 or more, so we expect to begin meeting as Pastorates at different times across a Sunday before we begin regathering as whole congregations. If we are unable to use the buildings that we hire immediately, then we can gather for a season in the three buildings that we own. Regardless of where we gather, it will be a huge moment to celebrate when we regather to enjoy our online services as congregations, while we work out sustainable timings for the reintroduction of live worship bands, etc.
Phase 4: Gathering together for live Sunday services in the three church buildings that we own
We want to relaunch our Sunday gatherings in all of the locations where we gathered before lockdown. We also want to honour and bless the people who lead and serve in those locations, so if it takes a little while to launch back out again then we would always want to put the people before the pressure of a deadline. This may mean that we restart live Sunday services a few weeks earlier in the three church buildings that we own before we relaunch back into our hired spaces. We are all keen to regather quickly, but God has been teaching us in this season than online church is real church and that Life Groups are even more important than we realised – and we already thought that they were pretty important! If we decide to move at a more measured, more sustainable pace for the sake of those who lead and serve in our hired locations, then we believe that God will honour us and bless us far more in the long run.
Phase 5: Gathering together for live Sunday services in all of the locations where God has called us to gather, including in hired spaces.
When we reach this point, our church lockdown will be well and truly over, and we will give thanks to God for his faithfulness in leading us through this difficult season. As we celebrate, we will remember what God has been teaching us through the lockdown. Our scattering is as important as our gathering. Our Life Groups are as important as our Sunday services. Our online church services and prayer meetings are a vital aspect of our family life together, and a vital aspect of our outreach to a world which is too often excluded from in-person church gatherings.
There are still a lot of questions to answer and a lot of pitfalls to be avoided as we move through these five phases, but I hope that this blog helps you to envisage some of the steps which we will take together as a church in our journey out of lockdown. How quickly we move through these steps depends a lot on how quickly the coronavirus recedes and on how quickly the government lifts the lockdown restrictions, so let’s keep on praying together.
And let’s celebrate that we have now finally entered Phase 1 of the journey! If you are free, and if it would help you to spend some time in private prayer at our Wimbledon building, then you will find the doors open to you from 12:00-2:00pm every Thursday and from 5:00-7:00pm every Sunday between now and the end of July.
It has been a difficult past three months for us as a church, but praise God – he has been so good in sustaining us. Our journey back towards gathering together in person has finally begun.
Phil Moore – Lead Pastor