Coronavirus and St Mark’s: an update

Thank you for your continued support for St Mark’s Church, Pennington, during this unexpected season. I wanted to write to keep you up to date with what’s been happening, and to let you know the current situation.

I’m sure you’ll remember in March that I wrote to you, with the news that we would need to close St Mark’s, due to coronavirus, and that we would be sharing services online. At that point, none of us had any idea that this would be the start of an extended season with the church doors closed.

Sunday Services Online

In the early weeks, we invited St Thomas Church, Lymington, to join with us, so that we could work together on the services that we are sharing through youtube. Since March, we have thus far had over 13,000 views of the services that we have shared on facebook, averaging nearly 800 views per Sunday service each week. We all owe a huge debt of thanks to Paul Young, who works so hard behind the scenes to put the service videos together.

Many of the people joining us online are local people that we wouldn’t usually see in our building, alongside others from across the world. It has been a delight to see familiar faces join us again, including Rachel who emigrated to Canada 2 years ago, and Alex who was confirmed last year. There are others that now work shifts and can’t join us in the building on Sunday mornings at 9:30am and others who are restricted due to physical and mental health challenges, who are able to regularly join us in worship.

We are really excited, that through the unexpected closure of the building, we have been able to connect with many people that we would not usually have reached. In April, we started fundraising for a better camera, to allow us to more easily stream services online. This is a camera that will work well once we are able to have services in the building too. Given how many people we are connecting with online, we are determined to find a way to continue to connect more widely into the community in this way. Thank you to everyone that has helped us to purchase the camera.

I recognise that online and YouTube isn’t ideal for everyone. I wanted to make sure that you’re aware of the other options open at the moment. Every Sunday morning, we also share the service in zoom, with the option to phone in at 9:30am and listen to it. Most weeks we have 3 or 4 people phoning in. If you would like to do this, or want to share this information with others that may be interested, please do so.

To phone in, please dial 0203 695 0088.

  • You will hear: “Welcome to Zoom, enter your meeting id followed by hash”
  • The meeting id you need to enter is: 971 631 0618 #
  • You will then hear it say “Enter your participant id followed by hash, otherwise just press hash”
  • Please just press the # key. then you will be asked for the passcode, please enter 1839 followed by hash (#).

You will then be part of a conference call, and you will be able to listen to the service, and then talk to others afterwards.

After the service on Sunday mornings, we have ‘coffee’ on zoom too. All are welcome to join us after the service in zoom, it’s a chance to catch up and say hi to others from our congregation.

There are many other services available online too, including Winchester Cathedral who are offering Evening Prayer every day on zoom at 5:30pm, which all are welcome to join. Details on Winchester Cathedral website.

We are also able to produce DVDs of the services, if you do not have internet access at home. If you would be interested in receiving DVDs, please let me know. If you do have internet access, then all our previous services are available on Pennington Church youtube channel, and you can watch them whenever you choose to.

Update from the Bishop of London

Following the Government announcement that church buildings will be able to reopen for public worship from 4th July, providing physical distancing remains in place, the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, who leads the Church of England’s Recovery Group, said:

“I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement today that we will soon be able to begin to meet and worship together in our church buildings again.

“The last three months have been an extraordinary time – the first period without public worship and the sacraments in England in more than 800 years. There will be real joy as we begin to come together again – if even at a physical distance – but I also know that many will be understandably cautious at this news.

“We will not be returning to normality overnight – this is the next step on a journey. We’ve been planning carefully, making detailed advice available for parishes to enable them to prepare to hold services when it is safe and practical to do so. It is important to say that the change in Government guidance is permissive, not prescriptive.

“I would particularly like to thank clergy and lay leaders for all they have done during the time our buildings have been closed. Not all church buildings will be ready to hold regular services from July 4th, but we are providing whatever support we can to enable them. 

“There will still be restrictions and we must all still do everything we can to limit the spread of the virus to protect each other, especially the most vulnerable. The online services and dial-in worship offerings we have become used to will continue.

“This has been an incredibly difficult time for the whole country, especially for those who have been ill, who have suffered financial hardship, the loss of livelihoods and indeed, for many, those they love. We know that is not over and the Church has a task ahead to bring consolation and hope.

“Churches and cathedrals have risen to the recent challenges, finding new ways of meeting for worship, of serving our neighbours, and of reaching new people with the love of God. The challenge before us now is to take the next steps carefully and safely, without forgetting all that we’ve discovered about God and ourselves on the way.”

Church Opening Update

I wanted to update you on what this means at St Mark’s. Although churches are allowed to open, there is no expectation or pressure for them to open yet. There are a significant set of guidelines and risk assessments that need to be followed, in order to open safely. In particular, these guidelines mean that anyone that is in a clinically extremely vulnerable to covid group (high risk) (which includes me) are not yet allowed to work outside the home. It also means that those in the clinically vulnerable to covid group (moderate risk), which includes all those over 70 are still encouraged to stay home as much as possible. As such, at St Mark’s Church, we have made the decision to not open for private prayer at this time. If you would like to visit a local church for private prayer, St Thomas Church in Lymington is now usually open between 10am – 4pm.

For churches that do choose to start holding services in the building, there are also significant limitations on what is possible within the service. In particular, from current guidelines services need to be

  • Maximum of 30 people
  • All socially distant from each other
  • No singing
  • No hymn books, no paper books, orders of service or leaflets
  • No sharing of the peace
  • No refreshments
  • No chalice with communion, and no use of altar rail at communion
  • It’s not yet clear, but is possible that face masks or similar coverings will be required

At this point in time, given that I have now been asked to shield until 1st August, the restriction on others that are in vulnerable to covid categories too, including the over 70’s, and the limitations on what is possible within a service, we are planning to continue with our services taking place solely online throughout July and August.

We will continue to monitor the latest guidance and advice, and would love to hear your opinions and ideas too. As soon as the situation changes, and we know more we will let you know. Please continue to pray for us as we navigate this unexpected and evolving season.

Prayers / Say one for Me

If there is anything you would particularly like us to pray for, please email us a prayer on sayoneforme@penningtonchurch.uk or post it to us at ‘Say One For Me, St Mark’s Church Vicarage, 29 Ramley Road, Pennington, SO41 8HF’. Please do continue to pray for each other, to pray for our church and our witness in the wider community here.

Contact Details / Update

I want to thank everyone that has sent in their contact details. I also need to apologise. In March, when I last wrote to you, I had hoped that we would have set up a phone tree, to stay in touch with each other on the phone. The work for livestreaming our services, supporting our local schools where I am governor, and all the other work for our church and diocese has meant that I haven’t yet been able to get this in place.

I have taken this week as leave, to help me to recover from the last three months of relentless work, to hopefully come back refreshed, to help us to work on the plans for what comes next. I’m aware that this season has brought to the fore mental health challenges for many of us, as we are all learning to live with the uncertainty that surrounds us. Please, let’s support and encourage each other, to be compassionate for ourselves, for each other and for this amazing community of Pennington.

Finance

In these unusual times, the work of the church continues, even though our regular pattern of services and events is disrupted. Apart from the cost of heating the church, very few of our outgoings are affected by this. A few people have asked what they can do to support us. Please continue to keep giving to the church. If your usual pattern is to give via weekly envelopes, please contact Teresa Nivison, 07541 842025 to arrange monthly collection. If you are able to consider giving via our planned giving scheme, which allows you to set up a direct debit, please also contact Teresa.

For some in our congregation, this season you have continued to receive the same income, with outgoings perhaps being less with holidays and meals out not currently being possible. Whilst for others in our congregation, this season has brought with it financial insecurity, threat of redundancy, and significant challenges. Please prayerfully discern what you are able to offer. Nationally, across the Church of England, there are huge financial challenges, and this is true in this Diocese too. If we want our churches to persist, to continue to have clergy leading our ministry, we need to pray together, to work together, and financially to support the work of the church.

Other Information

If you’re not already, please sign up on our website penningtonchurch.uk to receive our email newsletter and regular updates. Please hold us all in your daily prayers.

I want to thank you all for your patience, your support and encouragement for each other. I really look forward to when we can find a way to safely be physically together again.

Remembering our strapline ‘inspiring love for everyone’, my prayer is that through this season, we will grow in love, hope, courage and peace, and continue to find creative ways to care for each other through this season, while keeping ourselves and each other safe.

With my daily prayers

Rev Rachel Noël,

Priest in Charge, St Mark’s Church, Pennington

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