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A message from our Senior Leader, Martin Dunkley, regarding Sunday services and the changes in Covid restrictions.

11th July 2021

You can watch this important communication here:

Or, if you prefer to read it, you can do that here:

I’d like to take a few minutes to communicate with you about our Sunday morning meetings over the next few months particularly in light of the government’s plan to remove all restrictions from July 19th.

We had already made a decision, back in early June, that our August services would take a different form. We had already decided that they would be online only, without attendance in person at the Oakwood, and that our gathering together would take the form of picnics following those services.

You probably aren’t aware but to run the various teams that serve us takes over 40 people serving on any given Sunday. A secondary effect of the pandemic and lockdown is that many of those people who have worked extremely hard for us need a rest and a break. Many of them are heading away on holiday in August. So when we looked at how many people were available to serve on those teams in August it became apparent that running a live service and continuing to stream online was logistically a real stretch and at some points near on impossible. So we made the decision back in early June that our services and our gatherings over August would take a different form.

We have almost completed recording what will be 5 outstanding services for those Sundays. We have some new faces preaching for you – and we have a very exciting five-week teaching series entitled “We have hope”. I was present for three of those talks being recorded and they were brilliant. I was personally very inspired. So I do want to encourage you, August is not going to be a time of treading water. If you give yourselves to those Sunday services online, and where you can, take the opportunity to picnic with us in the park afterwards then I believe August will be both a refreshing and inspiring month for us as a church.

So that leaves only one other Sunday before September, July 25th, when we will gather in the context of the government removing all restrictions. You will appreciate that while the government is planning to remove all restrictions, it is also encouraging us to exercise a measure of ongoing responsibility and caution. This is especially important considering the exponentially rising number of delta cases and a significant proportion of the population not having been doubly vaccinated.

The government has given to businesses and organisations like churches the right, and the responsibility, to decide their own policies – in view of their particular unique settings and risk factors. That’s a responsibility I’m personally taking very seriously – as I look to lead us forward. So I’m making decisions – in terms of how we gather and move forward – in conjunction with a team of medical advisors, a number of the church elders, and all the directors of the church. You’ll appreciate any decisions that are being made – are also being made very prayerfully with due care and consideration for the our church community as a whole and that means with consideration for both the strong and the weak, for the robust and the vulnerable amongst us.

As you’ll appreciate there are a whole range of feelings and responses within our community when it comes to what people might be comfortable with. So however we move forward I’m underlining the fact that we want to do so with due care and consideration for everyone.

I do think 1 Corinthians 8 is a very apt directive from the Bible to us at this time as Christians. It is a chapter that is dealing with food sacrificed to idols. But it is also a chapter within which believers are encouraged not to exercise their “rights” without due care and consideration for others. In particular without due care and consideration for those that might in some way be weaker. Paul finishes that chapter by saying I have the “right” to eat meat – but if it adversely impacts others who are “weaker” in their faith and conscience – then he says I’ll never eat meat again. It’s a chapter which encourages us not to exercise our “rights” without being thoughtful and considerate of others around us who might, because of particular weaknesses, not see it or feel it in the same way as us. It is likely to be a time of strongly polarised views within our nation over the coming weeks. Views will be polarised around the issue of personal rights versus their personal responsibilities towards others.

Can I call you up into something higher than that? Can I call you into something that is thoroughly Biblical, and something I think profoundly expresses the love of God at this time? Can I suggest that whatever we say, whatever we do, whatever decisions we personally make, that we do it all with a sense of love, care and consideration toward others, thinking of those amongst us who might feel vulnerable. There is a great opportunity for us over the coming months to reflect something Biblical and Christ-like to one another, and to the world, in how we personally conduct ourselves. Let’s make sure that taking that opportunity becomes our highest goal – even if we have to pay some personal cost in the process.

So coming back to July 25th. We are not going to implement any wholesale changes for that particular Sunday. You will need to continue to book in online to come to the service. You will also need to wear a face mask, and will be shown to your seat and be socially distanced from one another. The Oakwood Centre is an indoor venue that gathers a crowd of people – so we continue to believe at the current time that is the appropriate and sensible way to gather. However, we do want to take a significant step forward in helping you to engage in the meeting. So we are going to allow you to sing – but that singing will obviously need to occur behind your masks. Not everyone will want to sing which is fine, but for those that do it will be an opportunity to engage in the worship more than we have to date been allowed to do. Both I and the other medics don’t think that will increase the risk inappropriately particularly as we will remain socially distanced at 2 metres. Though we might ask you to be of moderate volume!!

So when it comes to our gatherings in September – what form will they take?

Well, we will review things towards the end of August when we have a clearer picture of what is happening – with the pandemic – and with the vaccination programme. From that vantage point we will be able to make more informed decisions. I do feel a sense of faith for the autumn. I do feel it is going to be a season of coming back together. It’s going to be a new season of gathering together and of reconnecting It’s going to be a time to revitalise with the life of God our sense of faith, family and community together.

So I do see the autumn as a time to move forward. At what pace we do that, what form that takes, we will have to see. But we will do it with a sense of faith and wisdom – in a way that takes all of us together to the place God wants us to journey to with him.And whatever that journey looks like – whatever challenging “junction points” we come up against on that journey we can be assured of this – God will journey with us. He will lead us, guide us, and protect us and ultimately bring us into a very good and spacious place together.