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Good news: We’re open for business

by Michael Ford last modified 31 Jul, 2020 05:29 PM

The Dorset Echo carried joyous news last Saturday - “St Mary’s Church, Weymouth, opens for Sunday services” and the headline mirrored the good news for churches across our Diocese who have been able to open under the present restrictions and social distancing rules.

Good news: We’re open for business

Churchwarden Iona McLeod stands at the open door ready to welcome visitors

After a 4-month Covid-19 lockdown, St Mary's - like our other town centre churches - unlocked, and as well as being welcomed by those who wanted to pray or worship in their buildings again, it is also welcome news for those anxious in an area hard hit by business closures and a host of social problems.

But opening up a church at the moment isn't a simple process.

It was a closely-monitored, step-by-step approach overseen by Team Rector Nick Clarke. St Mary's first reopened 7th July for private prayer twice a week, in a pilot to test requisite sanitation procedures, social distancing arrangements, track-and-trace registration procedures, and sealing unneeded parts of the church.

When that was deemed a success, the first Sunday morning service was held on 17th July. In advance, the churchwardens thoroughly assessed congregation capacity under Covid-19 conditions and decided on 20 as a safe number (with flexibility on family bubbles).

Those unable or unwilling to venture out were not neglected, as they could join the worship through Zoom technology.

Although this was an important symbol of returning normality, Town Centre Chaplain Neil Biles stressed how much had gone on unseen during lockdown:

“Although the building has been closed, the church community have remained very active. We have continued to pray for the town and its people on Zoom, in our homes and in our communities, so it is a joy to see people return to pray in St Mary’s Church.”

The first Sunday saw 10 people in church and six engaged via Zoom. This past Sunday, the number of church attendees rose to 17, with five availing themselves of the Zoom facility. Interestingly, several of the congregation came from other churches in the town not yet open.

Those participating in church or online are encouraged to log in to a 'Zoom Coffee Morning' held by Lay minister Carl Whitehouse soon after the service to assess results, and for Carl, the main message is the God-given hope offered as the church looks at new patterns of service to the town:

“Covid-19 is an opportunity to explore the new technology for better, more inclusive outreach.”

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