Sunday 24 October 2021

The St Mark's "roadmap"

Dear brothers and sisters,

This email is to announce our plans for the resumption of in-person church services and ministries.  It covers the same ground as my announcement in church today.  We have also attached an infographic which will give you the basic information “at a glance”.

Let me start by saying how grateful to God I am for your patience as our church leaders have considered the best way for us to return to face-to-face gatherings.  We also really appreciate your prayers for us as we seek to lead our church out of lockdown.

Over the past few weeks our overseers, pastors, and Parish Council have taken time to consider and discuss the best way for us to move forwards.  We have obviously sought to understand the directions the government are giving, and we have listened to advice and direction offered by our Diocesan leaders as well.  We have also taken time to listen to the voices of our church members.  As you may already appreciate, there are some at church who are keen to resume in-person as soon as possible.  There are others who are very anxious about returning and about the risks our gatherings may pose.  You will also appreciate, I’m sure, that our church community is a mixture of those who are fully vaccinated and those who are unvaccinated, in particular a significant number of children.  Our concern has been to develop a plan for returning that tries to balance the various concerns and anxieties of all those different people.  We are excited to meet together again soon.  But we also want to meet together in way that keeps people as safe as possible.  For all these reasons, our discussions and decision-making process have not just been logistical, but intentionally and deeply pastoral.  We have sought to make decisions that are not only obedient, and responsible, but also loving.

And, as we return to meeting together in-person, this ought to be our highest concern as a church family too- to love one another.  We read in 1 Peter 1:22:  ‘Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply from the heart’  So as you come back to church I want you to think about how you can love the people around you.  Vaccinated or unvaccinated, enthusiastic or hesitant, relaxed or fearful, how can we love our brothers and sisters?  We need to understand the differences between us and to understand those who are different to us very empathetically.  We need to take care in the way we speak to each other and about each other.  We need to relate to each in ways that are sensitive to how others might be feeling.  And we need to embrace the opportunity we now have to re-engage with one other even if our instincts are just to protect ourselves.  Moments like these are a test of our commitment to one another.  Moments like these can grow us in selflessness.  And I am praying that we will pass this test, and that God will use this to grow us- to grow us in loving one another deeply from the heart.  Will you pray for that too?

But here’s the plan.

For the rest of October we will continue to offer only live-streamed services- at both 10am and 5pm.  That’s today, and next Sunday.  We encourage you to gather with others in your home to watch if you feel comfortable.  I’m also glad to say that several Home Groups have begun meeting again in-person and others will do so in the weeks ahead at the discretion of their leaders.  And our youth group ALIVE recommenced meeting in the hall on Friday night just gone and that’s something we’re very thankful to God for.

From the first Sunday in November- November 7, we will resume all three services on Sundays on the church premises.  And, in line with government regulations, they will be open to all, whether vaccinated or not.  The 8:15am service will be in the church building, and 10am and 5pm services will both be in the church hall.  Masks will be mandatory at all services, everyone will need to check-in on arrival, and no congregational singing will be permitted.  To facilitate good ventilation, all the doors and windows in both the church building and the hall will be left open throughout the services.  We will live-stream both 10am and 5pm so that those who can’t come, or don’t yet feel comfortable can watch from home.  Because of the capacity limit imposed by the government, we will need people throughout November to pre-register for the 10am and 5pm services, in the same way as we did when we first returned to church late last year.  After the 10am and 5pm services people will be asked to move quickly outside the hall, and tea, coffee, and water will be served outside, but with no food.  We hope many will feel comfortable to stay on after church for conversations outdoors.  If the weather on any given day prevents morning tea or supper being served outside, it will be cancelled.  Throughout November at least we are also making it a requirement that anyone serving in kids or youth ministry, or as an usher, or on the music team, or as someone serving drinks must be fully vaccinated.

Kids Church and Minis will return in-person at the same time as church returns- from November 7.  Throughout November children won’t be able to start the service in the hall but will need to be dropped off at the church entrance on Tunks Street from 9:45am and checked in by a parent there.  Parents will be asked to pick their children up again at 11:15am from the same door. 

From the first of December, the government has indicated that restrictions are likely to be significantly eased.  If things play out as expected, then we anticipate that pre-registration for church will no longer be required, masks will no longer be mandatory, congregational singing will be permitted, and the children will be able to re-join us at the start of the 10am service before heading out to their programs.  We may also reintroduce food at outdoor morning teas and suppers.  Once we hit December it is also our hope that the 5pm service will return to the church building.  At that time we will cease to live-stream the 5pm service but will continue to live-stream 10am so that those at home can still tune in.  And given the live-streams remain on the YouTube channel after the stream ends, people could still watch the 10am service at home at 5pm or at any other time.  We’ve also got plans in place to celebrate Christmas together in style!

If you have any questions about this plan, or any concerns about it, we really want you to feel free to reach out to one of our church pastors or overseers.  We are eager to care for every individual in our church and we appreciate that everyone’s circumstances are different.  So please do contact us if you want to ask a question, if you want to talk about ways we could particularly help you to make this transition, if you’d like us to pray with you or for you, or even if you just want to tell us how you feel. We really want you to get in touch if you’d like to speak to us.

Of course, all our plans are subject to change if the government changes its plans or regulations.  More significantly, our plans for the future are always, of course, only as the Lord wills.  As at every other time, we are in his hands.  But there are no better hands for us to be in.  Will you join me in praying that he will fill us with great joy as we get back together, that he will strengthen us in great love, and that he will lead us to bring great glory to Him in every way?

Your humble servant,