Letter from the Minister
30 June 2020
Dear members of Kirkpatrick Memorial,
I hope this finds you well.
As I write I have the words of Dame Vera Lynn’s most well-known, war-time song ringing around my head. “We’ll meet again/Don’t know where/Don’t know when…” After over 100 days of lockdown I am confident that we shall all be able to meet again someday…but as yet I don’t know exactly where or when that will be! That’s why I’m choosing to write to you today.
As you may have heard by now, the Northern Ireland Executive ruled that churches would be allowed to start to meet together as of Monday 29 June (maintaining appropriate social distancing). That means, in theory at least, that some churches may be able to resume Sunday morning worship in their buildings as soon as Sunday 5 July. We are, unfortunately, not in that position.
There are a number of factors which make it difficult for us, at Kirkpatrick Memorial, to recommence church services and other gatherings in their pre-lockdown form. They include, at least, the following:
· We deal in large numbers of people – up to 400 people can be present with us on a Sunday morning. Many of our mid-week activities are also very well attended. Social distancing requirements would mean that only a fraction of the normal attendance could be permitted at many of our gatherings.
· We don’t have much space – even if we invited a reduced number of people to some gatherings we’d still have to contend with: (1) limited points of entry and exit; (2) lack of foyer and circulation spaces; (3) narrow doorways, aisles and corridors; and (4) poor ventilation in many of our halls. These factors combined mean that our building is not an ideal environment in which to practice social distancing or to manage the transmission of infectious diseases.
· We expect much from our gatherings – at Kirkpatrick Memorial we don’t do “socially distant” gatherings. Ironically, our desire for genuine engagement with one another and a warm, vibrant sense of community at our gatherings, may mean that we’ll choose to wait a little longer to gather.
What You Should Expect
Although it’s hard to be absolutely clear of the road ahead it’s likely that the following features will mark our journey out of lockdown:
· Our first gatherings will be limited in size – a Sunday morning gathering of the whole congregation may be a long way in the future;
· Online worship is likely to continue for some time – we may, for example, ask those members who have access to the internet to stay “on-line” while smaller numbers begin to gather in the church building;
· Organisations are unlikely to recommence at their “usual” time – we expect the church calendar in 2020/21 to be different than in previous years;
· Youth and Children’s organisations, in particular, may be slow to restart. We anticipate that September, the season when our YaC activities generally restart, will be a stressful time for parents, many of whom will be adjusting to new patterns of schooling and possibly continuing to work from home. We are keen to allow folks some time to adjust to these new rhythms and patterns, before asking them to recommence our youth and children's ministries. There will be much to consider with regards to numbers meeting together, social distancing, safe drop-offs/pick-ups etc.
What We’re Doing
We’ve convened a Project Restart task group to consider the many and varied issues surrounding our return out of lockdown. They will be working throughout the summer and are committed to communicating as soon as they can and as clearly as they can regarding the way forward. Look out for further updates over the next couple of months.
What You Can Do
You probably feel quite helpless and passive in the face of our church’s journey out of lockdown. Don’t! There’s a lot you can be doing. You can:
· Be patient – try to understand our church family’s journey out of lockdown, not from your own perspective, but from the perspective of the hundreds of others in our church family. Think of our older members who are at risk simply by virtue of their age. Think of those in our community with underlying health conditions. Think of our many young members who won’t easily understand requirements for “social distancing.” Think of all those who lead, who are responsible for the well-being of all our members and who have to facilitate our every gathering. Let’s be patient and bear with one another. Please remember that this journey out of lockdown is just the latest context God has given you to practice your discipleship and to demonstrate your growing likeness to Jesus.
· Be prayerful – Our leaders need your prayers. Pray for our Kirk Session and Congregational Committee. Pray for our Project Restart Team. Pray for all our leaders who are faced with the challenge of considering when and how to restart their ministry safely and well.
As I said at the start of this letter, I don’t know where or when we’ll all be able to meet again but I do know this…I’m looking forward to it! In the meantime I’m happy to entrust you to “him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 24),
Yours in Christ Jesus,