Plans to Support a Return to Church

Plans to Support a Return to Church


1. Introduction


A survey of our congregation in mid-June 2020 indicated:

  • Approximately 68% of people would continue to access streamed versions of our services. The remaining 32% are keen to return immediately.
  • Around 50% of those who carry out defined roles such as ushers, worship group etc would be willing to continue to carry out those roles if we returned “now”.
  • If we had to restrict numbers attending a service, “first come, first served” was the least desired option, with a booking system being the marginally preferred option. However, overall preferences were relatively evenly split across age, alphabetical and a booking system.

Our plans for returning to worship are based on these key findings and associated comments, as well as guidance from the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Northern Ireland Executive Office.

The Covid-19 Group recognises that many of our members are longing to gather again as a Church family for worship – that is understandable. Many others will be nervous about gathering again – that too is understandable. We need to balance these two realities, remembering that the safety of all who gather must be one of our priorities. None of us should put pressure on one another to conform to our own view and opinion, rather let’s respect, support and encourage one another, regardless of our personal decisions.

Streaming of our services online and the distribution of CDs will continue, even after our full return to “normal” worship. In this way we hope to continue to engage with everyone in our congregation, whether they feel able to be physically present with us or not. The following table illustrates what we plan to implement over the next few Sundays.

SundayPlanned Activity
12 JulyCurrent “lockdown” arrangements continue to apply. 
19 JulyThe service will be broadcast live from our premises with worship led by our praise group.  Everyone in the congregation is asked to please watch the service online (or listen to the CD). 
26 JulyThe service will again be broadcast live with live worship.  Those who consider themselves vulnerable but wish to have an opportunity to contribute using their FWO envelopes, may leave their offering in the welcome area of the Church from 11:00-11:25am.  These (but only these) individuals may remain for the service.  If you are not in a vulnerable category, please be patient and continue to watch online to give “space” for our vulnerable members.
2 Aug Everyone is welcome to physically attend our services or watch online. 

Clearly, this plan is subject to change at any time, for example, if current guidelines were to change and as we work through the required actions to make this happen as safely as possible.  You are therefore advised to check the news and events section of the Church website (www.mazepc.org/newsandevents/) for any updates before travelling to Church each week. 


2. What to Expect?


Please do be considerate of those who consider themselves vulnerable by giving them the option to “return” on 26 July in an environment where numbers are limited.  We have adopted this “vulnerable first” approach based on feedback from our survey that indicated many of those who are considered vulnerable do not have access to online banking and hence wish to have the opportunity to donate through the “normal” FWO envelope system. 

Clearly, anyone who is experiencing signs or symptoms of Covid-19 (or who has been close to anyone else who is) should not attend any of our services or other events.  Assuming this does not apply to you, then from Sunday, 2 August, we hope to be able to welcome everyone back to our Church premises. 

Please also be considerate of those who feel unable to return and respect their decision.  Continue to remember them in prayer, asking that God will comfort them and take away any feelings of isolation that they may be experiencing. 

Social Distancing 

It is important that everyone adheres to social distancing rules and you should always keep 2m apart from others not in your household.  2m has been selected rather than 1m to mitigate against the fact that that we will be indoors, the relatively large number of people likely to be present as well as the duration of the service. 

However, rather than restrict numbers, we plan to use overflow rooms in addition to the main church building, projecting the service into other areas such as the Welcome Area, the Main Hall and Bell Room.  Please understand that space will be limited in the main sanctuary and once full, households will be asked to use an overflow.  To maximise the number of people we can accommodate within the sanctuary and overflow areas, we ask that households sit together.  In addition, a 4m gap will be left between the platform and any attendees.  This is linked to concerns that when people sing or speak loudly, the water droplets they release travel further. 

We would also encourage everyone to minimise the range of things they touch.  For example, we plan on having doors open to minimise the need to touch handles.  This will also help with ventilation, mimicking a more “outdoor” environment.  However, you can also help us in this regard by, for example, not leaning up against the audio-visual desk or leaning on the back of chair to stand and chat.  Whilst appreciating the real difficulties with this, parents are asked to also encourage their children to avoid touching things where possible. 

Recording of Attendance 

To help us in the event of it being necessary to invoke contact tracing, attendance will be recorded on a weekly basis.  Each household is asked to record its attendance by completing a small form and putting it in the provided receptacle.  Copies of the form will be available at each service but can also be downloaded from our web site and completed in advance.  Everyone is encouraged to access the form online and pre-complete it to minimise queues when entering the Church and hence help us ensure social distancing. 

The record of attendance at each service will be retained for 3 weeks and then disposed of in a confidential manner.

The Service 

It is totally understandable that when we return, you will want to catch up with people we haven’t seen for several weeks.  However, please consider that we all have different views and levels of anxiety in relation to Covid-19, and you getting too close to someone could be enough for them not to return as they could feel unsafe.  Given the indications that it is safer to interact with others outdoors, you may wish to have conversations (whilst adhering to social distance rules!) between households in the car park before entering our buildings.  However, please do stand well clear of routes used by cars! 

Unfortunately, there will be no tea or coffee provided for the foreseeable future, nor will there be an announcement sheet.  Therefore, on entering the building, we would ask people to follow any one-way systems and immediately make their way to a seat.  Households are asked to sit together to help us fit in as many as possible whilst still adhering to social distancing requirements.  We would ask that you refrain from moving around unnecessarily once inside to minimise people circulation and the chances of being closer than 2m to anyone else. 

Adjustments will also have to be made to the format of our services.  For example, it is anticipated that the service itself will be shorter, lasting around 45 minutes at the most.  Our opening praise time is likely to take the form of listening to praise rather than participating.  However, we recognise that many will find not being able to join in the singing as overly restrictive.  A final congregational praise will be therefore be included but, by putting it at the end, those who are concerned about being present during that activity will have the opportunity to leave.  Also, for those who remain, the amount of time spent in the environment would be minimised. 

Whilst there will be a specific children’s talk, children will not come to the front as normal but will remain with their household to help manage social distancing.  Where relevant, households may wish to download the children’s worksheets in advance and bring them to the service. 

When the service is over, please remember that it is generally considered safer to meet people outdoors than indoors and hence we would suggest that if you do want to chat, where possible, do this outdoors but ensuring social distancing rules are applied at all times and also being aware of the flow of cars in the car park.  Dispersal from the buildings is likely to be slower than normal given the requirements to social distance.  We ask people to be patient before leaving their seats to avoid congestion.  Our speaker will not be going to the door, which will hopefully help people leave more quickly. 

Unfortunately, it will not be possible to run a Creche or Children’s Church at this stage.  We recognise that those of you with young families may find this a challenge, particularly when you are already trying to adhere to social distancing rules!  Please be assured that we understand – we genuinely enjoy seeing the children coming to Church.  Hopefully the shorter service will help mitigate not having a Creche or Children’s Church facility. 

Hand washing 

We plan to provide hand sanitiser for use on the way in and on the way out.  We encourage everyone to either use their own hand sanitiser or make use of the one supplied prior to entry and after exiting the building.  If you were able to use your own that would be appreciated as it would reduce the “queue” at the sanitiser provided. 

Toilets 

We would ask that the use of the toilets is kept to a minimum and that only the two facilities in the link to the halls complex are used.  Gloves and cleaning materials will be in each facility and we would ask that you use these to wipe surfaces before and after use.  In addition, the hand driers will be turned off and will be replaced with disposable paper towels. 

Face Coverings 

Given the intention to comply with 2m social distancing, the wearing of face coverings is strongly recommended.

Additional Cleaning 

By having only one service on a Sunday no other activities during the week, current guidance would suggest that no additional cleaning is necessary.  However, to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission further, door handles and other surfaces will be cleaned prior to each service.  Volunteers will be needed to help with this and if you would be willing to help with this, please email Andy Irvine (Andy.Irvine@mazepc.org). 

Minimising the use of toilet facilities and providing appropriate cleaning materials for use by those requiring access before and after use will further reduce the risk of transmission, as will hand sanitisation before and after the Service. 

Signage 

Appropriate signage will be used to remind everyone about the guidelines outlined in this plan.  One-way systems will also be clearly marked along with visual reminders of what 2m separation looks like. 

Signage will also be used to highlight areas that most of the congregation should avoid, such as the raised area at the front of the Church. 

Risk Assessments 

Specific risk assessments have been undertaken regarding our return.  In addition, the Covid-19 group have worked through a 26-point action plan to demonstrate that we have addressed all the PCI guidelines.  The plan and PCI documentation has also been approved by Session. 


3. The Future


At this stage only services within the Church are being restarted.  However, organisations should begin to consider how and when they may be able to return so that plans can be considered through the Covid-19 Group as required by Session.  This is important as, for example, the impact on Covid-19 specific cleaning requirements will be significant.  By encouraging organisation leaders to start planning now, we hope to be able to have as many activities as possible up and running as quickly as possible, but all within safe limits. 

The Covid-19 Group will continue to monitor current guidelines and amend the above accordingly.  We will also monitor how the actions outlined above are operating practically and adjust where necessary.  The latest version of our guidance will be available on our website in the news and events section (www.mazepc.org/newsandevents/). 


4. And Finally…


The Northern Ireland Executive has recognised the importance of Church attendance and we thank them for that.  They have also imposed very few limitations on what we can do and hence have given our community significant freedoms.  However, that gives us an equally significant responsibility to use that freedom wisely and to ensure appropriate measures to reduce the risk of transmitting the Covid-19 virus are put in place.  For this reason, we ask that everyone respects and help us implement the measures outlined above. 

Please also consider how we may be perceived in the local community and hence how our actions will impact our witness.  By returning to Church we are sending out a positive message that Church is important to us and that Church itself is much more than just passively watching a service online.  However, our witness could equally be damaged if the local community were to observe large groups of people ignoring social distancing requirements in the car park before and after a service. 

That said, we have all seen examples of politicians, for example going to shake hands with someone they are supposed to be 2m apart from.  “Mistakes” will be made, we will behave “naturally” at times without even realising it, children will move about and get within 2m of someone outside of the household, so please be patient with one another.  All we ask is that everyone tries to adhere to the measures that are being put in place.  

Finally, the Covid-19 Group would like to thank everyone who is praying for us as we try to guide the congregation through this situation.  It is a challenge to bring together what are often very different views on each matter, so your prayers for wisdom and guidance are very much appreciated.  We would also want to thank everyone who took the time to complete the survey, which has really been helpful in developing this plan for our return.  The group can be contacted by emailing Paul.Hanna@mazepc.org and would be happy to receive further input at any stage – we definitely do not claim to “know it all”, so if you do have any input that might be helpful to us, please do get in touch!