Fr Patrick writes…
In the July/August 2020 and September 2020 editions of the Parish Magazine, I documented the wind down of the Covid restrictions after the first wave of the virus in the Spring of 2020. I want to continue that story now to record and reflect on this remarkable period in the life of the church, locally, nationally and internationally.
8th August 2020 – Face marks became compulsory in church, but it was made that clear that people could remove the face mark when reading or leading from the front of church. After this change, the Covid guidance started to settle down and it seemed less important to check the guidance webpages twice a day.
Mid and late August 2020 – There were a relaxations in the rules about singing such that it became possible for choirs to sing in church, even though congregational singing was still not allowed.
15th September 2020 – Birmingham, Sandwell and Solihull became subject to additional local restrictions, amid growing concerns about a possible second wave of the virus.
27th September 2020 – After some earlier Friday night practices, this was our first Sunday with the choir singing again at St Mary’s Lapworth. The choir were positioned on a generous “one meter plus” basis around the choir stalls and at the front of the nave. Most, but not all, choir members returned to singing. Congregational singing was still not allowed. The choir singing helped the worship enormously, especially when harvest hymns were sung on 4th October.
12th October 2020 – The Prime Minister made a statement introducing “Tiers” to rationalise the increasing diverse system of local measures that applied in different parts of the country. Warwick District Council area (including Lapworth) was in the medium risk Tier, or Tier 1 as it became known. Solihull and Birmingham were in the high risk tier (Tier 2). Despite the tier system, infection rates continued to rise. I made plans for a socially distanced Remembrance Sunday which were published in the November Parish Magazine.
25th October 2020 – We made our first live streamed service from St Mary’s, but experienced a technical problem with the sound.
30th October 2020 – The Prime Minister announced a second national lockdown starting on Thursday 5th November. Places of worship were stopped from offering public worship, but they could remain open for individual prayer and for broadcasting, streaming or recording of services. St Mary’s continued to be open from 9-5 each day for private prayer. A wedding, which had been rearranged from June to November, had to be postponed a second time. St Michael’s, which had been open only for morning services on specific Sundays, had to close completely. Remembrance Sunday had to be replanned as a broadcast only service.
1st November 2020 – A Family Service for All Saints Day was the first successful live streamed service from St Mary’s. In the evening a well-attended All Souls service with excellent choir music was a memorable last service before lockdown.
3rd November 2020 – The government published special rules for Remembrance Sunday, and a third plan for the service was needed.
8th November 2020 – Remembrance Sunday, under lockdown, goes ahead as an outdoor, socially distanced service at the War Memorial by St Mary’s. We had two trumpeters, the choir, eight wreath layers and their families. Despite a poor forecast, the weather was good. Over 70 people watched the live stream and by the end of the weekend more than 300 had viewed it.
2nd December 2020 – The national lockdown ended and the Tier system of Covid restrictions returned. Lapworth (with Warwick) was put in Tier 3. Services restarted at St Mary’s and St Michael’s.
20th December 2020 – Amid rising concerns about a new strain of the virus in the south east of England, the St Mary’s Carol Service went ahead at 6.30pm, repeated at 7.30pm, for small socially distanced congregations and with a choir of 10. The 6.30pm service was live streamed. Subsequent Christmas services went ahead as planned, but with small numbers.
27th December 2020 – At the suggestion of the Bishop, there were no Sunday services at St Mary’s or St Michael’s, but we watched the 11am service live streamed from Birmingham Cathedral.
30th December 2020 – It was announced that Lapworth was to move to Tier 4 with effect from 31st December. Tier 4 rules were very similar to the November lockdown rules, except that Places of Worship could remain open and continue to offer public worship.
5th January 2021 – Schools in England were closed. (Many had opened on Monday 4th January)
6th January 2021 – A third national lockdown was announced, but this time Places of Worship could remain open and continue to offer public worship. There was great concern that Tier 4 measures had failed to control infection rates associated with the new strain of the virus, which was clearly more infectious than the previous strain.
7th January 2021 – Bishop David wrote to Birmingham clergy saying, “Although access to church buildings is still permitted by government during this third National Lockdown, I expect that with current uncertainties, and rigorous assessment of risk and capacity, you may wish to further restrict activities in the church building or close completely for the time being. In all this, you have my full support.”
10th January 2021 – St Mary’s offered public worship with a new risk assessment based on a generous 2 meters between households, no choir singing, and greater care on entering and leaving church. The congregation was small, but the service was live steamed. Approximately half the churches in the CofE closed. St Michael’s suspended public worship until 21st February.
30th January 2021 – Karen Whyte sings hymns solo for the 11am Candlemas service. Ros Croft does the same on the following Sundays.
Only time will tell what the next developments in this unprecedented period will be.