Below is a copy of the email I sent to the church community on January 1, explaining why we were suspending services for the time being. Since writing this, the government has accounced a new national lockdown and the Baptist Union has issued a statement advising churches not to open their buildings for in-person meetings.
This is not the email I wanted start the new year with, but I need to tell you that with Leicester and Leicestershire now in Tier 4, we are suspending services in the building again until further notice.
Places of worship are allowed to continue to open for communal worship in Tier 4, but as our own denomination has reminded us since services first became possible again, just because we can doesn't mean we should or must. Cases are rising and are higher than average in many of the areas our congregation comes from, the new strain is far more transmissible and it is not yet clear what new measures might be needed to mitigate against that, public health scientists are calling for a full lockdown, and the headline message for Tier 4 is 'stay at home'. Leicester may not currently be among the worst hotspots in the country, but we cannot afford to be complacent, and this move into Tier 4 is a chance to stop and be proactive rather than reactive. In the light of all that, suspending gathered services for the time being seems to be the most responsible decision, both for the congegration and the communities we find ourselves unavoidably interacting with.
I know it has been significant for some to return to worship in the building, and I know this message will be met by a measure of disagreement and sadness, but please trust that this decision has not been made lightly or joyfully, but in the genuine belief that it is the best course of action for the moment. We are also not alone in making this move, with many other churches doing likewise, and a number of associations and denominations advising suspension or at least encouraging very careful reconsideration.
Sunday mornings in the building have never been and should never be the only place where we can worship and support one another, and we will continue to invest more deeply in those other times and places. Services will continue to be posted online, with transcripts sent out in the week, and we will resume sharing the service on Zoom on Sunday morning. The series we are about to start is intended to encourage us to develop our own worship practices, and I hope will be particularly valuable in this time. You may also like to look again at the Resources for Worshipping at Home which I put together in the spring. Sunday coffee, wellbeing cafe and house group will all continue online, and of course we can still keep in touch by phone and email and WhatsApp and so on.
Returning to what is essentially another lockdown may feel bleak, but we remain a fellowship even when apart and so none of us is truly alone in this, and it is my hope that by going further than we need to, we might help to lessen the time before we can gather as we used to and long to do again.
With love and blessing,