Coronavirus Update (06/01/2021)

On Monday evening, the Prime Minister announced a third national lockdown due to the rapid spread of a more contagious strain of the coronavirus. Much of the economy, and society (including schools) has been shutdown, as the government has encouraged us to stay home, to protect the NHS and to save lives. Unlike the lockdown in November, the government is allowing places of worship to decide whether they should continue meeting in person if they feel that it is safe and wise for them to do so.

We have been fortunate in West Suffolk that coronavirus rates have been amongst the lowest in England. But since the beginning of December there has been a huge increase in the local infection rates and hospitalisations have risen dramatically.

The Elders & Deacons met last night to discuss what we should do as a church in this next stage of the pandemic. We have decided to close our in-person services and return to online-only services until the lockdown has eased and children are able to return to Primary School. The government has announced its intention for children to be returning to school following the February half-term holiday.

Why have we taken this decision?

  • For the safety of our congregation – more than 50% of those attending on a Sunday in person are aged 60+ and are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. The new strain of the coronavirus is between 50-75% more infectious and we despite our best efforts at maintaining social distance, washing hands, wearing masks etc. it is impossible to make a church gathering completely covid-safe.

  • For the sake of our witness in the local community – we want to be above reproach and have a good reputation. We don’t want to damage that reputation by being a source of an outbreak or by being seen to enjoy freedoms that others are not able to have (e.g. gathering for church, when they are furloughed or their children cannot go to school).

  • Because now is the moment of crisis in our community. Coronavirus infections in our area are now at their highest (including during the Spring 2020 outbreak).

  • A vaccination is coming. Unlike the lockdown in November, there is an end in sight. The government has a vaccine, and is working to roll-it out rapidly to the most vulnerable in society. It is hoped that this will be the last lockdown.

It is immensely disappointing that we’re having to take these steps and we look forward to restarting our services in person as soon as it is safe for us to do so.

I’m hugely thankful that we’re living in a day where we’re able to broadcast services relatively easily, and we will continue to make the best of it. Services will continue to be made available on YouTube and on our website at 10.30am on a Sunday, and our Dial-a-Sermon phone line is available (01284 335533) for those who are unable to use the internet. Starting this Sunday, we’re going to start a new Zoom coffee break after the morning service at 11.30am to allow people to be able to see each other and to chat and catch-up online.

The Apostle James says:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (James 1:2-3)

These are difficult days for all of us. But, we have hope, because Jesus is risen. The gospel is true. The Holy Spirit is living within us. We know that our God is in control and that in all things he is working for our good and the good of his church.

I look forward to seeing you all in person as soon as we’re able to do so.

With much love in Christ,

Gareth
On behalf of the Elders & Deacons of Westgate Chapel

We’re really looking forward to welcoming you back to the church building on Sunday morning.

It’s been far too long since we’ve been able to worship together. The purpose of this article is to give you a guide as to what you should expect on Sunday, and how to get ready for the service.

Before You Leave Home

Getting ready for the service on Sunday begins at home:

  1. Are you feeling well?

If you’re not feeling well at all, or you have any of the government recognised symptoms of coronavirus, we would ask you to stay at home and join us online.

  1. Have you got a Bible?

We won’t be able to provide you with one of the church Bibles, so you’ll need to remember to bring your own with you.

  1. Have you got a bottle of water?

There won’t be any refreshments after the service and we won’t able to offer you a drink during the service. So, please do try and remember to bring a bottle of water with you. 

  1. Do you need to go to the loo?

We’re trying to encourage people where possible to avoid using the toilets at church. They will be available, but please use them as a last resort.

  1. Have you got a face mask with you?

On the 8th August, the Government made it a legal requirement to wear a mask covering in a Place of Worship. Please remember to bring one from home with you to wear on the premises. We hope to have some spares with us, but if you’re not able to wear a mask (except for a valid health reason or if a child is aged 11 or under) you won’t be allowed to enter the Chapel.

  1. Do you need to bring some toys or activity to entertain your children with?

You might need some toys or colouring to bring with you to entertain any kids with you. We really don’t mind the noise that children make but we aren’t able to provide church toys, and the Vestry and Lounge will be closed.

  1. Are you warm enough?

We’ll have many more of our doors and windows open to increase ventilation in the building, so if you feel the cold, make sure to bring a jumper or coat with you.

  1. And lastly, have you booked online?

This one, isn’t essential, but it is really helpful for us: have you booked online before you’ve come? This allows us to make sure that we have contact details for you, have enough socially distanced chairs, and speed up the process of registering people when you arrive.

When you arrive

You’ll be asked to queue up outside. We’ve placed markings on the floor in order to help us to ensure that we have social distancing of 2m at all times.

When it’s your turn to enter the Chapel – we hope that you’ll be given a warm welcome by our welcome team. We’ll then ask you whether you’re feeling unwell, and to sanitise your hands. If you’ve already booked online, we’ll tick you off our list. But, if you haven’t we’ll need to take your name and make sure that we have up-to-date contact information for you to help us to comply with the government’s track and trace program in case of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Some areas of the church building have been closed off (e.g. the kitchen, the lounge, and the vestry) please respect the “Do Not Enter” signs, unless you have permission from someone who is stewarding.

During the service

The main difference you’ll notice during our services is that you won’t be able to sing. Initially, we will be using some pre-recorded music videos to help us to worship. Please reflect quietly on the words when the music is playing.

A one-way system will be in place, with people entering through the front door, and exiting the building through the garden fire exits and along the passage to the side of the building. If you need to use the toilet during the service, please follow the one-way system, and exit into the garden, and re-enter the building through the front doors.

After the service

When the service is over, please remain in your seats, until your row is asked to leave. The exit to the building will be through the fire exits into the garden, and then out via the side of the building. Please do not linger, as we would normally love to do, as the government has asked that we discourage social interactions following our services.

Everything will be available online

The service will be live streamed, so that those who need to remain at home for the time being will be able to access exactly the same service. You can watch any of our services on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/c/westgatechapelBSE

That can feel like a lot of rules for us to follow

It’s worth saying: this is not normal.

This is a lot of rules and guidelines for us to be following when we gather together to worship on a Sunday morning. It will feel different. It will feel a bit odd. But, we’re hoping and praying that this is the beginning of the road back to being able to gather together in full freedom.

Please do follow these rules as closely as you’re able to do. This will help us to care for the vulnerable, for those who are feeling concerned about coming to church, and is a way for us to be loving our neighbours and submitting to the authorities that God has placed over us.

If you would like to read our full risk assessment you can download it from here.

We’re really looking forward to being able to gather together again in person and look forward to welcoming you back to Westgate Chapel to worship God in Spirit and Truth.