Lockdown Week 15 - A Message to FIEC Churches
A message from FIEC’s National Director to all FIEC churches as we begin to think about the journey out of lockdown.
Please consider downloading this video to show to your congregation via a projector or as part of your online service.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
After 15 weeks of lockdown, we are very thankful that churches in England will be able to open for public worship again from Sunday 5 July. It is also wonderful that weddings will be able to resume and that those couples who have been forced to wait to marry will at long last be able to do so.
We give thanks to God that the coronavirus pandemic has been brought under sufficient control to allow services to resume. However, we continue to grieve with all those who have lost loved ones to this terrible disease and appreciate all that so many have people have done to sustain our society through this difficult time - especially NHS staff and those working in the food supply chain.
Continued Ministry Online
We have been thrilled that so many of our churches were able to make the switch to online services, and that many have enjoyed unexpected gospel opportunities as a result. We have seen that God is sovereign, works out all things for good and that his word is not chained. He is present with us wherever we are by his Spirit, and is not confined to buildings.
At the same time, we know that an online church is only a temporary substitute for a physical gathering. As God’s people, we are meant to assemble to build one another up in our faith, expressing our life as the body of Christ, and anticipating the great gathering there will be when Jesus returns.
As some churches prepare to gather again, and we look forward to this prospect with excitement, we know that there are many of our churches that will not be gathering yet - some because they do not feel prepared and others because they cannot meet.
Our churches in Scotland and Wales are not yet permitted to open, but we pray that the Scottish and Welsh governments will allow this soon.
Many of our English churches that do not have their own building cannot meet yet, and are dependent on the willingness of the owners to let services resume.
Even where churches are able to gather, many of their regular congregation will not be able to join them. Some, such as those who are shielding themselves because they are vulnerable, and all those over 70, are still advised to stay at home. Others will be more cautious about gathering with others. Some parents and children will find it hard to attend churches without crèche and Sunday school provision.
At this time we need to rejoice with those who rejoice because we can gather, but also mourn with those who would dearly love to gather with their brothers and sisters, but for whatever reason are unable to do so yet.
Please do pray for one another - for other FIEC churches in your area - that they will know God’s blessing whether they are resuming physical services or not.
Government Guidance for Places of Worship
Even when churches are gathering for worship, the government guidance we have been given will make church a very different experience. We will still need to observe social distancing, and we have been told to avoid congregational singing.
We can celebrate the Lord’s Supper with careful safeguards, but we cannot baptise in our church premises by immersion. We cannot use wind instruments, and there will be a need for churches to store names and telephone numbers of those who attend for 21 days to help the test and trace system.
I have been involved in several consultations with government and had a zoom call with the Minister of Faith and other officials this week. I can assure you that the government is making every effort to help churches resume worship in a safe way. The guidance they have given is motivated by genuine concern for public health.
The coronavirus has diminished, but it has not gone away. Just up the road from the FIEC office in Market Harborough, the city of Leicester is subject to a local lockdown, and others are expected around the country.
FIEC is urging all its churches to implement the government guidance in full. We believe that this is required by the biblical duty to submit to the authorities, and by the Lord Jesus’ command to love our neighbour. We need to help protect each other, and the wider community, from this disease. We want to be exemplary witnesses to our communities that we take the health risks seriously, and we do not want any church to be the cause of spreading the virus because it has ignored the guidance.
So please do joyfully accept the limitations that the guidance demands, and support your church leaders in the decisions that they have to make. Church leaders bear a heavy responsibility at this time, as they have to conduct a risk assessment, and they could be subject to both criminal and civil liability if they fail in their duties. As Hebrews 13 reminds us, we are to have confidence in our local church leaders and submit to their authority - the writer urges us to do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.
Perhaps the greatest loss that we will feel is that we cannot sing together. The government has given this guidance on the basis of the evidence that singing carries an especially high risk of transmitting the virus. Churches have not been singled out. The same limitations on singing apply to theatres, concert venues and pubs.
Public Health England is conducting ongoing research into singing, and it is possible that the guidance will be changed if it can be shown that there is little risk. However, that will not be known for several weeks, so at this point, we should continue to be patient. Let’s make sure we are able to rejoice in the things that we are now able to do, and not just lament those that we are not.
The FIEC staff team is continuing to do everything we can to support our churches and their leaders. We have provided accurate and up to date advice on our website and our weekly Leadership in Lockdown webinar has explained the new guidance and what it might mean. Three FIEC pastors and I have recorded over 75 minutes of answers to questions about the guidance this week, and this is now available on the FIEC website as a video or a podcast.
The FIEC ministry team are making themselves available for individual consultations with church leaders over the coming weeks, to answer any questions they might have for their own church. They will be able to book a time slot through the FIEC office.
As soon as The Scottish and Welsh governments publish guidance for churches in their countries, we will run dedicated webinars to help explain the implications for churches.
Please be assured of our prayers for you as we whether into this next stage of the relaxation of the lockdown. Whether you are planning to gather physically now, or waiting before regathering, why not use the prayer feature on our website to ask other churches to pray for you. We’d love to give thanks for the ways the Lord is encouraging you and to pray for the challenges you face.
Whether you are able to gather with other believers physically on Sunday or not, let us remember that Christ is with us, and in whatever way we are able let us encourage one another and spur one another on to love and good deeds.
While it is inevitable that the prospect of churches opening again causes us to focus on the needs and desires of the church family, let us never forget our mission to reach those who are lost - without Christ and without hope - with the good news of the gospel.
Let’s not forget the vast majority of the people in our land who will not be in church on Sunday, and would not be in churches on any Sunday even when they are fully open. We come together to encourage age one another so that we can go out and make disciples of the Lord Jesus. Throughout the lockdown, church buildings have been shut, but the church has not been closed. The gospel has been shared, and people have come to faith in the Lord Jesus, whether through personal evangelism or online courses and events. Let’s resolve to fulfil our vision to be ‘independent churches working together to reach Britain for Christ’
As our churches open for worship, let us make sure that the church does not simultaneously lose focus on evangelism. Let us pray that God would have mercy upon our nation, and that many would come to Christ because they have been shaken out of false security by all that we have experienced over the past few months.
Whatever you're doing this Sunday and in the Sundays to come, we ask and pray that the Lord would bless you and that you would honour and glorify him.