From the first Sunday in July 2020, our 2 churches will be ready to open at the normal times.  Risk assessments have been carried out and advice from the House of Bishops and Church House has been taken on board to allow us to worship safely.

Hand hygiene is so important – do wash your hands before you come to church, we have hand sanitiser, masks and gloves in the church porches.  Observe social distancing and follow the signage.  It will take a wee while to get used to the ‘new normal’.

It will be good to form new habits, no more going to the family pew, no singing, no books being given out by churchwardens, so we will have to adapt by sitting where it is safe to do so, bring your own books and the services will be shorter.

This is likely to last a few months, so please do keep an eye on the public health guidance, it’s perfectly fine to wear a mask or face covering in church, it’s important that you and those around you feel safe for the short time that we meet together on a Sunday morning.

As we come out of lockdown, we have seen the best and worst in human nature.  I hope our NHS staff, key workers and care workers will now be able to rest and reflect on what they have coped with these last few months.

I know there will be much uncertainty about schooling, employment and the fact that the virus is still out there and might come back to bite us.  Hopefully we can bring all these concerns and the needs of the world in prayer, in the best place for prayer, the house of prayer itself.

Sometimes we need to be inspired by what previous generations have coped with.

Let me tell you the story of the Rev’d Charles Lowder, who in 1850 felt a strong calling to leave his rural ministry and go to inner city London.  He didn’t initially fit into his new surroundings, the slums of Pimlico, so he moved to East London between Shadwell and Wapping.  His high church sentiments didn’t go down well, but he refused to be intimidated and managed to build a new church, St Peter’s, London Docks in 1866.  That would have been an achievement alone, but in that very year, the East End of London was struck by an outbreak of Cholera.  All the professionals left Wapping, Shadwell and Whitechapel.  Doctors and policemen would not even come into the district, but Mr Lowder stayed put, raising enormous amounts of money for medical supplies, organising volunteers to care for the dying.  He showed no fear of the disease, walking around the parish day and night tending to the sick.

When the epidemic had finished, the Rev’d Charles Lowder was so beloved of the East End that they called him ‘Father’, the first Church of England priest to be given that title.  His faithfulness during the pandemic caused a revival in church going and his church saw 800 people take Holy Communion on an average Sunday morning.

He never slowed down, to the extent that his health suffered, and when he was eventually persuaded to take a break in 1880, he sadly died in Austria while on holiday.  The crowds thronged the streets for his funeral (my thanks to the Rev’d Fergus Butler-Gallie for telling this story in the book, “A Field Guide to the English Clergy”).

We will all have our memories of the Coronavirus pandemic, we should choose to remember the positive, the wonderful work of our NHS, the community spirit that was engendered and the time we have spent to get our priorities in life re-adjusted.  I hope and pray that we won’t go back to bad habits, but will have used the lockdown as a sabbatical to focus on our spiritual health just as HM Government focused on our physical health.

If you are fit and well and have had no contact with the virus, then you are very welcome to come to church.  Those who are still self-isolating or cocooning, or simply have been told by their families not to leave the house until there is a vaccine, we will miss you from worship and hope that we can safely congregate together in God’s good time.

Keep well, keep safe.  Amen.