When the Church of England released their updated guidance for Churches to coincide with Step 4 of the governments roadmap they very clearly said who had the responsibility for how individual churches might proceed: “The responsibility for making decisions about how to proceed lies with the incumbent.” This was the first time this had been clearly stated and is an immense burden on all Incumbents. At St Paul’s I work closely with our PCC and together we agreed the following:
For our 10.30am service we would continue to require people to wear facemarks unless they are exempt and we would also resume congregational singing. We ask people to respect the social distance from others remembering whilst you may be quite happy to hug, others are incredibly nervous now about others being too close. We also decided not to restart serving refreshments at this service. To enable a flow of air, as good ventilation is really important in preventing Covid being passed on, the main West door needs to remain open during and after the service.These Covid restrictions were agreed again at our PCC meeting in September.
Subsequently More at 4 started and, as the Incumbent, I needed to make the decisions as to what Covid restrictions I felt were necessary. As this is a far younger age group with less people who might be considered as vulnerable I decided, in conjunction with Gavin and Hazel Foster who lead the service, that we would not require everyone to we are facemarks but ask them to respect those who decide to do so. Refreshments are also served at this service and the Covid guidelines are that anyone serving refreshments needs to wear a facemark and any cakes need to be served rather than people helping themselves. As with our 10.30am service the main West door needs to be open to enable a flow of air through the building. We were unable to do this at the first service but have now found the stairgate which prevents the younger members of the congregation leaving on their own!
Also in September the Cafe restarted on Thursdays and I discussed Covid guidelines with Clare. For this I asked that everyone serving refreshments or in the kitchen should be masked as they would be breathing over crockery that others would use and that cakes etc. should be served rather then people helping themselves. The top windows need to be open and the outside doors also need to be open, but not fully, to allow a flow of air through the room. The same Covid restrictions are needed for Encompass as well.
Sadly the number of Covid cases in the UK are significantly and stubbornly high. However the good news is that the link between case numbers and hospitalisations and deaths has been reduced, but it has not be eliminated. This means we still need to be careful and take appropriate precautions. Covid has not gone away yet, even the double vaccinated can still catch it and for some this may be extremely serious.
The principle that I work with is to assume that someone attending a service or event has Covid but doesn’t know it. What reasonable precautions can we take to minimise the possibility of them passing it on to others?
Good ventilation is really important to prevent the spread of Covid and other viruses like Flu. One of our local schools now has CO2 monitors in each classroom and the children have quickly learnt that when the monitor goes red the ventilation in their room need to be improved! We have also purchased a CO2 monitor that we have used over the past few weeks. For clarity a CO2 monitor in no way indicates the presence of Covid or any other virus in the air. It does however give a good indication of different measures we might take to improve ventilation and therefore seek to prevent the spread of Covid if someone is present who has it, but doesn’t know they have it.
What we have learnt so far is that opening the back West door of our church building makes a marked difference to the levels of CO2 and therefore opening the door improves ventilation. With the West door open the CO2 level at our 10.30am service rises during the service but doesn’t reach a concerning level. However the level at More at 4 is markedly higher. One reason is the CO2 level doesn’t have the opportunity to return to background levels between the 10.30am service and More at 4. So last Sunday we experimented with leaving the church open between the services to allow more ventilation and this showed a clear improvement. We will continue to use the CO2 monitor to help inform our decisions on ventilation as we move into the winter months.
Here are some graphs of the levels of CO2 over past weeks: