There was relief and joy on the Isle of Man, as St Andrew’s United Reformed Church (URC) – along with other congregations linked to Churches Alive in Mann – resumed services, 38 days after the island’s last Covid-19 case.
Voirrey Johnson, St Andrew’s Children’s and Youth Work Elder, explained that many social distancing measures had been agreed in the previous weeks, but, as the Isle of Man had no coronvairus cases for 25 days, restrictions were eased and the church was able to hold it’s first service on 28 June.
The service included photos from the congregation, taken during lockdown, as people looked at how they had coped as families, or alone, with celebration and with sorrow. They also looked at what new skills they had learnt, and what they had learnt about community and being a church.
“To help people stay safe, we encouraged them to continue to distance by simply blocking off alternate rows of seats. We had hand sanitiser as they came in, and at other places in the church,” said Voirrey.
“There were three hymns at the service, and afterwards people said that singing the Lord’s Prayer, and the blessing, was very emotional and meaningful. The Bible re-entering for the first time since 15 March was a really emotional moment for us all.
“We didn’t use our coffee room, as it’s quite small. We brought tables into the main church and served tea and (wrapped) biscuits. We asked the congregation to leave spaces between family groups, just to be sure everyone felt safe. Rather than pass the collection around, we asked people to put their gift onto the plate as they stopped for coffee. Money counters wore gloves and used more sanitiser.
“Members of the congregation felt it was the right time to be back together. For those who had been shielding, there was no worry about coming back. We had let them know the arrangements in advance, by phone or email.
“People said how wonderful it was to see someone they knew in person – their only contacts had been on screens, or a shouted hello from postmen or others doing deliveries. But, actually, a lot of the people who came wanted to talk about how we had been a church together whilst apart. It was very rewarding to know how many had been looking at the website regularly or catching up via Facebook. We had sent out pastoral letters, synod info and so on, by email mainly, but otherwise printed and posted.
“Many people expressed their appreciation for the short services that had been recorded each week after Easter.”
Voirrey continued: “I was told by one lady, who is recently widowed and now living alone, that to see that video every week and two familiar faces in the surroundings of St Andrew’s, along with hearing their voices, was enough in itself to strengthen her. She said that the content of each of the services had been just the right length and pitch, and that they really spoke to her and comforted her greatly.
“We posted the video on the website, YouTube and Facebook, and sent all three links out each Saturday evening by email, to be sure anyone with internet access could easily get to them.
“We also found that these services have been an act of mission over the past months. They have been watched not only by a high proportion of the congregation but by their off-island family members (often at the same time, so that they were worshipping together), by members of other churches who did not do anything similar, and also by distant friends and acquaintances. There have been regular watchers in Spain and the US – one lady in the US told me that our minister’s calm voice, and a message that applied the lectionary Scripture reading each week to our current situation, was helping her through living alone in Minneapolis, surrounded by both the virus and the riots, in an apartment with no company but her cat.”
St Andrew’s URC will continue to note who comes to the services, in case of a future need to track and trace.
Published: 27 July 2020