By Revd Vanessa Conant
Rector, St Mary’s & the Parish of Walthamstow
Dear St Mary’s
I wonder how you are today with the news of Tier 4 restrictions now in effect. I found the news disorientating and was deeply concerned to hear about a new variant of the virus and its impact on infection rates, with some scientists estimating that this new variant is perhaps 70% more transmissible than the previous version of COVID-19.
I was also aware of the many people whose Christmas plans will be so profoundly affected by this – especially those with particular family needs at this time. We are praying for you and praying that you will know real comfort and solace in the midst of sadness and disappointment.
The PCC met on Sunday (many thanks to all those who prayed for us) to consider our approach towards in-person services in the coming days. We had a full and thoughtful discussion, with each member sharing concerns and hopes.
We are of a common mind, though we are heavy of heart, that it is not safe to continue with in-person services at present.
We make this decision in light of the very high rates of infection in Waltham Forest and in view of the new variant of the virus about which little is known. Until we can get more clarity and guidance on both the causes and the nature of this variant, we cannot be sure that the mitigations we now have in place, already extensive, are sufficient to keep people safe.
We long to worship together again in-person, and it has not been easy to make this choice, particularly at Christmastime. Our priority and main concern however is to ensure that everyone is kept safe and well whilst we wait for the vaccination programme to roll out in 2021.
We will worship in different ways this Christmas – our celebrations altered, but not stopped.
At present, the plan is not to return to in-person worship before 11th January, when the PCC Standing Committee will meet and review the situation. While we might hope for a speedy resolution, we are aware that, in light of comments made by the Health Secretary, London could be under Tier 4 restrictions for an extended period of time, possibly months, which will impact on our decision-making.
We will take into account the rates of infection in our area and any further guidance as to how best to worship in-person. We will update you on the outcome of that discussion. We are also reviewing our pastoral plan to ensure all those who aren’t able to access church services online are telephoned by members of the church. A couple of people have mentioned that they would be happy to help us with this. Please do email me if you would be keen to be in touch with someone this Christmas and beyond.
Our online provision continues and we would love you to join us and share those services with others.
If you use social media and are happy to share links to our upcoming services, please do spread the word. For Sunday 20/12 and in the week leading up to Christmas, we will offer the following services online, which are all broadcast or posted to our Facebook page.
Sunday 20th December at 7.00pm: Online Carol Service – sing along with the congregational carols, enjoy choir pieces and beautiful solo pieces (catalogued on our Facebook page to watch whenever is convenient)
Monday – Friday at 8.30am: Morning Prayer – 15 minutes of gentle reflection, scripture and prayer each day
Christmas Eve at 3.30pm: Online Christingle – carols (including from St Mary’s School), Christingle-making, story-telling, prayer
Christmas Eve at 7pm: Fireside Carols – a reflective service to guide us into Christmas Day
Christmas Eve at 11.15pm: Midnight Compline – a time of prayer, singing and reflection as we welcome in Christmas Day
Christmas Day at 10.30am: Family Worship – joyful celebration of Christmas
As I write this at 4pm, the sky is almost fully dark. The very short days of winter feel difficult at the moment. And yet, at the same time, there is beautiful, loud, continuous birdsong. People who know more about birds can tell me which species sings its song so brightly, almost defiantly, in the midst of a December night. This is the hope we have – in the song which cannot be stopped by any virus, restriction, sorrow or loss – a song which does not deny the pain of these things, but keeps going in the midst of them. The hope of Jesus Christ remains true and transformative no matter the day, the festival, the struggle or the strife. May this song soothe and comfort you and give you strength for the coming days and weeks.
Do not hesitate to be in touch if we can help or support you in any way.