Re-opening at St. Mark's

Summary 

  • Online worship services will be continuing for the foreseeable future, with continual changes and developments. 
  • The Wednesday 11am Holy Communion service is now running again each week. 
  • Our Sunday services will begin again on August 16th. 
  • The new schedule of Sunday services will be a 9am and a 4pm service. 
  • We will be holding a Service of Lament on Saturday August 1st at 4pm. 

An open letter from Rev. Andrew Bowles – Senior minister of St. Mark’s

I would like to take this chance to share with you our plans at St. Mark’s for the next couple of months.  

Next week will be the end of Term 2, then we will be heading in to holidaysSo between now and the end of Term 3 in September will be about three months. 

I would like to encourage you to think of these three months as a time to Reconnect, Refresh and Renew ourselves as a church community.  

The past three months have been a whirlwind of action and change as we have gone into lockdown due to COVID-19 and are now just emerging with restrictions being eased. This is happening more quickly than we may have thought. We are very fortunate in Australia to be in a place where we have been able to keep this disease under control so far. However of course we have just had this weekend (20th June) a pause in Victoria on reopening, and are now taking it slower than we thought, but we are still moving into a time when we are in ‘social distancing mode’ rather than ‘lockdown’. 

As we transition into this new time there are many feelings that I see and feel among us. Many people, perhaps most of us, are tired, stressed, anxious, lonely, and uncertain. We have been through difficult experiences and the future is still very unknown. We are seeing other tensions in our society emerge alongside this pandemic, tensions in our political and social lifeHowever, many people are at the same time hopeful, enthusiastic, and optimistic about the future and how things will go. We see a lot of the good side of each other in how we help out those around us. All of this together makes a very confusing and messy time. 

At St. Mark’s we want to recognise these experiences and feelings as part of our plan to reopen our activities as a community. So again, the next three months we intend to be a time to reconnect, to refresh and to renew. 

Reconnect 

When it comes to reconnecting, we are encouraging our members to consider how to make meaningful contact with other church members for fellowship and worship. To build up again some of the connections that have eroded in lockdown. We have recently stepped back our ability to gather together in homes with more than five other people, but as this opens up again hopefully soon we encourage you to engage with a small group, or to visit one to one as is safe and appropriate. Even a phone call or text message can be a lifeline to someone who is isolated. We are able to reconnect more readily outside with larger groups as well.   

Our online services will still be running during this time and the opportunity to reconnect for worship is there. We will keep working on how we prepare and deliver our online content to grow this part of our ministry. 

We have also just restarted our midweek communion service on Wednesdays at 11am in the church as a small gathering to help people reconnect who may not be able to worship online, or who are feeling comfortable to connect through this simple worship experience. You are welcome to join us for that service, and we appreciate if you could let us know if you are planning to come so we can keep a place for you 

Many people would like to know when we will reopen our worship services on Sunday, and when the majority of our members will have the opportunity to attend a public service if they wish.  

As you may know, we are currently only allowed to have 20 people attend a worship service at one time. This will be the case until July 12th. For us to restart public services we need things to be more open than that, and we also need to have time to prepare for doing that wellSo, for your information our Parish Council has decided that in the event that we are allowed to have more than 50 people in a worship service we will resume Sunday public worship at St. Mark’s on Sunday August 16th 

So for the second half of Term 3, at the same time that our youth and children’s outreach programs will be starting back their meetings, we will hopefully be back to worship in our church building and getting used to that by the time we hit the September holidays. 

On that topic, I would like to say a couple of words about what our Sunday services will be like when we do open. During this season of restrictions we have certain constraints on how we can run gatherings in our buildings. We have to do cleaning and sanitising in a far more rigorous way than before. And due to the 4sqm rule we are limited in the number of people who can attend a service at St. Mark’s at one time.  Our worship space can currently fit about 50 people. In a while we will also be able to livestream our services online. When we can do that we could also fill our hall with another 37 people. Together that is about half the normal attendance on Sunday at St. Mark’s prior to lockdown. We will also have to work on how we can allow people to come who want to come and to make sure there is space for them.  

So as you can hear we are planning for a smaller congregation where we need to sit apart from each other, not to be able at the moment to share close contact. Other guidelines tell us that we will not be able to sing as much as we have in the past in case we share our air too widely, and we will not be able to share hospitality and cuppa after the service to the same extent as we usually do. That is all a bit different and perhaps a bit confronting. So to come back and worship together in public may not feel like we are used to. It may be a little disappointing with the limits that we have. 

Another thing to know is that because of all these changes, and to make things work within them, when we restart our services in August we will be meeting at different times on Sunday than we have before. In order to make things work and give as many people as possible the opportunity to gather for worship we have decided that, for this season, we will have two Sunday services a day, at 9am and 4pm 

That is one service in the morning and one in the afternoon. This is not how things will be forever, but we believe that it makes more sense for the moment with the limitations that we have. At these services we will endeavour to include and honour the needs of as much of our church community as we can, and to figure out how to engage in meaningful experiences of God together. We also hope to plan how children can be included in a safe and friendly way. In the coming months we will be asking our members how they might like to come along, and how those times might work for you. When we restart live services we will still have online options for worship, including a live feed from the church for those who can’t come. 

Refresh 

So this will begin in on August 16th You may notice that this is in two months time.  We are intentionally taking things slowly. Because as I said this period is also a time to refresh ourselves 

To be honest, we have all been through a lot recently and reopening services takes a lot of work. We have a lot of things to process both mentally, emotionally and spiritually. To hurry is to miss the chance to do that. We see July in particular as being a ‘quiet month’ where members of our staff and many other leaders and members of St. Mark’s will be taking holidays and breaks to refresh our energy and reconnect with our families after this very stressful time.   

During July we will be working on some of the necessary preparation to run our Sunday services again, like putting together teams and rosters to make sure things are done well. We will be getting in contact with our members about how you can be involved in that. 

Renew 

Our church, like other groups such as restaurants and schools, has to respond to the situation we are in and its unique challenges. Things are different, and we need to renew our way of doing things and our plans for the future. 

One of the things that I think we need to work together and understand as a community is that we are now journeying together through a season when things are changing, things are not the way they were, and may not be back to normal for a long time. This is a journey that we are going on together as a church, learning and hopefully growing along the way.  

The things that I’m talking about are things that are serious, and grappling with the reality of our situation is serious. Change is hard. But as I said this is a time when we can also see opportunities for renewal. We have the opportunity at this time to renew our passion for worshipping God as the Body of Christ, because we know what it is like not to be able to do that. We have a chance to renew our own personal engagement and commitment to serving each other, and getting involved in new ways, because we know what it is to miss one another. We know how much we need each other, all of us. We also have a chance to renew our heart and intention to grow in our knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ for ourselves, because we know that it is only that hope that brings us through these troubled times. This is a chance for us to get real, with ourselves and with each other, and get back to the heart of things with Jesus. We will be looking at Paul’s letter to the Colossians and how he speaks of the renewal of our beings in Jesus Christ. 

Finally, as part of this renewal I believe that we need chances to acknowledge the difficulties we have been through. So, on Saturday August 1st in the afternoon, at 4pm, we will be holding a special service of lament at St. Mark’s. Lament is the Biblical word for the public expression of grief and loss, and means not to hide it away or deny it, but to bring this grief to God and to pray over the disappointments, the pain and the things that we have missed. Many of us in the last months have lost a lot, and all of us have things that need to be grieved, even if only the lost time. To lament things allows us to invite God’s healing power into our lives. So I would invite you to put that date into your calendar – we will be meeting in the church and livestreaming that service. After that we hope that we are more ready to reopen on August 16th with a sense of celebration and looking forward to the future. 

So the dates and times that I have talked about will be placed in a summary form on our website, along with this video, so you can read about it for yourselves. If you are on our mailing list you can expect to receive some more information in an email and a chance to share how you might be part of things at St. Mark’s in the next Term. 

I want to leave you with part of the passage that I read on my very first service at St. Mark’s just over three years ago. A lot has happened since then and a lot has changed, but I am still gripped, and I hope that you are, by the reality that the Kingdom of God is in our midst and God’s transforming purposes are still at work even in dark and difficult times. This is our faith.

 

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:9-10: 

What no eye has seen, 
    what no ear has heard, 
and what no human mind has conceived”— 
    the things God has prepared for those who love him— 

10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. 

 

God bless you all and I hope to see you soon. 

Andrew Bowles 

Senior Minister, St. Mark’s