Music and worship at St Mary of Bethany - an open letter to our musicians

I'm contacting all our musicians at St Mary of Bethany to say hello, we haven't forgotten you, and to let you know where things are at church before I go on Extended Ministerial Development Leave next week. Thank you for all you've done over this last fourteen months, even if you have been taking a break from our music. his period of Sabbath rest will bear great fruit in our church's life.

This is an 'open letter' which has been sent to all our active musicians.

This season of April-August has been called the 'recovery' season, a time to start trying more 'normal' things in a low-key as restrictions are gradually lifted, while we look forward to the autumn as a 'restart' season. People are in different places emotionally, practically and spiritually; we are experiencing a fair degree of anxiety in people of all ages, and quite a lot of grumpiness. There are tensions between 'now' and 'not yet', weariness with restrictions, impatience to get 'back to normal' and frustration with the limited nature of what we are able to do.

The hardest thing about church for most musicians since Covid is not being able to sing. We still have no idea when this rule will be relaxed; the next set of announcements is due on 14 June to take effect on 21 June, but there is no guarantee that this will be included. Similarly we hope for a reduction in social distancing to 1m and ultimately to zero at some stage, but we have no idea when.

Our 10.30am Sunday service is nearly full, and we have launched a church-wide questionnaire available here (and on paper from the office) to take the temperature of the church family and help us determine the best ways forward. The majority of people onsite would normally attend our 9.15 service; we don't expect to welcome back most children and families until we can run Sunday groups onsite. The guidance on this is developing all the time; at the moment we are looking to restart onsite youth work on a Sunday morning, but our building's limitations mean work for primary-aged children is too challenging to restart just yet. So far we have had nearly 100 responses to the questionnaire; we are going to set a closing date around 30 May. One way to increase our capacity onsite a little would be to have a booking system, as we could set out the exact sets of chairs we need, with a few extra for those who just turn up.

Once we are able to see the responses, we can start to make decisions about whether and how to move our services forward. We are unlikely to move away from our single 10.30am service before mid-September. I am going on leave for the summer, so we will not have enough service and worship leaders to cover two services. It would also put a lot of pressure on our already stretched tech team. Given that we normally have a 10.30 service throughout August, any change we would make in the next half of term would only be for a few weeks. Rather we will use this time to prepare for the autumn 'restart' season.

We are looking to start having some live music in our services over the summer. This is more complex than you might think, as the tech team has to mix the sound in the building and online. As we have done all the way through Covid, we will start small, with a guitar/singer or keyboard/singer, for just one or two songs in a service, and then build out as we feel confident. This will be a process of improvisation and it will be slower than some people would like. Please be patient! Bekah, Sarah, Dave, Ray and I are in touch with the other worship leaders; at the moment we are not keen to have much live music before we are allowed to sing together - we are conscious of the sense of 'performance' that this might bring. But we need to work behind-the-scenes to get ready.

A small group of singers from the 9.15 service is looking to get together in the church building regularly on a weekday, to get used to singing again after the long break. Beate Shaw is taking a lead on this.

The autumn will also be a new season in my ministry, as we will make the most of having a Vicar, Associate Vicar and Curate working together for the next year or so. I will be taking a more active role in organising and resourcing our worship, training up musicians and leaders. I will step into some of the gaps left when Daren left, which we always planned to own in the team once we had a full complement of ministers. As Bekah only joined us in lockdown last year, there has not been the opportunity to do this yet. Please pray for me over my break, and into the new season, as there will be other ministries I will need to let go off, or which do not restart, to facilitate this.

As we've been thinking about spiritual gifts in church, and launching the Shape Course, it is certain that we will not see everyone serving at SMOB in the same ways they were doing before Covid. It is also certain that the Holy Spirit is stirring up gifts and talents in new people too. This will be an exciting time if we can take God's hand and let the Spirit lead us. Unpredictable, on the edge - exactly where God calls us to be as his transforming people in our parish.