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Back to Church in-person: how one church found it

Winchester Vineyard

We’re in an in-between season, as some churches begin to meet again in-person, whilst others are unable to or choosing to innovate in other ways.  Jo Hemming, Senior Pastor at Winchester Vineyard, shared some thoughts from their first onsite gathering. 

We read the guidance documents, wrote the risk assessments, sprayed the surfaces, washed our hands (again) and donned our face masks. Would it be worth it? After six months of church online, where we’ve worked hard to enable people to stay connected, would they want to get together knowing that we can’t sing, hug or share a coffee?

Some stayed at home because “it wouldn’t be the same”. Others are restricting social contact as they have poor health or are in jobs they really can’t afford to be quarantined from. But we were delighted to see people who we have genuinely missed over lockdown, and also to welcome new people who have not come to church in person before.

We soon realised that song choice is critical – “I can’t help but sing” is something many of us may be feeling but doesn’t encourage us to comply with the regulations!

Our worship leader sang and some felt they engaged with the words in a more meaningful way than before as we had time to really think about them.

It was hard speaking to a room full of masked worshippers – you don’t get the same “feedback” or interaction and they aren’t allowed to cheer or woop when you make an awesome point (who am I kidding? They didn’t do that before either!) But several people fed back how they felt just being in the same space in front of God together “It was lovely even standing in silence together”, “It was powerful”, “There was a sense of being in a holy place together”.

As pastors it was great to see our church family again face to face. Zoom and phone calls have been great tools but we were able to notice how one dear friend has become more frail, and to meet a new person who’s moved to our area following a marriage breakdown… it would perhaps have been harder to connect with him for the first time online. 

So was it worth it? For us most definitely, yes. It’s not “the same” and we will need to work out how to engage youth and kids and how to comply with regulations if they change. We’re so grateful for the online tools we have but loved the chance to gather in real life too.”

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