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Westcliff Free Church and COVID-19

by John S,

Westcliff Free Church is a small independent church situated on the London Road near Westcliff Library.

Along with all other churches, we closed in March 2020 and, to begin with, distributed our services (as WORD documents) by e-mail, post and by hand through letter boxes to all our members encouraging them to worship at home. We also put the services on our website (www.westcliff-free-church.org) in the hope that some from outside the church would be able to join us in that way - we think that a few have done so.

We continued to produce and circulate our weekly Prayer and Notice Sheet.

The first lockdown covered Easter and it was very strange not being able to meet with hundreds of other local Christians for our usual United Service in Chalkwell Park on Good Friday morning.

As soon as the lockdown was eased, we re-opened (on 9th August)! With the chairs spaced 2 metres apart (see picture), we could only accommodate 23 people, so we had to have a booking system. Of course, we also had to wear masks and we couldn't sing! Neither could we share communion in the usual way, but we bought some pre-filled communion cups with a wafer in the top and wine below (see picture) which enabled us to do it together but safely. Even with all the precautions in place, some members still felt they couldn't attend, and our highest attendance was 18.

We then had to close for the month of November but were able to open again in December and were grateful to be able to celebrate Christmas in church, although it was very difficult not to join in with the recorded carols!

Our Leadership Team have met twice a month on ZOOM, and we recommenced our twice monthly Bible Studies (also on ZOOM) in late November. When we decided that we should accede to the request from the Local Directors of Public Health to shut again (in early January), we were able to use that experience to begin holding our Sunday services on ZOOM as well, usually with the speaker joining us from their house. We are encouraged that attendance at those has regularly been around 20 and a few new people have joined us! We follow the service with a "Coffee ZOOM" to encourage folk to stay and chat informally.

So, that has been our experience for the last year or so - a small church struggling, but surviving with God’s help. So much so, that if all goes well with progress along the Government's Roadmap, we have decided to re-open on Sunday mornings on 2nd May. We do not intend to "live stream" our services, so it will be interesting to see how many of our people decide to attend - we are praying that many will!

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