Services in 2021 and beyond – some questions

1. When will these proposals be implemented? 
The main changes will start to take place from 5 September as it is not until after 19 July (at the earliest) that the number of attendees will no longer be restricted. During Covid-19 (when allowed) we had been having a cross-benefice 10.30am service in St Matthew’s on a numbers limited basis due to legal restrictions, and we started this up again after the 17 May easing of restrictions. However, it will not be until 4 July (at the earliest) that this will be open to all. Until then we will continue to offer our current pattern of evening services alternating between Harwell and Chilton. After that point we will move to the 10am, 11.30am and 6pm Harwell services, 9.30am Chilton services, and midweek communion services, with all of them open to everyone. We will also continue with online services until at least September.
 
2. What are the reasons around the dates when these changes will be implemented? 
A lot of it is centred around Covid-19. Given that our services over the past year or so have moved away from our previous provision, now is a good time to think about the future and to implement change before we all get back into our routines. The 5 September start date for many of these changes ties in with the anticipated relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions on 19 July, but takes account of August not being a good time to be starting a new pattern, as many people will be away, and using the start of a month is a clear date for everyone.
 
3. Why are there going to be St Matthew’s Sunday morning services at 10am and 11.30am rather than a single service at 11am as before? 
We are trying to create a range of services types across the benefice to be able to appeal to a wide range of people, including more informal, interactive options alongside more traditional options. For many younger families a slightly earlier start time works better for them and this has been proven via much of what has provided for families before and during Covid-19. Others have also said that a slightly earlier service suits them.
 
4. Isn’t a service at 11.30am a bit late for those who are used to a service at 11am? 
The 10am and 11.30am congregations will have the opportunity of sharing coffee from 11 to 11.30am, and coffee will not be served after the later service. The finishing time for many of those who had coffee after the old 11am service was around 12.30pm, so this ‘end time’ is very similar in the new pattern.
 
It is anticipated that it will be the same people leading and preaching at both the 9.30am Chilton and 11.30am Harwell services, and the one-hour gap between these services should allow for travel between the churches as well as the opportunity to share coffee.
 
5. Why do we need an “interactive” style of Sunday morning service at St Matthew’s? What’s the evidence that people want this/this is a good idea? 
We need to be thinking about how we cater for a growing number of young families as part of our core Sunday services, and it is clear that God is blessing this part of our ministry. However, it is not just young families who find that they enjoy this type of service.
 
It may not have always been visible to some in the congregations, but we have sizable number of families that are often worshipping in this way but in separate services (not just attended by young families). The feeling is that it is now time to provide for this type of interactive worship as part of our core services so that we can continue to grow our churches and fulfil the mission to which we are called. Interactive worship will still only account for around a quarter of the worship services we offer on a Sunday across the benefice.
 
6. Why isn’t All Saints’ changing to a weekly “interactive” style of Sunday morning service too? Why is All Saints’ sticking to the style of Sunday service that we had pre-pandemic? 
Interactive worship will be provided in Chilton once a month in Chilton Village Hall, in addition to the 9.30am service in All Saints’. It should also be noted that the All Saints’ morning service will not be the same as it was before; it will develop in its own way.

There are several reasons why different service types are being run in different locations, including:

  • The pew seating and smaller area of All Saints’ Church makes movement and group interaction difficult
  • We want to provide a range of service types across the benefice
  • Broadly speaking, many in the All Saints’ congregation remain fonder of traditional worship than the St Matthew’s congregation. For example, prior to Covid-19, the All Saints' 9.30am Sunday service used the Book of Common Prayer on alternate second Sundays, and on most weeks the hymns and songs were supported by the organ and small choir. 


7. Why will there no longer be any special provision for children (e.g. Pebbles group) at the 9.30am Sunday morning services at All Saints’? Won’t this mean that the All Saints’ congregation eventually dies off? 
Once a month in Chilton there will be provision for children and their families in Chilton Village Hall (as before), and there will be provision in the All Saints’ 9.30am service for families at ‘festival’ services, baptisms, etc., much like there is now. Taken together this would account for services focussed on the needs of children and their families roughly twice a month. However, we need to continue to bring people to Jesus and grow or church family and until we have a good sustainable number of children and younger families across both Harwell and Chilton churches, we feel it is best to consolidate by offering a regular combined worship environment in a single location. In the longer term this could change, with the Chilton-based families at some stage becoming more prominent in the services at All Saints’, according to need. If the interactive service in Chilton Village Hall is well supported, we could consider introducing in Chilton more services like it.
 
8. Why did we not split the focus on new service styles across Harwell and Chilton? 
The main challenges are the growing number of families, the benefit of having them together in one place, and the physical capacity limitations in Chilton for these services. The size of the building in Harwell allows much more flexibility and as we hope the size of this congregation grows then we could see the Chilton element of this then naturally moving back to Chilton. We also felt it was important to establish a consistent pattern of services across the benefice.
 
9. Why aren’t there going to be any 8am Sunday morning services anymore? 
The attendance at these services has been very low, and we feel that investing in a different pattern of services could be more effective. We will be providing midweek communion services, and along with the celebration of communion on a regular basis in the other Sunday services (probably twice a month in both the morning Chilton and evening Harwell services), we hope that the needs of the few regulars at the 8am services will be met, but if not, we shall of course have to discuss alternatives
 
10. Why are all the 6pm Sunday services (eventually) going to be at St Matthew’s? Why will there be none at All Saints’? 
Prior to Covid-19 there were only four Sunday evening services a year in All Saints’, and they were mainly attended by Harwell people. Having evening services every week in Harwell simplifies the pattern and makes it more consistent. It is hoped that Chilton people wishing for an evening service will be able to travel to Harwell.
 
11. The 11am Harwell service is one I have always gone to. What do I do now this will change? 
You are welcome to come to any service and everyone is very welcome at the 10am and/or 11.30am Sunday services in Harwell, indeed we hope that all our services have a good mix of congregation. However, there are also two other services on a Sunday across Harwell and Chilton as well as new mid-week services. Change is hard but it is something that we are called to as part of our Christian life, and we pray that God will help us all with this as we see how it works, and adapt and change as necessary in the future. As we go forward everyone’s feedback and input will be important.
 
12. Might these changes mean that some people will leave our Churches? 
We know that changes such as these can be unsettling, and we hope that as many people as possible will try out the new pattern of services and provide feedback in due course that will enable us to address any serious concerns. It is difficult to provide for everyone’s preferences and we really hope that no one leaves without careful consideration. However, it is difficult, as if we do not start providing more for the sizable younger family part of our congregations and for others who wish to engage with a more interactive style of worship than has hitherto been provided, then the risk is that we may not hold on to some of these people or grow this further. That would be a risk both to our mission and to the future sustainability of our churches.
 
13. Does this not mean that more ‘traditional type’ front facing services are now second class, as they are relegated to early Chilton slots or late morning or evening Harwell slots? 
It may have been the case in the past that some services/times might have been seen as ‘second class’ to others. We want to change that and make all our services equally important. There will now be a weekly evening service in Harwell as well as the morning services. We want to encourage more movement across the benefice with people free to move between All Saints’ and St Matthews (in both directions). Practical issues such as provision of lifts, etc. will be thought about. We don’t know how services will evolve and which will thrive so we are open to how God will lead and develop this over time, and we may get surprises as to which services become the best attended.
 
14. Will there be any review of whether this is working and if so when will that take place? 
Those leading the services will keep them under constant review, and a formal review by the PCCs is scheduled for the beginning of November. Over the coming months we will be seeking feedback from everyone involved in running and attending the services, and taking account of the full range of feedback received in modifying our plans.
 
The Senior Leadership Team and PCCs are seeking God’s guidance as we go forward. However we all need to be open to listening to Him as we try these new service styles and times. We will need to adapt and change in response to what He is saying and how He is leading us. Prayerful reflection by the whole church community will help ensure that we progress in God's way rather than our own.
 
15. Will the online services continue? 
Yes, at least until September and possibly beyond if we feel they are serving a need. The current feeling is that they will remain part of our overall provision, as they are useful to those who cannot get to church on a Sunday due to caring responsibilities, lack of transport, work pattern, illness or disability, and are also useful to those who wish to try out church without attending in person. Online provision needs to be sustainable, however, and various ways of aligning it to ‘in person’ services will be trialled.

The PCCs of All  Saints' Chilton and St Matthew's Harwell
August 2021