It’s been a long six months. At times, it’s been scary. Sometimes, just annoying, too much change all at once. Graduating kids didn’t get to have their traditional graduation celebrations and ceremonies. Weddings had to be postponed. Families were even unable to celebrate the lives of their departed relatives because they just couldn’t gather together for a funeral or memorial service. We had to learn to work from home, educate our kids from home, and get used to wearing masks when we had to go out for groceries or medicines. Businesses shut down; some still have not been able to reopen and may not ever. We’ve added new words and phrases to our vocabulary, like “flattening the curve” and “social distancing.” We can’t fault our president, or the CDC, really, because we just didn’t know what we didn’t know about this terrible virus for a while. There was the potential for catastrophic loss of life. So, our nation shut down for a period of time and there was, for many, the catastrophic loss of livelihood, and over the next several months, the tragic loss of almost 200,000 in the US and over almost 900,000 worldwide.
Now, we are returning to work, to school, to shopping and are even traveling again with some extra precautionary measures. It looks like football season will start this fall. As I go into restaurants, I’m noticing more and more tables filled, and in some, people are having to wait to be seated and served again. We’re still wearing masks and social distancing, but for the most part, it seems like people are trying their best to resume “going about our business.”
One troubling observation, however, is that while people seem perfectly comfortable to don a mask and head off to Publix, or Target, or the beach, we in the church may have spoiled people a little bit with regard to having them come back to church to worship together. When this pandemic hit, our pastor and staff began a journey up a steep hill called “learning curve” in order to be sure we could provide worship for our congregation via the internet, using our website, YouTube, and Facebook Live. We had to learn new software and brought in a sound engineer to help us get everything set up in the booth. Bible studies and meetings continued via Zoom. It was a great deal to learn in a very short time, but we knew we had to maintain regular worship opportunities for our church family, making it as accessible as possible for everyone. For a while, it meant we gathered a skeleton crew on Thursday evenings and recorded our worship service, pretending it was already Sunday, so that the recorded service could then be edited and formatted to go out over the Internet. Then, we found ways to upgrade our wi-fi signal in the church so that we had the necessary power to live-stream our service, actually on Sunday mornings.
The Sunday after Mother’s Day, we were able to resume in-person services, providing masks, hand sanitizing stations, and even gloves for those who arrived to worship without them. We blocked off every other pew, and still are seating at only 50% capacity. Nevertheless, it seems at this point that we as a congregation may have become too accustomed to “watching church on TV.” Many have commented as we deliver communion each week that they really like being able to wake up and worship at home in shorts and tee shirt. But, it’s time to come back to worship. We have had only 2 cases of Covid-19 in our entire congregation, and both people, who are health care workers, are fully recovered and never required hospitalization during their brief illness. We are still providing the masks, hand sanitizing, and gloves. We don’t shake hands anymore. We don’t hug each other during the passing of the peace, and we have shifted our communion in the sanctuary to the same as you get at home: little individual communion kits that are completely sealed. Nothing is “passed out,” including bulletins. Everything is now on screen and/or announced or sent via email/Facebook to the congregation.
Because of this pandemic, we missed out on Holy Week this year, the biggest and most important celebration in the Christian Church. We remain hopeful and prayerful that by Christmas, we will be able to remove the tapes blocking off every other pew and worship in a full-capacity service. But we may still be at 50% capacity. We just don’t know. We will do whatever is necessary to protect the health of our congregation, and we will pray for a vaccine by that time that is available to everyone.
We encourage those who are over 65 and have other underlying health conditions to remain home a while longer. But for everyone else, it’s time to get back in church together. As we read in Hebrews 10,
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Our Guidelines for Your Safety
Our sanctuary has been reconfigured to allow for social distancing. We’ve blocked off every other pew to maintain six feet between family units.
We will have a main service only. There will be no kid’s ministry activities, nursery, Children’s Church or childcare; nor will any Sunday School classes be offered yet.
To help prevent the spread of infection, we encourage everyone to voluntarily wear a face mask. If you forget, one can be provided for you. Infants and toddlers are not expected to wear a mask.
Common areas and gathering spaces of the building will be closed. That includes the downstairs Fellowship Hall, classrooms and other places people might congregate.
Before every service, the sanctuary and all high-touch surfaces will be disinfected.
Hand sanitizing stations are set up at entrances to the building and sanitizer is available throughout the building.
If you need to sneeze or cough, please cover your mouth and nose or sneeze into your elbow.
We will provide sanitizing wipes in the restrooms and ask that you wipe down commonly touched surfaces after each use.
We will not distribute any bulletins or printed materials.
Greeters will be wearing masks. We will not shake hands, hug, or high five. Instead, we will air hug, wave, and smile.
We encourage you to continue giving online. During services, we will take an offering. Ushers will wear masks. They will walk down each empty pew with the plate so donations can be dropped in – no contact.
Communion will be blessed and kits delivered to those at home who want to participate in the Eucharist. Blessed communion kits will be placed at each seat for those attending live worship.