As it became clear that we would need to close our church building due to COVID-19, it soon became clearer that making the decision to close would be a lot easier than deciding how and when to re-open the building. One thing I want to be clear about, while our building closed, our church did not close! We have continued as a worshipping, studying, and fellowshipping congregation throughout this uncertain time.
When it all began, our council was meeting each week to check in, review what we are doing and to start thinking about the future. We reached a point when our meetings have moved to every other week, we continue to have big questions to wrestle with at each of these meetings. I have been collecting and sifting through information from our Synod, the ELCA, the Centers for Disease Control, our local government and health department, our insurance company and various other sources about re-opening. As a council, we are tasked at this time to consider how we can come back together for in-person worship. This is not as easy as just announcing when things will be. We need to consider cleaning protocols, social distancing measures, caring for our congregation- especially those who are high risk, and at the same time making when we do come together a meaningful worship experience. To make it even more difficult, the information is constantly changed and updated and there are times when the change takes us back to the drawing board in our planning.
With all of the regulations that need to be followed, with everything to consider, we also find ourselves asking, “just because we can, does that mean that we should?”
Another question I find myself asking, and want to ask each of you is, “what are you missing when you think about or talk about missing ‘church’?”
Here are some things to know about what worship will look like when we do reach the point when we can come back together. Due to the way this virus spreads, and the fact that the amount of time people spend together also has an impact, when we do come back together things will be different.
Social distancing is a must. We will need to be seated at least 6 feet apart, even outside. We will need to be in masks to protect one another. We will not be able to shake hands, share hugs or have other physical contact. This means no greeting line as you enter, or as you leave. We will not be able to be together for fellowship following the service. The service will need to be shortened.
For a time, we will not be able to sing, there are ways for us to enjoy music while together, but singing spreads droplets in ways that are dangerous. Since projecting our voices to speak can also cause more spread of droplets, we will be limited in what we can say and pray aloud together.
While I know we are accustomed to receiving communion each week, and we have now gone over two months without the sacrament, this is also something we will not be able to participate in as we begin to open up. I have been brainstorming various ways we can come to safely distribute the sacrament, and I will continue to do this. But, there are so many things we will need to get used to with social distancing, especially in a place where we want to reach out to each others, that a time to assimilate to these new things is needed.
Since we will be limiting contact with each other, we won’t be able to pass the offering plate, instead there will need to be a box for people to leave their offering (Much like we do with an offering plate at some of our Lenten services).
We have logistical things to work out as well including recording everyone who has been here for contact tracing purposes and what our cleaning protocol will be for furniture in the pavilion as well as what to do with restrooms.
Please know, the health and safety of our congregation is the number one goal as we consider gathering for in-person services. As we continue to solidify our plans, volunteers will be needed to help implement these policies. As we develop our policies, they will be shared with our insurance company to make sure we are following protocols in the best way possible.
And please know, being together, socially distanced, in masks, with limited things we can do while together will be different for us emotionally as well. When sharing what will need to be considered and done in order to come together, the question is sometimes raised, “will it even feel like worship?”
Another question that continues to come up among the council is, “what about all the people who are high risk?” It is still recommended that anyone in a high risk category stay at home. There are many faithful members of our congregation who are in a high risk category, and among those are many who will do everything they can to be here in this place for any gathering we have. So, if you are one of these people, we love your commitment and are trying to keep you healthy!
I, too, miss worshipping in-person, I too miss seeing all of you here together, so please know I am with you and so is the council. We must make sure everything we do is done safely for all of us.
As time progresses, more ideas come up, and there are various ways we can think of to do things, and yet, we also recognize that there is a certain level of community we get by being able to see each other and interact with one another when we gather for worship and other events on zoom.
There is also the realization that once we do begin gathering together in-person, there will be a significant amount of people in our congregation who are not comfortable coming together in groups of people, and they are unsure when they will feel comfortable enough to do so. Hear this, that is OKAY, there is no explanation needed for why you feel that way, and we do not want to exclude you. For that reason, we will continue to offer online worship, study and fellowship opportunities.
I invite you to join in considering the question of what you are missing by not having in-person worship. And as you answer that, look at what is written above and then ask if what you are missing can and will be fulfilled by what worship will look like. That’s where your leaders currently are!
Please continue to pray for our congregation, specifically for our leaders on council, Pastor Dave and myself as we all work together to find the best ways to move forward in such an uncertain time.