Message from Elders about COVID-19 and Returning to Worship
The elders first met on Sunday 5/10 to discuss when we should consider returning to worship together at the building, and when we do return, what changes need to be made. Since that date there have been several more meetings and phone conversations to refine our plans as directions from authorities continued to change, and additional suggestions from our members were considered. These will be discussed in greater detail below.
But first we want to commend the congregation for being active even while having to stay home. This includes checking in on each other, participating in the online service, participation in online Bible studies, calls and cards sent to each other, etc.. Thank you for displaying your love for each other not just in word, but in actions as well.
Over the course of the past weeks the Elder’s had several factors that needed to be included in our plans to resume assembly together at the building. There were guidelines and recommendations from Federal, State, and local authorities that had to be considered (which continue to evolve). There were also considerations for our higher-risk members – those identified by health officials in the “over 60” age group, or individuals with certain medical conditions (i.e. -heart disease, lung & breathing problems, compromised immune systems, diabetes, etc…).
One consistent guideline from health officials has been the social distancing guideline which (as we all know by now) includes staying 6 feet apart, refraining from hugging or handshakes, and recently suggested wearing of face masks by the general public. It was also noted over the course of the past months that religious gatherings (including weddings, funerals, and public assemblies) have been, “hot spots” of infection. All of these factors have been considered as we make our plans to return to worship together at the building. With that in mind here are our plans:
First the schedule: Gov. Ivey announced on 5/07/20 that the “safer-at-home” order would be lifted on Monday 5/11/20 thus easing many of the quarantine restrictions. This included removing the prohibition for churches meeting together. Added to this President Trump announced on 5/21/20 that all places of religious worship should officially be reopened. All of these orders that loosened the quarantine still came with the “social distance” guidelines from the health officials. The Elders were as anxious as anyone to resume our normal schedule of meeting together. However, given the on-going concerns by both national and local health officials at the time of Gov. Ivey’s announcement, the elders decided to allow two weeks to pass before we tried to resume meeting together at the building. This meant the date we targeted to resume services at the building was May 31st. Our thinking was this amount of time would allow a two-week period to pass to see if a resurgence of infection occurs. So far, thankfully that has not occurred and the May 31st date for resumption of worship at the building remains unchanged.
Second the planned changes: The changes we are planning on are intended to limit close contact with others, or shared contact of items like communion bread. With these ideas in mind here are the changes you can expect when we resume worship together: First we will station a deacon at the front and side entrance door in order to hold the door open for everyone as you enter and when you leave. This will avoid all of us having to touch the door handle. Second, we have decided that we will not be passing collection baskets. Instead we have opted for a collection basket placed at the front entrance, and on the communion table at the front for those entering through the side entrance. Members can drop their contribution in these baskets before and after services. (A deacon be stationed there with the baskets to take them up during and after service). Third, the way we serve the Lord’s Supper will be modified starting with the temporary use of the pre-packaged communion containers. Each of the pre-packaged, disposable containers will have both unleavened bread and fruit of the vine -which will be taken together when we observe the Lord’s Supper. These will be passed out in communion trays during the observance of the Lord’s Supper by the men serving at the table, and empty containers will be taken up in communion trays after the observance of the Lord’s Supper. A prayer will be offered from the men at the table before we partake of each element, just as we have always done. To facilitate passing the communion trays by those serving at the table, and to address social distancing, every other row of pews will be required to be left vacant. This will allow the men to pass trays to walk between rows and hand the communion tray directly to each individual. Fourth we will be forgoing all classes until the start of the third quarter (July 5th) to avoid packing ourselves into small classrooms. Before the 3rd quarter starts, we will revisit the risks of being in classrooms. Fifth – VBS will not be occurring this year. At this time the normal June timeframe seems to be too soon to expect the level of comfort for folks to attend this event. In lieu-of VBS we are working on a 3-day meeting (later in the summer) with Ben and Ed as speakers where we can invite friends and neighbors. Sixth - We will continue to record the worship service and stream even after we start assembling together for anyone who feels they need to remain at home as a precaution for exposure to the virus. Seventh – there will be an increased level of pre-cleaning at the building before services to ensure all items are reasonably disinfected. We will not however be requiring everyone in attendance to wear a mask. You may of course choose to wear one.
Additional guidelines when we are together including the following requests: Please sit in family groups, and do not let your children wander. Keep a couple of spaces between you and others on your pew who are not in your family. If you are sick please stay at home. When you enter the building please use hand sanitizer and refrain from hugging or shaking hands. Please do not have more than 2 or 3 persons in the restrooms at a time since they are small and confined. As was stated earlier, elements of the Lord’s Supper will be provided in the pre-packaged containers. You may however bring your own from home if you choose. And finally, please let the elders know if you have tested positive for the virus so we can be aware of our family circumstances.
For our high-risk members: We are offering you the option to come and sit in classroom 12 or 14. Classroom 14 will be designated with a sign as a “face mask required” room - so that anyone who chooses to be in this classroom will be required to also wear a mask. The man serving the Lord’s Supper to those sitting in this room will also wear a mask. The service in the auditorium will be live-streamed on the TV monitor in both of these classrooms. At the close of services, we will ask the members in the auditorium to stay in their pews a few minutes to allow the high-risk members to leave first through the side entrance. We are asking our members to consider the side entrance for exclusive use by our high-risk members. Once our high-risk members have departed, we will then ask everyone to vacate the building quickly and continue their conversations in the parking lot (weather permitting of course!).
Even with all of these precautions we know some members may still be reluctant to attend as of yet. If you consider the risk for yourself still too high to be present, please let the elders know you are choosing to stay at home & watch the service via the internet.
Regarding Wednesday night services: As an added precaution we are not planning to resume our Wednesday night Bible study/devotion together at the building until the 3rd quarter. The first scheduled Wednesday night service will be July 8th.
Please let the elders know of any concerns or questions you have regarding our schedule and plans. Please let us know of any needs you may have or concerns. Pray for a speedy end to the virus and its effects on our nation, and pray for those who may have been affected.