Friday, May 15, 2020

A Pastoral Concern: A Return to Church amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Greetings in the name of our Savior,
who, regardless of circumstances in our world,
lives and reigns over all things for the good of his Church, his redeemed!

Dear members and friends of Good Shepherd,

In conjunction with the Church Council, I am trying to navigate what is best for our congregation and for our community as we consider a return to regular Divine Services.  I do not want to give the impression that we don't care about any potential spread of COVID-19 by flooding the church with people, but I also don't want to give the impression that God's word and sacraments are dispensable.  Nor do I want anyone to cast judgment on anyone else about where their comfort level is with returning to church.  If you are ready to come back to church, you should not be judged as reckless.  If you are not ready to come back to church yet, you should not be judged as lacking in faith.  Everyone has their reasons for their decisions, and we should respect that people have given prayerful consideration to these things and are acting as they deem best.  We shall try to remain sensitive to both sides of this.

Based on numerous discussions with members and amongst the Church Council, it has been decided to open up the church once again for regular Divine Services at 10:00 AM on Sundays.  What has changed to lead to this decision?  First, we were urged to stay home in order to flatten the curve of those who are contracting COVID-19.  That has happened.  Secondly, a recent executive order from Governor Whitmer explicitly stated the following:

Nothing in this order should be taken to supersede another executive order or directive that is in effect, except to the extent this order imposes more stringent limitations on in-person work, activities, and interactions. Consistent with prior guidance, neither a place of religious worship nor its owner is subject to penalty under section 20 of this order for allowing religious worship at such place. No individual is subject to penalty under section 20 of this order for engaging in or traveling to engage in religious worship at a place of religious worship, or for violating section 15(a) of this order.  (Executive Order 2020-77, paragraph 16; May 7, 2020 – https://www.michigan.gov/whitmer/0,9309,7-387-90499_90705-528460--,00.html )

Since this has been made clear and since the curve has been flattening for almost a month, we deemed it to be acceptable to resume Divine Services for our members who are comfortable with attending with others.  We will resume Divine Services for all our members beginning Sunday, May 17 at 10:00 AM.  Sunday School & Sunday morning Bible Class will resume in September, God willing.

I aim to conduct services with as few risks as possible to allow for as many people to come as possible.  If you choose to come on Sunday morning, you should be aware of what you can expect when you arrive, as well as what will be expected of you to ensure as secure an environment as possible.  

– You will be expected to wear masks, as recommended by the CDC.  You must bring your own from home.  Since I will be more than 6 feet away from worshipers, the consensus was that I do not need to wear a mask while conducting the service.  I will, however, be sure to wear a mask before and after services, and while conducting Holy Communion after the live-stream has ended.

– The chairs will be spaced out to create social distancing.  Family units, however, will be clustered together.

– There will be a door man at the front door.  This way, only one person has to touch the door.  There may also be a greeter at the end of the sidewalk to assure that people remain spaced out as they enter the church.

– An usher will assure that seating in the chapel maintains the six-foot social distancing guideline.  For dismissal, those closest to the door will go first and then others will be dismissed in stages.

– Since there will be only one service at 10:00 AM, the hymnals can be used.  Any contagions will have become inactive before the next week's service.  If we should have to offer more than one service to accommodate everyone (that would be a happy problem!), we will have everything printed in the bulletin which you will take with you when you leave.  It seems fairly likely that we will add an 8:30 AM service after Memorial Day weekend, as several members have indicated they are likely to return once the official stay-at-home mandate has expired (which, as of this writing, is May 28).  I will inform you if the 8:30 AM service will be put into place by email.  You may always call the church to make sure, too.

– The use of the bathrooms may cause some challenges.  Propping the doors open is not really a solution.  People will inevitably run into each other as they come out of the bathroom into the hallway.  But if you are willing to come to church to begin with, I imagine you will not freak out if you bump into another human being.  To avoid touching the door handle, you may use the paper towel you used to dry your hands to protect your hand from the door handle.  A trash receptacle will be in the hallway to discard the paper towel.

– The offering plate will remain by the ushers' station.

– The chapel doors will remain propped open.  If your conversation with fellow members becomes more drawn out than greetings (and who could blame you?), please have your conversations in the fellowship hall or outside, as the noise tends to funnel right into the chapel.

– We will be prepared to broadcast the service on the large screen in the fellowship hall if the chapel is too small to accommodate people and still maintain social distancing.

–  For as long as people remain reluctant to come to church, we will live-stream on Facebook Live.  Services will also be posted on YouTube.  Facebook Live at 10:00 AM will continue for the foreseeable future.  We will continue to post services on YouTube as standard practice.

– We will continue to follow The Common Service without Holy Communion on our live-feed.  Once the recording has stopped, those who are in attendance may stay for a brief service of Holy Communion. Holy Communion will be limited to three people spaced out on each side of the altar.  (Families from the same household may crowd the railing more tightly.)  To limit contact, people will remain standing at the railing rather than kneel on the railing.  I will sanitize his hands between tables.  If the six foot separation for communion is deemed necessary, I will place the elements on the communion railing, stand at a distance, and invite the reception of the Lord's Supper (i.e., “The body of Christ <Amen>, given for you. The blood of Christ <Amen>, shed for you.”).

– For the time being, I do not anticipate people will need to register for a service time.  If it becomes necessary, I will keep you updated.

I thank you for your responses to the survey that was sent out.  This makes it much easier to plan for our Divine Services and helps us to avoid many unpleasant surprises.  We may still have some surprises that we will need to address, but I trust that we are all seeking the good of each other and will demonstrate patience along the way.

Keep on praying for one another and for others who are enduring this pandemic.  If there is anything more I can be doing to serve you during this strange time, please let me know.  

God bless and keep you.

In Christ,
Pastor Schroeder

2 comments:

  1. Tom,
    Nicely written! Nice to hear you are opening for worship.
    Can I use your verbage as I send out a similar announcement to my people? You have written so many things I would write so why would I type it all in again?
    Do I have to give you credit or can I just plagiarize?
    Glenn Rosenbaum

    ReplyDelete
  2. Glenn,
    Whatever is posted online is fair game for anyone to use. It belongs to the Church. So plagiarize, edit, tweak, whatever you want to do to apply it to your situation. If you want to give credit, that's fine, but not necessary.
    God's blessings to you, your family, and the congregation you serve.
    Pax,
    Tom

    ReplyDelete