I write you today to update you on the status of our regathering plan for worship here at Trinity UCC. That’s a term that I like that many churches are using now. The church was never closed, we just chose not to gather. Now, we are making plans and accommodations to gather again. We know there are many who are reading right now who might not feel ready to regather, and that’s okay. But, for those who feel we can now safely gather again, we are going to move forward today. It is my sincere hope that this play accommodates almost everyone and allows for the continued celebration of worship at Trinity UCC.
You church council did not come to these decisions lightly. There was much discussion. Church council’s determining factor in many of these points is personal responsibility. As we looked at the safeguards and policies that we could implement, no amount of safeguards or policies could make up for the simple fact that if you are not yet comfortable being in a crowd or participating in worship, you should continue to stay home until new information comes out. We will do our best to social distance. We will do our best to follow best practices, but our best practices are no match for your personal judgment. If you have concerns about any of our regathering plan, it is recommended you continue to worship at home via Facebook or YouTube, and arrangements have been made for smaller showing of church services as well. Your council welcomes your input on any of our regathering plan.
There are two major agenda items I wish to share with you, followed by further explanation.
1. Beginning this Sunday, June 14th, we will begin to regather at Trinity UCC at 9:30 am to share in community during worship. This will be the first phase of our regathering. During phase one we will be showing the same prerecorded church service that is currently shown on Facebook and YouTube, but you will have the opportunity to worship with your friends and neighbors in the church building as we return to our worship services.
2. If you are currently someone who watches services online and prefers to keep in that way, you will still be provided the same content each Sunday at 9:30 am streaming on Facebook and YouTube. During our phase one, you’ll watch the church service right along those who are viewing it in the building. We have purchased new equipment to improve our ability to livestream services from the sanctuary directly to Facebook and YouTube. So, when phase two begins, we will no longer prerecord services but instead you will watch them as they happen. A merging of our online church community and our in person worship. We expect to begin this phase in 2-4 weeks. It is important to note that we will need 2-3 additional volunteers to ensure this livestream can be broadcast with high quality.
Now, what does in person church look like going forward. These were the questions we really wrestled with. And I want to remind the congregation that council’s opinion was STRONGLY to put your personal responsibility and comfort level at the forefront. Ask yourself these questions, would you go to a restaurant right now? Would you attend a wedding or reception? Would you attend a family party? If you feel it’s still uncertain whether you could safely participate in those activities, it is probably better for you to continue to worship at home. As we regather, you must be your own personal advocate for what level of community participation you think is safe. The church will have limited ability to police the behavior of those in attendance, so you must be willing to advocate safe practices for yourself.
Here will be the guidelines and recommendations for returning to in person worship:
1. Everyone planning to attend is asked to pre-screen themselves and to stay home if they have any signs of illness (including a fever, cough, chills, headache, sore throat), pre-existing conditions that make them exceptionally vulnerable, or are otherwise uncomfortable with large gatherings for any other reason.
2. The sanctuary is currently marked off to allow for some social distancing as we return to in-person worship. We encourage social distancing; however, we will leave to you and your family the discretion of distance between others. If you are comfortable sitting near a friend or neighbor, we will not ask you to move. Please be respectful of other people’s space as you enter and exit the sanctuary. We will not limit capacity in the Sanctuary and instead encourage you to use your best judgment.
3. Masks are encouraged, but not required, especially when entering and exiting the building.
4. Singing is a point of much debate. The current medical recommendation is to not sing, as singing creates a larger spread of contaminating droplets. However, the Council has agreed that part of returning to in-person worship is agreeing to take on these risks. We will allow singing in the sanctuary; we do ask that if you plan to sing you STRONGLY consider wearing a mask to limit spread.
5. Children’s activities such as Branching Out and upfront Children’s moment will be on pause for the time being. Each service will still contain a child specific element that can be enjoyed from the congregation.
6. Certain rituals that involve touch or passing of plates will be paused. We will not have regular in-person communion for the time being. Offering will be collected in boxes at the front or the back of the Sanctuary. There will be no handshake/greeting time.
7. Both main entryways will be opened with doors propped. We intend to limit contact at the entryways.
8. While all bathrooms are available, in order to make cleaning and sanitizing easier, we ask you to consider using the 2 main bathrooms near the South doors.
9. You may notice Pastor Ryan or a volunteer taking attendance of specific individuals present. If a member of the congregation were to contract Covid-19 we would want to be able to announce to the congregation, and personally contact those who were in church with this individual. Our goal is to not suspend in person services again.
10. Members of the church are welcome to use the building again for small group activities. We ask that you make a reservation so we can maintain a clear account for who is in the building. Depending on the time of your activity, a small cleaning fee may be accessed.
This is our way forward. I started this time of quarantine with a message to the congregation that we were stepping into the unknown, not knowing what the days of Covid-19 would bring to our community. Now, we take another step forward. Our church community in two places, but reaching out to be a light unto the world. We know we can't know every possible outcome going forward, but we believe it is time for those who are able to return to the church building. There will still be questions going forward about what church life will look like, and we will continue to ask God to guide ours step.
Whether it's through a video camera or back in person, I can't wait to see you in church and share in the love of God again.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight