Summer Plans for Public Worship
When Jesus said to Peter and the disciples, “Upon you I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it,” he was saying, “My Body is Essential!” If you look up essential in the dictionary you will find the definition: “Absolutely necessary; Extremely important.” No head of state or epidemiologist can deem the church “non-essential” or “essential.” Jesus made it so and has the final word on the matter.
And a vital component to the church’s essential role in the world is Worship. In fact, it has been said that, “Mission exists because Worship does not.” In other words, we are created to be worshippers, called to “ascribe to God the glory due God’s name” (Psalm 29:2). If people do not yet know that they are designed to worship, then our mission as the Church is to tell them the Good News that this is indeed so!
And yet, in the midst of this unprecedented Global Pandemic, the church has had to find creative ways to do both Worship and Mission. We have sheltered in our homes and gathered from behind screens. We have jumped onto ZOOM or FaceTime for prayer and community groups. And still, I would suggest that the essential calling of the church has not been taken away from us, even while that calling has been manifested quite differently.
As restrictions begin to lessen and this virus continues to rage on, not yet abated by a treatment or vaccine, the onus is now on the church to be both faithful and wise as it pertains to returning to in-person worship. Many of our congregants reside in High-Risk categories. The same is true for many of our family members, friends, neighbors, and colleagues--the very citizens that inhabit our neighborhoods, workplaces, and common spaces. What does it mean to love and serve everyone in this moment?
For your Session (the Elders), your staff, and your Lead Pastor, it means moving back into in-person gatherings slowly and carefully. If our survey is an indicator, this news of gradual return allows many of you to breathe a sigh of relief while for others, it may produce some consternation. We understand both responses and we give grace in both directions. In fact, we ask you to exhibit that same grace to those with whom you disagree, and this might include your pastors, elders, and staff.
Our return to worship can best be understood as Two Phases:
- Bi-Weekly Communion Services
- LiveStream Sunday Services
Beginning June 21 we will host communion services every Sunday at 6 pm and every Wednesday at 12:15 pm (first Wednesday service on June 24) in our outside Courtyard. It is time to get around God’s Word, God’s Table, and God’s People! These services will last approximately 30 minutes and will include Prayer, Scripture, Short Reflection, and Communion (individually wrapped elements requiring no human contact). Attenders will need to wear a mask, sit six feet apart from others not in their household, and use the bathroom before arrival as the bathrooms will not be open due to the regulation of the county health department that any inside use of our building will require a temperature check. Participation will be limited to 100 people. We will be providing details on how to register in advance. “Walk up” participation will be permissible, but only until we reach 100 people. There will be no singing or children’s services. But, children are welcomed to attend with their families!
While we have been pre-recording our 9:30 am Sunday Services, in Phase 1 we will begin to stream those services LIVE, leveraging our new video equipment and three cameras! I want to especially thank the Board of our Foundation for giving us the grant to purchase this equipment.
Additionally, as small gatherings become permitted again, many of our community groups will begin meeting together in person in socially distanced ways, and some of our community groups will begin meeting together as “Home Churches,” using our online worship service as they worship together on Sunday mornings at 9:30 am. If you would like to join one of these Home Churches please email Pastor Brian Kay at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I understand that not immediately returning to in-person worship on Sunday morning in the sanctuary will be disappointing for many of us. But as we considered the opportunity, the near-term return would probably come with even greater disappointment: No singing, no touching, mask wearing, temperature screening, immediate exit with no socializing, no bathrooms, no children’s ministry, and no student ministry. And, of course, no more than 12 could gather at any one time, and the volunteer strain of sanitizing between multiple services would be immense.
- In-Person Sunday Morning Service
- Bi-Weekly Communion Services
- LiveStream Sunday Services
Phase 2 is marked by the return of in-person Sunday Morning Services. With respect to what these services will look and feel like, many questions remain: Will we be able to sing? Will we offer childcare (after the summer)? How many people can worship at any one time? Will we offer additional worship services? What will our safety procedures and protocols involve specifically? Because there are so many questions that we cannot yet answer it is hard to say definitively when we will resume these in-person services in our sanctuary. That’s the “bad news.”
Now for the “Good News”: We will continue to provide LiveStream Sunday Services every Sunday going forward (until Jesus returns!). We hope that this will ensure connection and belonging for those who might not yet feel comfortable joining us in-person, and for others that might need to leverage the LiveStream for other reasons. It is also a great “first-step” in introducing your friends, neighbors, and co-workers to Christ and the Church!
More “Good News”: As well, we will continue to provide our bi-weekly Communion Services in the effort to offset our Sunday morning crowd and to ensure that we still have an outdoor environment without singing for those who feel more comfortable worshipping in that way.
Please join your Lead Pastor, your Session, and your Staff in praying for our church, our city, and our world. And in this fraught season, let us heed Paul’s commendation to the church at Ephesus: “Be kind and compassionate to one another,” and when necessary, “forgive each other just as God through Christ forgave you.”
Sincerely and Prayerfully,
Bart Garrett for the Elders and Staff
PS- As we prepare to gather in person again for our usual Sunday morning worship services (PHASE 2), we will offer clear and concise communications regarding our procedures and precautions so that everyone will feel welcomed and informed. Stay tuned!