Our Church and Coronavirus

June 2021 Worship in the Sanctuary

Letter: This letter was written for the congregation on Thursday, June 3

Dear Friends,

Good news! The Session is ready to begin the process for safely gathering in the Sanctuary for in-person worship. The improvement in the local coronavirus “dashboard,” and the widespread availability of vaccines for most of the population gives us confidence in taking this step. In this letter, we’d like to lay out the plans and reasons for the next few months.

First, a reminder that not everyone has yet had the opportunity to be vaccinated. Our youngest members, children under twelve, are not yet eligible for vaccination. Some members are receiving medical treatment which makes the vaccine, for them, dangerous or not-recommended. Some have only recently become eligible and may still be “in line” to receive the vaccine. Our church has MANY families, therefore, with members of their household who are not vaccinated. The church wants to ensure the safety and confidence of all these families when we gather for worship.

The Session meeting on June 1 reviewed the parameters that the Worship Arts and Music ministry area has been following all along. All our targets have now been met. The conditions we were looking for are: (1) for covid19 cases in Howard County to be, for three weeks, less than 10 per 100,000 residents; (2) for covid19 vaccinations in Howard County to be more than 50% fully vaccinated and 60% partially vaccinated. We surpassed the first condition on May 1; the second, on May 27.

The Session therefore approved some “safety fence” requirements for in-person worship, along with a schedule for starting in-person worship in the sanctuary.

Attendance Requirements –

  • Masks to be worn by worshippers
  • Six foot physical seating distance in the sanctuary per family/bubble group
  • Sign-up online the week before
  • Enter the building through the Upper and Lower Common Doors
  • Trained and oriented Ushers will direct and seat worshippers
  • Limited congregational singing for now

Schedule

  • June 13, 2021 – Elders-elect and Deacons-elect who were elected this year and last year will be in the sanctuary for ordination/installation, along with some of their immediate family. Currently serving Elders will also be present to participate for the prayer of ordination and laying on of hands. This will be about 75 persons, plus the worship leadership team.
  • June 20, 2021 – A test congregation of less than 75 people (volunteers, fully vaccinated) will be invited to attend worship to help test all the new safety and sign-up processes. This will be the Sunday for making mistakes! Volunteers will be needed for worship and for ushers!
  • June 27, 2021 – Attendance will be open to the congregation at-large with seating limited to 75, sign-ups required. There will also be available seating (limited) for guests and visitors.

Remember that in addition to in-person worship in the sanctuary, there is also an in-person worship outdoors, all summer at 9:00 a.m. Park in the big park-and-ride lot across the street, wear masks, bring a chair if you have one, chairs will be available if you don’t, bathrooms in the church will be available for use, too. There will be a Lemonade on the Lawn at 9:30 for those finishing the 9:00 first service and for those arriving for the 10:00 second service. And of course, the 10:00 service will be livestreamed just as it has been on Facebook Live and YouTube.

IMPORTANT QUESTIONS YOU MIGHT HAVE

Why is the seating limited to 75 persons? We have gone through the sanctuary with rulers and yardsticks, trying to fit as many people as possible and still maintain 6 foot social distancing. If you sit beside your family member, or with a vaccinated friend, we can measure between your “pod” or “bubble” and the next group. Allowing for these small groups to sit together allows us to fit 75 people. We don’t expect this to last forever, of course, but this is the way to start out now.

Do we still wear masks? Yes, please. Remember that a significant percentage of our church consists of families with unvaccinated children. There are also members with medical conditions (chemotherapy, for example) who are not vaccinated. To signal confidence that we are a safe community, everyone is required to wear a mask.

Are the worship leaders going to wear masks? The Session has passed a policy requiring all leaders for worship, classes, and events to be vaccinated. Since they are vaccinated, they may safely remove their masks to sing a song, preach a sermon, read the scripture, and so forth. They will probably remove their masks for short segments of the service.

What about singing? As we get started, we’ll plan for less vigorous congregational singing than our church is used to. Fewer songs, softer singing or humming, masks … this won’t continue forever, either, and we eventually expect to be back to our robust, singing congregation.

How, exactly, am I supposed to “sign up” for worship attendance in the sanctuary? Remember this applies only for worship inside the sanctuary. You won’t need to sign up for outdoor worship in the summer. For indoor, in-person sign-ups, week by week, everyone on the congregation’s mailing list will receive a mid-week email with a link to this week’s worship sign-up. The link will point to a Sign-Up Genius page where you can put your name to sign up. If you are not able to do this, you can call the Church Administrator, Caroline Smith, at the church office on Friday (410-730-3545) to sign up.

It’s a lot of changes. Does the Church need any help to make this happen? Yes, absolutely yes, please. We will need more ushers and greeters than we did before, to help with seating and to show people what to do. Ushers and greeters will need a short training time to be able to do what’s needed with consistency and grace. We will also need more volunteers in the tech booth to help with that. We will need Digital Ambassadors and Digital Greeters to help with the livestream worship interactions.

What time is worship, again?

Here’s the Sunday morning schedule for the summer.

9:00 a.m.             Outdoor, in-person worship. Weather permitting. Not livestreamed.

9:30 a.m.             Lemonade on the Lawn for those attending either service.

10:00 a.m.           Indoor, in-person worship. Seating by sign-up registration. Masks. Also on livestream.

The pandemic is still raging and dangerous in many parts of the world. We are privileged to live in a place with the means to begin these steps toward to a post-pandemic Church and a post-pandemic world. We are committed to doing our best to do so safely, wisely, and compassionately for ourselves, and for all who soon will follow.

Peace!  — Morton and Sue