When Will We Get to Gather Together Again Under One Roof?
My prayers lately go something like this…
“Loving God, thank you for this and every day. This whole thing is really, really weird. I don’t like it and want it to be over, now. But until then, please give me strength and patience. Be with the people of St. John the Baptist, the people I miss something fierce. We yearn to gather again under one roof. Until then, God, give us strength, love, and forbearance to take each day as it comes. Amen.”
There is nothing I want more than to come to this church building on a Sunday morning and see all of you. I miss everything about it. And, we have what we have and for that I am grateful. We have online church, connection groups, drive through prayers, and outreach opportunities. We have Evening Prayer on Zoom and virtual coffee hours. We have zoom formation classes and Kids Club. Secret Saints! The list goes on and on. We ARE the church.
And yet, I know for many of you, the question on your mind is this: when will the church re-open? First, let me tell you a little about the planning that is going into our return to in-person worship beyond the parish-wide survey.
The St. John the Baptist Safety Team
Members of the vestry and staff have been spending months praying, studying, and discussing how to do this. We have attended webinars and read articles. A Safety Team was formed in early summer and put together a comprehensive Safety Plan for our church. The Safety Team is made up of the following people. The rector, that’s me. Also on the Safety Team are both wardens of the vestry, Alison Estep (Senior Warden) and Dan Johnson (Junior Warden). From the staff, Lyn Fulkerson (Minister of Community Life) and Emily Tanis-Likkel (Family Life Minister). We are also joined by Donna McNamara and Rachel Neuharth. This diverse team brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the table including backgrounds in healthcare, communications, insurance and liability, and legal issues.
This document is available by clicking on the link at the bottom of this article or from the office if you would like to read it in its entirety. Highlights include steps taken to prepare the building and keep it cleaned regularly, provide training for all staff and volunteers, and guidelines for physical distancing, requiring facial coverings, and more.
The biggest modification we are making to the building is to retrofit our HVAC system to bring in outside air, filter, and circulate. This will increase the air exchange rate in the sanctuary thereby reducing risk and increasing safety for those inside. When we do return to church, it will look and feel different. We are thinking about how to make that as easy a transition as possible. Here are a few things you can expect.
Returning to Church, Parishioners can expect to:
· use an online reservation system
· wear a mask during the entire service and traveling to/from your car
· wait in line
· have a health check prior to entrance
· to see empty pews, devoid of bulletins, prayer books or hymnals
· not have specialized programs, like the Nursery and Sunday School, for children and youth
· use online giving for offertory
· have contact-less “Peace”
· have no communion initially
· enter/exit single file, following one-way routes through the sanctuary
· worship and return home, without having Coffee Hour
· practice grace & patience with staff, volunteers, and one another while enjoying each other’s distant company!!
When? You Still Haven’t Said When
You’re right. I haven’t said when. That’s because we really don’t know. We are used to God’s time because we are people of faith. The ambiguity in all of this is in our wheelhouse. For now, we are beholden to the timeline of this virus. My fervent hope is that we can begin to gather in-person sometime in the fall when we move to Phase 3.
Currently, we are beginning to experiment with some small outdoor gatherings. In all of this, we are going to be patient and cautious.
Online Worship Continues…
In the meantime, I encourage you to watch our online worship videos. If they don’t work for you, give it another try. I’ve heard from a few people that online worship is really hard to connect with because it doesn’t feel the same. I agree. It’s hard.
It’s kind of like doing an exercise class with a video instead of going to the gym. It doesn’t work if you sit and watch others working out, right? You have to do the exercises along with the video. It’s the same with online church. You have to pray along with the video. You have to engage with it and join in. Light some candles, print out the bulletin, get dressed, and act like you are Going To Church! My sisters and brothers, we can do this!
Until we are gathered together again, may we pray together, virtually connected, BEING the Church.