First Christian Church Family,
This letter started a few days ago and designed to start us down a path of being able to regather in person soon. Most of the letter will focus on that. But, as my writing has been delayed, I am now sitting at my computer on Saturday night after having watched protests turn violent in Nashville and many other cities across the United States of America.
On this eve of Pentecost, the celebration of the arrival of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church, we are witnessing the burning of our cities. This week our nation witnessed on television the execution of an unarmed, non-combative black man named George Floyd by a, now former, Minneapolis Police Officer. Now, multiple cities are experiencing violent acts toward police and property. Our cities are literally burning on the eve of Pentecost. These fires do not feel holy. These fires do not feel cleansing. Maybe the tears of our collective grief will fuel the redemptive grace we need to bring a new way of living, a new ethic of relating, a new system of making a way for everyone.
A night like tonight emphasizes the need we have to gather as the Body of Christ. We need to come together in prayer and to share our grief for the events happening around us. Hopefully, that will happen soon.
For these reasons and more, I know that many of you are ready to get back to worship in person. I feel it too. The Board, on a Zoom meeting on May 11, set a tentative in person gathering date for June 7. That date is rapidly approaching and the Board will meet again to confirm meeting in person on June 7 or continuing to wait. Please watch next week for more information and details regarding in person gatherings.
In the meantime, I want you to know that there is work going into making our in person gatherings safe for everyone. Significant changes are being made to things we do by habit and comfort. These first few months, at least, will not be “normal” for what we expected pre-COVID-19. Many are working to make gathering safe for everyone. Individual responsibility to following guidelines is critical to safety.
Safety starts with each person understanding why s/he wants to gather in person and know the consequences. At the risk of sounding harsh, I need to say if you want to gather in person for worship to get back to “normal” or to be comfortable doing something you used to do, I’m not sure gathering soon in person will satisfy that need.
However, if you want to gather in person because it’s time to start living into the new reality that is post-COVID life and you want to find a new path forward, gathering in person might be what we need to do. Yet, circumstances necessitate these changes:
For the foreseeable future there will be NO:
- Singing (hymns, special music or other songs we find comforting and inspirational)
- Congregational Unison Speaking (responsive Call to Worship, Lord’s Prayer will not be spoken in unison)
- Touching of others — hugs, handshakes, or other gestures of greeting that we are used to doing in church
- Passing offering plates or Communion trays (more on this later)
- Bulletins or other written materials to pass out (everything will be communicated on the screen)
- Children’s time on the chancel steps
- Mingling with members of other households before and after worship
- Coffee served in the Fellowship Hall
- Sunday school
- Fellowship Dinners
Also some things you will notice:
- Pew pockets will be empty — no hymnals, Bibles, offering envelopes, pencils or informational pamphlets
- Everyone will be wearing a mask (when I’m speaking, I will remove the mask to help with clarity of my voice, but I will stay farther away from others)
- People from different households will be sitting at compassionate distances (likely more than 6 feet) from others (meaning, you likely won’t be able to sit in your usual seat and may sit in a part of the sanctuary you’re not used to sitting)
- Getting from the parking lot to the sanctuary may require a different path than what you’re used to (specifics are still being worked out to make sure there is restroom access for everyone and minimize human contact in the hallways and safe usage of handrails and door handles)
- We are working to have plenty of hand sanitizer and wipes available to clean surfaces after contact/use. The good news is that this week we learned the risk of contracting the virus through the touching of surfaces is significantly lower than what was believed a few weeks ago. Still, touching surfaces and not washing hands or using sanitizer and touching one’s face is an effective method of transmission.
Whenever we gather again, I would encourage you to use your best judgment about attending in person. Obviously, I always want as many folks to gather. A full sanctuary feels more festive and energetic. But, safety is paramount. If you don’t feel well or do feel comfortable, please stay home. Let someone in the congregation know what’s going on so that we can help meet your needs and care for you.
I am working with a team of people to be able to broadcast our worship service on the Internet and accessible to everyone. Answers to many questions may be known soon. I will keep you posted as we know more.
We are still experiencing rising numbers of COVID-19 in Montgomery County. In the numbers I have seen, the number of cases is still relatively low for the population of Clarksville. However, the number of infections has doubled in 21 days. That is a cause for concern that we are still in the midst of this public health crisis.
It is likely we will experience this through June and July too. We don’t know what is going to happen. So, we make plans on what we know now and adjust as we gain more information. So, I want you to know that I understand the difficulties we are facing. I want you to know the plans we are making and how things will be different, why, and for how long.
Below is information from an NPR article I found helpful to think about what is risky behavior and why it is risky and how to reduce the risks of gathering for worship. I have read many articles. I have poured through data. I have tried to faithfully interpret the data to help create a way forward.
I have consulted many local church pastor colleagues. I have conversed with denominational leaders. I have attended virtual conferences on the topic of new ways of being church in these days and the days to come. The one thing I am convinced of is no one knows what will happen next. So, we will make our way forward one step at a time and adjust as necessary.
Until we gather again, please stay safe. Please stay well. Do not hesitate to contact me, the Church Office, or an Elder if you need anything.
Highlights from NPR article on risky summer time activities (link to the full article is at the end of the highlights):
“Your personal risk depends on your age and health, the prevalence of the virus in your area and the precautions you take during any of these activities.
“There’s no such thing as a zero-risk outing right now. As states begin allowing businesses and public areas to reopen, decisions about what’s safe will be up to individuals. It can help to think through the risks the way the experts do.
“We can think of transmission risk with a simple phrase: time, space, people, place,” explains Dr. William Miller, an epidemiologist at Ohio State University.
Here’s his rule of thumb: The more time you spend and the closer in space you are to any infected people, the higher your risk. Interacting with more people raises your risk, and indoor places are riskier than outdoors.
Attending a religious service indoors: high risk
Worship services involve people from different households coming together indoors for an extended time. “All of the ingredients are there for the potential for a lot of people becoming infected in the short amount of time,” says Kimberly Powers, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She points to outbreaks linked to churches: In one, 35 out of 92 people who attended a service at a rural Arkansas church developed COVID-19.
Singing — whether from the pews or the choir — is high risk, several experts noted, citing a study of a choir practice in Washington state where over half of attendees became infected.
What alters risk: If people are appropriately socially distanced, wear masks and avoid singing, it may reduce the risk, Karan says. Also, avoid any shared worship items like hymnals, Janowski adds.
Risk goes down if places of worship adapt, Guzman-Cottrill says. “My parish began having in-person services last week,” she says. The church had advance sign-ups to limit attendance to 25 people. Attendees were required to be healthy, wear face coverings and sit at least 6 feet apart.”
Link to whole article: “From Camping To Dining Out: Here’s How Experts Rate The Risks Of 14 Summer Activities” https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/05/23/861325631/from-camping-to-dining-out-heres-how-experts-rate-the-risks-of-14-summer-activit?sc=18&f=