Dear friends, let’s mark July 5 on our calendars. For over thirteen weeks we have been worshipping together in the Spirit, but physically apart. Because of our desire to love our neighbors (and one another), and following the guidelines of Virginia’s Safer At Home plan, we have done all we can to practice social distancing during this COVID-19 pandemic.
Several weeks ago, however, you hopefully received the news that the Mt. Horeb Session and Church Re-opening Team had approved a plan to prepare for our first in-person gathering. This was prepared taking into account all the restrictions and recommendations given to keep our communities safe, the declining cases of the coronavirus in Virginia, and the state’s move into Phase 2.
At our meeting on June 17, the Session approved an updated plan, presented by the Church Re-opening Team, recommending July 5, 2020 as the date for our first in-person Sunday worship gathering at the church. The Plan is as follows:
The service will be conducted outside around the pavilion, weather permitting.
The Fellowship Hall will be available and prepared for use in case of inclement weather.
Safety and disinfectant measures will be taken and masks and hand sanitizing items will be available.
Disinfectant measures will be performed before the service at both the Pavilion and the Fellowship Hall inside the church.
(Our online service will still be available for those who do not wish to come).
To further provide a safe environment because of the COVID-19 virus the following measures will be taken:
6-foot social distancing will be maintained. Seating at the tables in the pavilion will be appropriately marked. Participants are also encouraged to bring their own chairs for use around the pavilion maintaining 6-foot social distance.
Face coverings or masks will be required (at least for the first few weeks). According to Virginia regulations children over 5 years old must also wear a mask.
Signage with appropriate directions will be setup. Ushers will be available.
Participants are requested to bring their own Bible.
No bulletins will be provided for the service.
There will be no communion served during the service.
No food or drink will be shared at the service.
Bathrooms will be sanitized and available.
Parents of children under 5 years old may decide whether to bring their child(ren) to the service.
We also plan to have our service be shorter than usual (between 30-45 minutes). More details about the Order of Worship, particularly for outdoor services, will be provided closer to the date.
The Session and Church Reopening Team are doing everything we can to consider the best ways to remain safe, while also creating a space for us to gather in person for worship. Our hope is that we may begin with outdoor worship gatherings as much as possible, slowly transition to more indoor gatherings if it becomes safe, and eventually create a plan that will allow for full building use once again.
All that being said, if you do not feel comfortable coming out for worship (especially if you are more at risk for contracting the virus) you are encouraged to stay home and continue using our Liturgy for Home and participating in our online worship. It should also be noted that the Session will continue monitoring the pandemic and may deem it necessary to cancel in-person gatherings again if there is a serious rise in coronavirus cases in Virginia.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, "The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer...the believer feels no shame, as though he [sic] were still living too much in the flesh, when he yearns for the physical presence of other Christians" (Life Together, 19). This is one of the reasons our quarantine has actually been so painful, even if we haven't consciously acknowledged it. Christians are meant to be in fellowship together and to know the joy of physical presence with one another in community. When we feel this pain, and the longing to be with one another before the Word, the most appropriate thing we can do is lament our separation, pray for restoration, and rejoice in this possibility of this regathering, even if it looks different from the full return we were maybe hoping for.
So won't you join us in praying through the pain of our separation right now (and the pain of this whole pandemic), for all the pieces to come together for a good re-gathering in the name and Spirit of Jesus on July 5, and that God will be glorified in our worship, no matter where or how we meet
(But we do hope to see one another out by the pavilion!).
Grace and peace! Pastor Jonathan
CHURCH REGATHERING UPDATE – June 9, 2020 Recommendations to Session from Church Reopening Team
Since late March we have been unable to gather in person. This was in part due to our following of Virginia’s Safer At Home plan, but even more so due to our desire as Christians to love our neighbors and one another. The COVID-19 pandemic presented a case in which love of neighbor and faithfully living as the church meant socially distancing ourselves from others.
In the past few weeks, however, as the spread of the virus has declined some and requirements or recommendations have become a bit more lenient, the Session has begun looking ahead at when we might meet in person again and what that might look like.
On Wednesday May 20, the Session decided to organize a Church Opening Team who would concentrate on all the details of reopening and present a plan to the session for the congregation. Doris Fultz and Sam Lantz volunteered to lead this team as two elders from the session and they recruited members Sara Lohr and Patty and Tim Smiley to help them.
On June 03, the Session met again and at this meeting received a report and recommendations from the Church Opening Team. After much discussion and few edits, the Session approved the following recommendations from the team: •Services begin no earlier than June 28th, abiding by Virginia State regulations. •Services to be kept inside •Services to be held in the Fellowship Hall* •A single service to be held on Sunday mornings (not multiple) •Bathrooms to be closed except for special needs. Disinfected by user after use. •No Bulletins to be distributed •Seating will be on a first-come basis and exiting will be first-in-first-out, all guided by ushers. •Face coverings will be required •There will be no singing until further notice •There will be no corporate meals until further notice •There will be no open nursery for the time being, so the presence of our youngest children (who perhaps don’t understand the 6 feet of separation rule) is still a question we are considering
*Fellowship Hall Facilities Accommodations appear to be available for about 70 people with appropriate arrangement of seating. The recommendation of the Church Opening Team is that services be held in the Fellowship Hall for these reasons: •Easier handicap access •Entrance and Exit control are easier •Easier to keep sanitized •Easier to arrange and utilize seating •No carpet or upholstery
The Session also approved purchasing the appropriate signage, sanitation stations, disinfectant, and other supplies needed to keep the possibility of spreading the virus down. Furthermore, it was decided that online worship services will continue to be offered in some capacity as well.
As your pastor, I know that for some of you this all may seem like a lot of rigmarole for getting together once a week, and for others not nearly enough to make you feel like you can safely participate yet. The truth is, there are still a lot of unknowns and we will be doing our best as a congregation to create a space that is adequately safe for any who feel comfortable coming back together. As one wise elder on the Session put it: while it may feel inconvenient, it is for the good of all who might come in our doors, and we should think of this as a soft opening of sorts. We’re going to gather for worship, but we’re also going to keep reevaluating each week, learning what we did well and what we may have missed.
In the early 2000s when Mt. Horeb could not meet in our building, not because of pandemic but because of a fire, you proved how well you knew that the church is not the building. You got creative about where you met and how. Perhaps now is the time to lean into that creative spirit again, not getting frustrated about what we’re unable to do but excited about new things we might be able to do as we faithfully follow our risen and ascended Lord who walks with us.
During the next few weeks, the Session and I will be doing our best to keep you informed as details unfold and when we set our official first regathering date. Until then, continue to connect with one another in simple ways — call one another, pray for one another, participate in online worship as a small group — and continue to live as members of the body of Christ in our community even as we continue to wait for our regathering as one body in person.