New Policies Regarding Masks, Social Distancing, and More On May 13 the CDC announced that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks or practice physical distancing in any setting (except where required by federal, state, or local laws, rules, and regulations). The state of Virginia was quick to comply with this guidance, withdrawing the mask mandate and announcing capacity and social distancing restrictions to be lifted on May 28.
In light of these changes, the Session of Mt. Horeb met for a called meeting on May 18 to review and update our gathering policies. The following important changes were made:
In light of the new CDC and state guidelines, the Session has decided that masks will be optional in the building, effective immediately, but strongly encourages those who are not vaccinated to continue wearing a mask until they are vaccinated and asks children at this time to do the same.
The Session has decided to end physical-distancing practices, effective immediately. Due to the size of Mt. Horeb’s congregation and sanctuary at this time, the Session believes physical-distancing can still be practiced by those who wish. Singing will also be allowed, but the amount of sung music in our services will be limited for a while longer.
The Session allows and encourages individual groups (like Presbyterian Women), classes and committees/teams to determine best meeting practices depending on group members. Some may continue to use technology such as Zoom for meeting, due to convenience or safety concerns. Others may begin meeting in-person. The Strengthening Team will determine best practices for discipling and caring for children and infants and will offer this guidance in the near future.
If you are experiencing COVID-like symptoms, please refrain from attending worship or other gatherings.
These decisions were made by the Session taking into account several factors. 1) At least 63% of the Virginia adult population has received at least one dose of a vaccine and rates continue to decline in most areas. 2) It is the Session’s understanding that a majority of Mt. Horeb members and active participants are vaccinated. 3) Research indicates that, though COVID-19 is still a very serious virus that has done damage to many in our state and community and continues to ravage many communities in the world, given our local circumstances COVID-19 is a minimal risk to the Mt. Horeb congregation.
If circumstances change, the Session will be ready to meet again to review and revise any policies for the good of our congregation and greater community.
In 1 John 4:16,18-20 we read: God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them…There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. From the very beginning of this pandemic we sought to encourage one another to choose love over fear. This pandemic is notover, but things are looking better for us here. Yet even still, if we belong to God in Christ, we must choose love over fear.
In this case, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have any fear of a deadly virus or pretend it can’t hurt us. Again, this does not mean we shouldn’t have any fear of a deadly virus or take precautions against it, believing it won’t hurt us. It can. It has. In this case, love over fear means encouraging and celebrating vaccines that save lives and re-open possibilities. It also means working to make our decisions not in fear of what others may say (correcting us for being too strict, or too relaxed), or afraid we have to do something because folks are just fed up with COVID restrictions, but out of love — trusting the decisions made are the best way we know how to care for one another in the present moment as brothers and sisters in Christ.
As we find our true life and home in God, may we continue to learn how to share life and practice good “household” policies with one another, seeking to love one another as we have been loved. Now, during a pandemic, and always.
-Grace and peace
March 14, 2021 RESURRECTION & RE-GATHERING This is an exciting update from the Session of Mt. Horeb. At the Session’s most recent meeting it was unanimously decided to begin transitioning back to in-person worship, in the Sanctuary, beginning the month of April.
The Resurrection of the Lord — Easter Sunday — will be the first Sunday we plan to be back together. The hope is that we will be able to continue meeting in person after that.
Why now? Numbers of COVID cases in our community continue to be on the decline. Many members of our congregation have also received their vaccination, and will be fully vaccinated by April. These things, along with the new CDC update that indicates fully vaccinated persons can congregate together safely, have led the Session to determine that we can safely gather back together as long as we continue following safe gathering guidelines to promote the well-being of all our congregation and community.
What will it look like? More details will be introduced in the upcoming weeks, but for now, here are a few key details
Fellowship and catching up (in a safe way) is encouraged! We simply ask you do so outside the church building. When you get to the doors an usher will help you find a place in the sanctuary, socially distanced from those outside your family or group.
You will be able to come in the building and worship in the sanctuary! We’ll just ask that you wear a mask. It is still recommended that masks be worn in public places and corporate worship is a public space.
We will be able to glorify God and grow in love of God and others as we enjoy music and sing in our hearts! For the time being, we’ll still refrain from full-voiced congregational singing.
Some form of online worship will still be offered. We are discerning whether it will still be live or recorded and put online afterward.
We will be together!
The Session has nothing but the best intentions of the congregation in mind and a desire to lead us in faithful following of Jesus together. We will be meeting again on March 23rd to iron out any details before we gather inside for the first time in over a year at 10am on April 04, 2021 for Easter Worship. We will give an update of these plans after that meeting. If you have questions or concerns, please speak with one of your Elders or me (pastor Jonathan).
Psalm 122 declares, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” As we prepare to gather again as the household of God, let us continue to pray for those suffering from this pandemic — that they will be cared for; let us pray that these plans will come to fruition that we may continue to walk forward together faithfully; and let us rejoice Mt. Horeb in God’s goodness to us during this trying season.
Grace and peace, -Pastor Jonathan
Inclement Weather Policy - July 22, 2020 We want to inform you about a new Inclement Weather Policy for worship that the Session has adopted during this period when we are facing COVID-19.
While we hope to continue to be able to worship outside in-person, in the event of inclement weather we will NOT hold a service in the church building at this time. In the case of bad weather (rain, etc.) we will only hold our live online service.
The book of James reminds us that "faith without works is dead." Oddly enough, one of the ways we are called to work out our faith during a pandemic is through the action of social distancing. If James were with us today, he might have said, "What good is it, if a brother or sister is vulnerable to the coronavirus, and one of you says, 'Be safe!' yet you do not provide a safe space for gathering?" We want to be people who love one another, and love our neighbors in the best ways we can during this time and that means taking action that will slow or stop the spread of this virus.
So, if we can't worship together in person sometimes, what can we continue to do? We can continue to worship and pray together in the one Spirit of our Lord Jesus, lifting the world and one another up, with cries of lament and hope for healing, into his faithful hands. Let us do just that together.
Grace and peace!
Church Regathering Update – June 24, 2020
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.