Thanks to all of those who have filled out the survey asking about how you feel about returning to church. We’ve received over 76 responses so far! The feedback is very helpful and your Regathering Team will be using it as we move forward.
I thought it might be helpful to share some of the guidelines we’ve been given specifically for worship. What will worship be like when we gather in Stage 2? We do know some things based on the “Journey by Stages” document that the bishop has given us to guide our re-opening. Everything mentioned below are things that we are required to do by the bishop’s guidelines. The Regathering Team is working on exactly how we’re going to do these things, and if we might do other things as well, so the final shape of worship is not yet determined. But these are the things that we know we’ll have to do:
- We will have to limit the number of attendees in some way. The options suggested include on-line signup, or having ushers who turn people away if we have reached capacity. This may mean that you have to plan ahead about coming to church. I have also heard of some churches asking regular members to take turns being on “standby” to leave if a newcomer arrives at the last minute, so as to be able to keep welcoming new members.
- Our capacity will probably be determined by how many households we can fit in the church if each group is 6 feet apart. My old church in Grace, Norwood was recently approved for re-opening. Normally the church holds about 175 people. With every other pew roped off and seating areas for each household taped off, they can now hold 44 people (including using the choir area). We have not yet done this math for our sanctuary, although we do have a bigger space than Grace Church.
- We will have to take written attendance, for contact tracing purposes.
- Only one household group can enter the church at a time, to avoid bunching up in the doorway. The bishop’s guidelines suggest having each household wait in their car to be invited into the church (as many medical offices are doing), or having people line up on the sidewalk at least 6 feet apart, as at the grocery store. Doors must be one way, so we’ll have to designate one way to enter and another way to exit.
- At the end of the service, each household will be dismissed one at a time rather than everyone getting up at once.
- Of course, everyone will have to wear a mask during the service and use hand sanitizer as they enter.
- We cannot have bulletins, hymnals, or prayer books. Suggestions from “Journey by Stages” are to email people the bulletin and have everyone print their own at home, or project it on a screen, or email it to be viewed on phones or tablets.
- We won’t pass the plate for the Offertory. Please donate online! It’s easy and quick. Or just mailing in your pledge check is great, too.
- We cannot sing together. There is an option to have a soloist/cantor who is at least 20 feet apart from everyone else. Another option would be to have only instrumental music.
- We cannot have Communion in Stage 2. When we move to Stage 3, we can offer the Bread only, perhaps with the clergy using tongs to place it in each person’s hand. We cannot offer the Wine (in any form, even individual cups) until Stage 4.
- We cannot have Coffee Hour or any social gathering.
- We also have the option of having outdoor worship. However, we have to follow all of the above guidelines, including marking off individual seating areas at least 6 ft apart, signs indicating one-way exit and entrance, people coming in and leaving one at a time, no singing, no bulletins, no Communion, taking attendance, etc.
There are other guidelines about ventilation, bathroom use, and cleaning that the Regathering Team will also have to finalize before we get permission to hold worship. However, right now I’m just sharing with you those that will affect your worship experience.
As you can see, the bishop’s guidelines are comprehensive and give us lots of good ideas about how to hold worship in a safer way in this unprecedented time. It’s a comfort to have these guidelines, and also a bit daunting to work through them all. However, the Regathering Team is doing a great job and will put a strong plan in place.
It is very hard not to be together. It is also hard to think about coming together in such a different way. For some it will definitely be worth it to be able to experience worship in our sanctuary again, and to worship God physically present together. For others, it makes sense to keep sheltering at home and participating in the service online. (We will not stop live-streaming! That will probably continue from now on, now that we know how to do it.) Wherever we are, God is with us and we are united in our prayer and in our spirit.