[For the record – if our churches have continued to offer virtual worship, virtual meetings, phone calls to check in, and mission giving – they have not been closed. But . . . ]
. . . it’s possible that our church buildings will re-open in the coming weeks. In my state of North Carolina, it’s possible that we can legally open church buildings on Pentecost Sunday IF Phase 1 of the three phase process of re-opening is successful in terms of no coronavirus spikes or setbacks.
This doesn’t mean that we should or must open our church buildings on Pentecost. It won’t be as simple as unlocking the doors.
In fact the process of re-opening requires serious preparation. It would be foolish to open without the following groundwork:
- Preparing the building. Deep cleaning the building including the nursery (and every toy), the bathrooms, all pews/chairs, all door knobs, all light switches, all mikes.
- Making sanitizer available to everyone. If you don’t have sanitizer, don’t open the building.
- Posting signs reminding people to keep social distance and refrain from shaking hands.
- Marking seats with sufficient distance between worshipers.
- Cleaning between worship gatherings, classes, meetings in the building.
- Preparing the leaders. Instructing ushers and greeters to remind everyone to socially distance and use the sanitizer, and to direct traffic in ways to avoid unnecessary pile ups of people in the halls or aisles – not like police but like friendly tour guides.
- Instructing ushers to stand by the offering plates/boxes/baskets which have been moved to the entrance or exits of the worship space. They will not be “passing the plate” for a while.
- Continuing leaders to encourage online giving for the rest of their lives and online meetings for at least a while.
- Ordering and sharing (from a tray) individual pre-packaged communion sets to be picked up on the way into worship.
- Preparing for Church Life’s New Normal. Exchanging paper bulletins for screens. Same with hymnals. Honestly, this is not about personal preferences anymore. It’s about health and safety.
- Providing and wearing masks – even/especially for singing. Apparently we spit when we sing.
- Allowing some volunteers to step back for now. Some lifelong ushers, teachers, and music leaders might not feel comfortable continuing in those roles at the present time.
- Stopping coffee hour for now.
- Sitting at a distance.
- No more passing the peace except with our eyes and behind-the-mask smiles.
- Reminding people that the Church is not a building and social distancing can be Biblical – although immediately after this story, groups formed once again. Jesus attracted a crowd.
This is a great time for our church leaders – elders, deacons, educators, musicians, and pastors – to prepare how we will “re-open” the Church. And it’s an act of faithful solidarity for all congregations in a particular city or town to have these conversations together so that all congregations of all kinds stand in unity. It would be especially healthy for all houses of worship to open the same date if at all possible to illustrate that the whole faith community is on board with being safe together.
In spite of the tragedies that this pandemic has wrought, the Church is blessed with an amazing opportunity to move into the 21st Century. More about that tomorrow.
Image of pre-packaged communion. Some of them are hard to open so consider how we’ll safely open them for small children or people with arthritis.
But no public or congregational singing (at least indoors—even with a mask) will be safe for a while… I attended this webinar last night:
We used to use those communion to go things for home bound communion and we stopped because older people who had swallowing issues would choke on those wafers. They were very hard for them to eat.
We are planning to ask people to bring their own food, and have communion as a picnic. We would have a case of bottled water and a case of some sort of pre wrapped food for those who didn’t get the message, but we are trying to cut down any point of contact. No bulletins, not passing plates. We will worship outside and ask people to bring their own lawn chairs. Continue to live stream so people can stay home.
No singing, and likely no communal spoken prayers. This is all predicated on things continuing to get better here.
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My little church doesn’t have the means to install screens and a projection system. I’ve also noticed at presbytery meetings that I can’t always read the screens because of loss of distance vision. I imagine that would also be the case for my mostly-elderly congregation. We have a flat-screen TV (not huge) that I found on Freecycle, so I could possibly put texts on it–which would require me to create a DVD (there is no tech team, no office assistant–only me), but everyone would have to sit close in front of it. Also, more people would need help opening pre-packaged communion elements than would be able to provide it.
I’m sad to say it, because, Jan, I love you and am deeply grateful for the wisdom you share, but just about everything I’m reading (from everyone) makes assumptions that aren’t valid for churches like mine. I’ve seen very few suggestions that would be helpful for us, other than just continuing to keep the building closed. Fortunately, our most vulnerable person is our beloved matriarch, who has already said we must keep the building closed.
And yet . . . grace abounds!
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You’re totally right. We have to do what we can do. I know a couple of churches under 50 members who can sit apart in pews but that’s about all except: they could have socially distanced soloists sing all the songs. They could have hand sanitizer available. They could refrain from passing the plate. Little things help
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I am really looking forward to opening up the church building again.