COVID-19 & OUR CHURCH

In response to health concerns related to Covid-19, our church currently is not meeting in-person so all our gatherings, including worship, are online. You can join our live worship services each Sunday on Facebook at 10:45 AM.  As we continue to discern when it will be safe to return to in-person group activities as a church, our church board has shared the following guidelines for our congregation:

May 15, 2020
From your church board:
First Christian Friends,

We pray you are well and continuing to adapt to the “new normal” of life during a pandemic. In an effort to keep all of us informed, we wanted to take a moment to update you on the status of our ministries together.
As you know, in mid-March our 1st Christian Church Board decided that our worship services, small groups, and ministry team meetings will be held online and not in person for the foreseeable future. We anticipate that this may even be our practice through the summer.  We know, we know! That last sentence might come as a surprise to many of us.  But we are simply being honest. For the next year, our lives and our ministry together will necessarily be shaped by this pandemic. We realize you may be wondering if we could return to activities in our building sooner, given the easing of the “stay at home” order from the St. Joseph city leaders and the fact that more businesses and even some churches are opening their doors again to the public.

But the reality of our current situation is that the spread of COVID-19 is unpredictable. Medical professionals are learning more every week, but there still is no proven treatment and no vaccine, nor are we absolutely certain how the virus spreads or why some people are susceptible even though they appear initially healthy. Moving too soon to open our church could lead to an even wider spread of the virus within our community, possibly triggering another total shut-down of the city. And returning to in-person activities too soon may mean we are forcing our most vulnerable members to choose between staying healthy or participating in church activities with everyone else.
As your church leadership, we are committed to making decisions about restarting in-person activities by closely following recommendations of our health department, Mosaic Hospital, and the CDC.  Even when we do set some sort of “restart date,” we can expect that our church will resume in-person activities only gradually, as a process, in phases. The following guidelines are based on the best recommendations we can find from our own and other denominations and the CDC:

PHASE ONE
Phase One begins when we have seen several weeks of declining cases locally, along with widespread availability of testing, contact tracing and no PPE shortages. At this time, we would:
• Continue to hold online worship services only.
• Consider resuming broadcasting from the sanctuary with additional worship leaders, while maintaining at least 6 ft of space between people – with no live singing. (Note: Singing is among the riskier behaviors when it comes to spreading droplets/aerosols which can carry the virus a significant distance and remain suspended in the air. A cloth mask is unlikely to be enough to protect you or your neighbor.)
• Life rituals (weddings, funerals) would be kept to less than 10 in attendance.
• Ministry teams, committees, and small groups continue to meet online.
• Church office functions remain limited as possible to ensure essential operations.

PHASE TWO
The shift from Phase One to Phase Two is based on a re-evaluation of the situation using the original criteria. We might expect several weeks of improving conditions to pass before this shift. This will require careful observance of physical/social distancing recommendations on an ongoing basis. At this time, we would:
• Continue holding online worship, while organizing small groups to worship in-person, perhaps at the church (50 persons or less), in members’ homes (10 persons or less) or outdoors. In-person worship would not include any live singing, use of hymnals or paper bulletins, or fellowship coffee time.
• Offering collection would be online only, communion would be observed as a ritual but with no actual sharing of the bread and cup, and all worship participants would be asked to wear a face mask.
• In-person worship would include social distancing of at least 6 feet between family units and the practice of washing hands before worship and using hand sanitizer before and after worship.
• Life rituals (weddings, funerals) could take place in a more traditional way, with careful attention to guest lists so as to keep under the 50 person limit, and physical distancing plans.
• Small groups could meet in person or online.

PHASE THREE
We might expect several more weeks of improving conditions to pass before this shift, if indeed progress is linear, which is unlikely. We can expect to see a fluctuation in the number of cases locally. In this phase we would:
• Continue to encourage individuals in high risk groups or those who are sick to stay at home.
• Follow strict cleaning and hygiene guidelines in our building.
• Continue to limit the number of persons present at in-person gatherings, and continue to encourage the use of face masks.
• Continue to offer online options as well as in-person events.
• Allow the easing of social distancing guidelines.
• Office functions could resume as normal.

With these three phases as a guideline, we must acknowledge again that the virus is unpredictable. Even as we ease restrictions and begin to move to in-person meetings, a rise in local cases may necessitate another “shelter in place” order and a return to online-only activities for some time.
As you can see from these guidelines, even as we return to worship in the sanctuary, it will look very different from what we have known in the past.  Pastor Brian has spoken to us before of the way the Church seems to have a “rummage sale” every 500 years, where we let go of things we might love but no longer need and try to pare back to what is most important. We were already in one of those 500-year periods when the pandemic struck. The virus has simply sped up the process of deciding what is most important right now and letting the rest fall away.

In the months ahead, we will be challenged to focus on what is most essential and important for our life as a faith community. We’ll have the opportunity to re-envision and re-invent many of our ministries and practices for the new day ahead of us. At some points along the way, we will experience frustration, disappointment, and maybe even some fear.  But we will no doubt also find encouragement from the Holy Spirit to be bold, brave, and creative in the new ways we’ll find to worship, interact, study, and serve our community together.

Whatever our activities and practices look like in the days ahead, online or in-person, as long as we keep Christ at the center of who and what we are, we are still the Church.  Our commitment as your church leadership is to continue to maintain all that is essential to us as a faith community, while doing all we can to keep you and the wider community safe. Know that you are in our prayers as together we hold close to our hearts the words from the New Testament letter to the Hebrews:

“And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10: 24-35

Yours in Christ,
Debbie Sherard, Board moderator
Carol Pittman, Vice Moderator
Ron Johnson, Secretary
Janet Pullen, Treasurer
Pastor Brian Kirk

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