The Church is Open… But Not Gathering Physically In-Person
When are we reopening the church? We never closed. The church is open and thriving! Worship attendance has increased dramatically through online Zoom worship. We have welcomed several new members to our church family. We have also had so many more visitors to our Zoom-based online worship than we had previously with our in-person worship. We have had a record-breaking mission ministry through Needs Among Us to help local families in crisis. Individuals and families who were hurting before the pandemic struck are really struggling now. In response, our church has continued to walk alongside church members, worship visitors, and nearly 50 Children’s Home and Aid families with prayer, clothing, emotional support, food, spiritual guidance, rent/utilities relief, and more. We are staying connected with extra phone calls, cards, messages, and video chats. We are running Bible studies, life groups, classes, children/youth ministries, and more to help people grow in their faith. All of this has happened within the limitations of this pandemic. The church is open and doing the Lord’s work!
Now… if you want to know when we will resume our physically in-person ministries, that is a whole other question. It is a complicated question that involves government rules, contagious disease science, intentional prayer, careful planning, and a lot of guessing. We have established a Coronavirus Task Force that is made up of people within our congregation with particular relevant life experiences. The Session has discussed the recommendations of this task force along with the recommendations of the CDC, our Presbytery, denomination, and various other national faith organizations. As we continue to formulate a phased plan for how we will restart physically in-person church activities, we are determined to be good stewards of one another. We are carefully considering each aspect of worship, childcare, small groups, etc. and we are doing this using guidance from the CDC, our denomination, and other greater church resources. The current information available to us does not enable us to pick a specific date for reopening the building and resuming physically in-person ministries.
In the meanwhile, our current closed building policies will remain in place. Until Session decides otherwise, we will have no physically in-person gatherings or committee meetings at the church. If the policy is changed, we will send out communications by email, website, and newsletter. The state of Illinois has outlined a 5-phase process for full recovery from this pandemic crisis. Currently, the policy says that we will only enter the final Phase 5 once there is a widely available vaccine or successful treatment plan for COVID-19. Phase 3 allows gatherings for up to 10 people. Phase 4 allows gatherings for up to 50 people. We don’t really have the opportunity to consider our normal worship practices of over 250 people until Phase 5. Moving into Phase 3 or Phase 4 gives us the opportunity to consider small gatherings, but it does not mean we will automatically start small physically in-person gatherings or meetings. Only Session can make that decision.
We have many people in our congregation with high risk factors. Even after we have the opportunity to consider smaller in-person gatherings (and then if we decide to start some gatherings), we will still have people who need special care and consideration. How we implement any in-person activities must be carefully designed. Even the implementation of other “in proximity options” like outdoor or drive-in worship must be carefully planned. While we develop a plan for eventually resuming physically in-person ministries, we are considering how we can stay equally engaged with those who may not be rejoining us physically in-person for a long time. We will also be considering how to continue to reach those who have recently started their relationship with our church through Zoom worship. Even after we resume full, physically in-person ministries, it seems certain that we will also continue to offer some form of online worship and other ministries.
On behalf of the staff, I want to say thank you for all of your support and encouragement. We appreciate all of the notes, emails, and other expressions of gratitude. The Session’s decision to continue to pay all of our full-time and part-time employees has been affirmed by your communications and generous financial offerings. This is hard work. The staff are trying to reinvent what church looks like in a new context while the new context shifts under their feet on a weekly basis. And by the way… they are doing a really great job! I stay connected with many friends in ministry around the nation, and I can tell you that we have one fantastic church staff. Everyone is doing their best to make good choices for the sake of your spiritual and physical well-being. If you have a physical or spiritual need, please do not hesitate to reach out to any of us.
The church is open and thriving! The church is doing the Lord’s work! Thanks be to God!
Like the rest of the world, we have been adjusting on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis as the government restrictions, CDC recommendations, and PCUSA suggestions come rolling in. We want to be faithful in our response so that the church is modeling good practices and good care. We have established a Coronavirus Task Force that will be thinking through all the issues of our response. Based on their recommendations, the Session will likely need to make some decisions. In the interest of public safety, the staff met today, participated in another presbytery-wide conference call, and made some temporary decisions to enable a quick response.
- Church Building Closed: The church building will be closed at least until the end of March. Staff will be using the offices to help facilitate the ongoing ministry of the church, but we are not hosting any meetings, gatherings, or outside groups during this time. Individuals who need to come to the church to drop-off donations or perform essential church work like signing checks for our bills are welcome. While some of you like to come visit the staff during the week and that often makes our work more fun, we are asking that you refrain from just hanging out in the office to chat for now. Despite the building closure, we will still maintain our heightened cleaning practices of doorknobs door handles, and common surfaces.
- Videoconferencing Available for Meetings: Church committees or groups that need or want to still meet can use our church’s Zoom video conference account. If you would like to setup a videoconference call, just contact Kaitie, Stephanie, Pastor Alex, or Pastor Rob for help.
- Helping Children’s Home: The one exception to our closed building will be its use by St. John Bosco Children’s Home. Their children are housed together already and desperately need some active time. Many of the children have behavioral challenges that are significantly helped by this use of our gym.
- Needs Among Us Dropoffs: If you have items for Needs Among Us, please come by during regular hours 8:30am-4:30pm and drop them off in Cornell Commons around the big center table.
- Need Anything? If you need any help during this difficult time of social distancing and various containment efforts, please contact the church office or one of the pastors directly. We want to continue to take good care of one another through all of this. Remember that your church family is here for you, provided by the God who loves you, saves you, and never abandons you.
- Worship in March is ONLINE: Worship will be held online only, not in person, for at least the month of March. You can also join for the audio by any phone. We had a great first run on March 15 of using the Zoom technology to connect 199 participants from over 5 states plus Germany! You can join by computer/tablet/smartphone to get the video and audio or by phone for just the audio. Let the church office know if you try it on Sunday and have problems. We would be happy to help you get yours setup. Details on how to get connected will be updated on our website at https://www.firstunitedpres.org/worship/online-worship. This is a great way to invite friends (local, national, or international) who may be missing worship opportunities. The direct connect link you can use on Sunday starting at 10:15am is https://zoom.us/j/299269153. To join by phone, you can call (312) 626-6799 and then enter Meeting ID 299 269 153.
- Visitation Ministry: Deacon and pastoral visits will be done via phone or video calls for now. Many hospitals and care facilities have started to restrict visitors already.
- Staff Support: FUPC will continue to pay our hourly workers even when their services are not needed. This situation is causing enough financial distress and we want to take care of our staff. Of course, other ongoing financial commitments and expenses will also be covered for our church building and operations.
- Giving and Offerings: Your offerings to God and financial support of our ministry efforts can still be made by mailing in checks or using our online giving option at https://www.firstunitedpres.org/give. Even without the building open, our ministries and mission are still actively moving forward. We are just using some creative ways to be the church at this time.
- Good News: I wanted to end this list with the sharing of Good News. We have been able to help several families in crisis already during this pandemic situation. In addition, we have some church members who were feeling overwhelmed and we were able to be the voices of comfort and prayerful reassurance to them. We have been in constant contact with local leaders, participating in discussions on how we might be a blessing to the community’s needs. This virus does not change our mission. This virus simply means we have to be creative and flexible as we continue to serve our God and live into our mission. We will be in touch with more worship, faith growing, community serving, and fellowship opportunities during this difficult time.
As always, please feel free to contact Pastor Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-315-2788 if you have questions or concerns.
On Thursday evening, Presbyterian pastors from all over the St. Louis area participated in a video conference call to discuss how we might respond to the community efforts to slow down the spreading of the COVID-19 virus. The church staff and Session held discussions this week as well noting that we are going to have many people feeling isolated and many people hurting financially due to the situation. We are putting together a task force to think through the internal and external response that this situation requires. In the meanwhile, we are making some decisions regarding upcoming activities of the church this weekend.
- Group Activities: We are not telling any groups that they cannot meet at the church, but we are suggesting that gatherings for this weekend and next weekend should consider postponing. The Preschool Spaghetti Dinner for March 20 has been postponed. The Helmsmen have already decided to cancel their March 21 gathering.
- Worship Summit: The Worship Summit for Saturday morning is postponed.
- Additional Cleaning of Church: Our cleaning service was contacted, and they are being especially diligent in cleaning all door handles and common surfaces around the church. They are already doing that with their other corporate clients. We have also added restroom signage to remind people to wash their hands frequently.
- Deacon Hospital Visits: Starting this week, hospital visitation will temporarily be done by phone.
- Sunday Worship: In-person worship is canceled, we have an alternate way for you to still worship with us online or by phone! See the next point below.
- Sunday Worship Alternative: We will be offering a way for people to connect with our 10:30 worship service from home by computer, tablet, smartphone, or even regular phone. The worship service will be streamed live (and recorded for later playback) using a technology called Zoom. Participants will be able to listen and view our worship service as if they were in the pew. You can participate with video and/or audio using your computer, tablet, or smartphone. You can also participate with just audio using any phone line. This is our first time attempting this so there may be some hiccups, but we want to make it possible for our church family to worship together. For more information and directions, click here. If you have problems this week, contact the church office during the week and we will help you get connected for next week.
We are continuing to speak with local officials, medical professionals, presbytery, and other sources to seek guidance. In addition, we will be looking for ways to help those in our community who may need some assistance during this situation. We will continue to be the great church of caring and service that we are. We just need to make some adjustments as we navigate this everchanging situation. As always, please feel free to contact Pastor Rob at email@example.com or 618-315-2788 if you have questions or concerns. The details about our Sunday Worship Alternative online are available here.