May 28 | Starting Up In-person Worship Services in June

May 28 | Starting Up In-person Worship Services in June

Dear Church Family,

We have thankfully entered a season in which we can resume some in-person worship activities.  The elders believe that we can do this responsibly, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, by taking the precautions set forth in government guidance and being practiced by other churches.  This will enable us to resume meeting in a way that cares for our neighbors and submits to the authorities God has put in place for our good.

This season of reopening calls for joy tempered with realism.  We rejoice because we expect that in-person services will be an encouragement to many after the significant hardships caused by the shutdown.  Praise God that we can now take a first step toward normalcy.  We must realize, however, that reopening will happen gradually.  Also, our meetings will be subject to significant restrictions during the phased reopening as we seek to manage the risk of infection.  Please read below to become familiar with what reopening will involve.

Some of us will continue live-streaming from home for a time.  Not all members of Grace will necessarily be able to gather yet.  We would strongly encourage (but not require) those who belong to a high-risk group to stay home.  Also, those who believe they should stay home for other reasons should feel free to make that call.  The following groups must not attend:

  • Those who have symptoms of COVID-19.

  • Those under quarantine.

  • Those with other visible symptoms of illness, since this would distract other worshippers.

We will start in June.  The first in-person service will take place on June 7 with a small group that will assist in fine-tuning our procedures.  After that, we plan to hold in-person worship each Sunday starting June 14, subject to the restrictions outlined below.

Our seating capacity has been reduced, which will require an attendance rotation.  Although Virginia Phase I reopening permits churches to gather at 50% capacity, social distancing will functionally limit attendance in the sanctuary to 50-75 people.  The facilities must also be thoroughly cleaned between gatherings.  For now, we will have a single service at 11 a.m. in the sanctuary only.  Hopefully, we can expand this service to the fellowship hall as we become more familiar with what is prudently possible.  The evening service will remain livestream-only for now.

Members who indicate a desire to attend will be divided into groups that will take turns attending on Sundays while the rest of the congregation livestreams.  Attendance will be by invitation only.  You will receive notice of the Sunday on which you may attend in person.  When you arrive, an usher will direct you to your assigned seat.  Several seats will be reserved at each service for visitors, who must observe the safety measures detailed below.

Sunday activities will be very basic.  Social distance requirements will mean that neither nursery, Sunday School, nor Coffee Fellowship can be restarted at this time.  We are currently exploring electronic Sunday School options for older children, however.

Other church activities will continue in their current scaled-back fashion.  Our new community prayer groups will continue to meet electronically.  Other groups such as Bible studies, Fellowship Groups, leadership teams, etc., will continue to meet in a format decided by the group leader consistent with government guidelines.

In-person worship services will follow measures designed to inhibit transmission of the coronavirus.  Since many carriers of coronavirus remain asymptomatic, we need all who attend to operate as though they might be infected.  This will reduce the chance that our gatherings will become a vector of infection to the church or wider community.  We will therefore observe the following precautions, which track with the current consensus about best practices for public meetings.

  • Keep social distance.  We need to give six feet of space to those who are not in our immediate family.  This means adjusting our usual habits in numerous ways.

    • Try to arrive up to 15 minutes early so you can enter the building without bunching up.
    • Let an usher direct you to your assigned seat.
    • Keep six feet from any non-family members in your pew.  Every other pew will be vacant.
    • Parents may sit with young children in the narthex but must observe social distancing.
    • No more than two mothers may use the nursing mothers area.
    • Do not linger or socialize in the hallways.
    • Do not use the bathroom if at all possible.
    • Do not use the coat room.  Take any coat or umbrella with you to your seat.
    • Treat the nursery, kitchen, fellowship hall, library, and basement as closed areas.
    • You may socialize in the parking lot afterward, observing six feet of distance.
    • Encourage your children to maintain distance from other children, challenging as that may be.
  • Protect against respiratory infection by wearing a mask.  The virus spreads mainly person-to-person through respiratory droplets.  It is believed that wearing face coverings can significantly decrease the risk of infection.  Face masks will be required for everyone four years old and up in the church building.  We currently plan to continue having congregational singing and speaking in our service, which makes guarding against respiratory infection especially relevant for our church.

    • If you forget your mask, use one of the clean ones that will be available.
    • Keep your mask on throughout the service.
    • Pastors must also wear face masks except when in the pulpit.
  • Avoid transmission through physical contact.  Surfaces contaminated with the coronavirus may also present a hazard.  Please minimize this danger in the following ways.

    • Refrain from handshakes and hugs.
    • Bring your own copy of the Worship Guide, or follow along on your mobile device.
    • Bring your own Bible and writing instrument.  Everything has been removed from the pew racks.
    • Deposit your offering in the box in the narthex.  We will not be passing plates.
    • Avoid using the drinking fountains.
    • Avoid touching common surfaces such as doorknobs.
    • As needed, use the hand sanitizer that will be provided in multiple places.

There are other outstanding items to think about.  We should prepare ourselves for a worship experience that will feel very different for the next few months.  Let’s determine in advance to respond with grace and good humor to the oddities of this season, whether it is young people distracted by their masks, singing that sounds muffled, or ushers reminding us not to linger in the hallways.  Hopefully, the joy of meeting again will outweigh all the strange aspects of our gatherings.  We should also pray that those restricted to live-streaming will be encouraged by the sight and sound of God’s people gathering, even though they cannot attend.

One major outstanding question is how best to administer the Lord’s Supper during this time of phased reopening.  Please pray for wisdom for the elders who will be shortly discussing solutions.

We are so grateful for the hard work of our Task Force in providing guidance for the process of reopening.  Please contact a Task Force member (Dan Griswold, Eric McFarland, or Bruce Stahl) if you have specific questions or comments about this plan.  We are also grateful for church staff, ministry leaders, and volunteers from the congregation who have worked hard to get us to the point of readiness for restarting in-person worship.  Truly the Lord has shown his goodness to us during this challenging season.

Yours in Christ,
The Elders