I hope this finds you all in good health and that, despite the challenges of physical distancing, you are all doing relatively well.
On Monday, May 4, the Elders of North Eaton Christian Church began conversation about how our future worship services and group life need to look, in order to most faithfully care for the needs of the church and community, and serve the mission of Christ. For now, worship, fellowship, and learning opportunities will be held online and not in person. We are not yet in a position to make wise decisions about dates of return to the building.
Over the next few weeks, assuming changes do not take place in the flattening of the curve and health protocols, we may discover that it is possible to be back in the building to some degree as early as June. However, this is not something that we can predict. When the times comes to make a statement of how we are reopening, it will not be to a kind of church life that we had been accustomed to. This “new normal” will need to be based on vigilance for matters of health and safety, and new customs will be required to facilitate that.
Even now, there may be some temptation and pressure to attempt to jump back into “life as we knew it,” given the relaxation of restrictions that the state is presently planning. However, the spread of COVID-19 is a very fluid public health situation. The opening of businesses and other public interaction may lead to a wider spread of the virus in our community. This could trigger a second Stay-at-Home order.
Regardless of any “official opening date” which the state may declare, we should expect to resume in-person worship gradually, and to return to pre-COVID practices only in phases. The current consensus among faith communities informed by Public Health research is that the best practice is to initially limit gatherings to 50 people, and even then, there are a number of changes to take into consideration.
Based on the guidance from some of the best thinkers on this matter, what follows is a set of best practices for a first phase of returning to in-person worship. The Elders and I urge you to consider them carefully long before you prepare to come back to church.
When we first return to worship together, we will need to limit attendance to 50 people in the sanctuary at one time, and those people must:
Be prepared to practice Physical Distancing in their entering, seating, and interacting with one another.
Wash hands before worship, wear masks during worship and use hand sanitizer before and after worship.
Do not expect the church to physically “serve” communion, pass the offering plate, or have prolonged time together, such as meals or coffee hours.
We also will need to:
Prepare ourselves for an experience that may seem a little less hospitable, and find other ways to make the kinds of meaningful connections which extend the graciousness that we have always counted as something to be proud of at NECC.
Help out where we can. For instance, the cleaning and preparation of the sanctuary will be a little more intense work than in the past. Volunteer aid will be needed.
Avoid coming to the building for worship when we do not feel well, or may have been exposed to the virus, and encourage our most vulnerable members to stay at home, as well.
Encourage those who are at ease with making their worship connections electronically to do so, for the time being.
Be prepared for some other changes before we arrive. For instance, we will not be using printed bulletins, hymnals, or Bibles, for now.
What we are trying to do with these precautions mitigate against COVID-19 transmission, but they do not prevent it. The risk, especially in this first phase, remains high enough that we find wisdom in taking a slow, conservative approach to how we proceed. Our staff will be observing the mandates of our local governments and will also continue to follow CDC guidelines, as well as best practices to the extent we are able to implement them.
Church will not look or feel the same, at least for a while. Even so, we will still be North Eaton Christian Church—and all people will still be welcome at Christ’s Table. Our staff and lay leadership continue to offer important ministry to our congregation and the wider community in this time. We have not reduced, but actually grown our ministries and outreach during this time…
“Christ’s Cupboard” has been opened in the East Entrance for any who need it.
We have prepared a great “staycation” guide in our “Thrive at Home” online exploration guide.
Our worship team and I are working hard to find the best ways to improve our online worship experience and outreach for a growing online congregation.
Our youth are gathering regularly online for learning and fun.
Our weekly Bible study is offered for any who want to be a part of it.
“Faith in Film” had a great beginning last week and will gather again on May 15.
DVDs are now being produced for those who wish to have our worship services delivered to their home.
We continue to serve with pastoral care in the safest ways possible.
The office and financial office remain open and active, within safe guidelines, to help with keeping us connected and our administrative life well-ordered.
The building project continues to move forward, with bids now coming in for the long-awaited roof.
We continue to seek ways to serve more effectively in these days, and I urge you to call me directly on my cell phone, as I am not often in the office at this time: 878-379-4458. I am always interested in hearing your thoughts on how we can continue to grow into this “new normal.”
Almost everything we are doing right now involves elements of church family life that will be continued indefinitely – even when we are back in the building at full-force. This takes serious care and prayer, and we are asking your help in it, through your prayers, your participation, and your active financial support to the extent you are able. God has provided for us in this season, as in every other. Please prayerfully continue in your support of the mission of Christ to which we have each committed ourselves in Holy Baptism.
We are still the Church, and it is our hope that this work allows us to transition back to a “new normal” that may be different in many ways, but also allows you to experience many of the familiar touchstones that make North Eaton Christian Church feel like home.
We are also aware that for some of you, worshiping online is a challenge. The technology may be intimidating or it may require an equipment purchase or subscription service that is outside your budget. We want anyone who wants to worship with North Eaton Christian to be able to do so, especially lifelong members. Therefore, we are currently researching ways that church can provide devices, access, and instruction for those of you who are currently without online capability. You will be hearing more about this in the coming days.
Meanwhile, we continue to offer to coach you through the process of getting online with the life of the church, if you have that capability in your smart phone or by computer. None of this is very complicated if you’ll let us help you take the time. If you have someone in your family who is able to be present with you, we can coach them as well. You’ll be up and running in no time!
I urge you to join us each Wednesday at 7 p.m. (right after Bible Study) for an open-line time of conversation and catching up. If you are not an “online person,” just pick up your phone and dial in. If you are online already, use the Zoom app or your browser at Zoom.com to connect with our gatherings, including the Virtual Coffee Hour we offer right after worship on Sunday Mornings. See the little box at the end of this letter for the needed information for dial-in or video chat.
Worship is now hosted from YouTube, and we have a channel you can subscribe to there. In the YouTube search bar, simply type “North Eaton” and you’ll see it all there. Worship from the past 2-1/2 years is there for you to enjoy, along with numerous special music offerings that you won’t want to miss. At 9 a.m. each Sunday, we premiere that day’s worship service for all to enjoy. I hope you’ll be with us!
I know these are challenging times! It may not feel like church to embrace a plan like this. A colleague reminded me recently, however, that the majority of the books in the New Testament were letters—written by Christian leaders to the communities with whom they could not be physically present. In this respect, social distancing is not new, nor is the ability of Christ’s love to overcome it.
Please know that you are in my prayers, the prayers of the entire staff, our officers, Elders, and other leaders. Please remember, as well, another lesson reflected in those ancient letters between churches that we now name as scripture: