Good Shepherd Family, The past few months have been a unique experience for everyone. We have all had to figure out how to do things in our life a little differently. Here at church we have had to figure out how to provide for your spiritual needs while also being sensitive to the unique health needs of this pandemic. Many of the steps we have taken have been in response to guidelines given to us by government authorities and by our own church body. As you may know, many of these guidelines have become less restrictive recently as the danger from this pandemic seems to be in decline. All the guidelines I have seen, however, emphasize that the danger of infection still exists and should be considered with great care.
On May 5th, the board of elders met to discuss what the church will do regarding worship in light of the relaxation of restrictions on gathering. The board decided that we would resume holding worship services in our sanctuary in accordance with the guidelines set out by the state of Missouri and the Missouri District of the LCMS. Keeping in the spirit of the new guidelines, we will be taking a measured approach to our return to in-person worship.
Allow me, at this juncture, to offer some pastoral advice. Christians can (and certainly do) disagree about what the best course of action is in this situation. We are not called by God to have the same opinions. We are called by God to love each other. It has been disheartening to see in secular society, people who are quick to observe a person’s opinion or decision and subsequently infer that they are evil. To do this with such little information one must assume the worst about their neighbor’s thoughts, priorities, and intentions. As followers of Christ you are called to assume the best about your neighbor’s thoughts, priorities, and intentions. When someone has made a choice that is different than the choice you have made regarding this pandemic that difference should be met with love and understanding. We are not secular society. We are the church.
That being said, many of you will make different choices regarding attendance of our services in person or online. This is to be expected. We all have different thoughts about what the best course of action is. We have different priorities when it comes to how we order our life. I trust, though, that we all intend to be good Christians. A good Christian may choose to stay home and view the service online (or read the sermon later). Simply because a service is offered does not mean that you need to come. Indeed, given that the pandemic seems to present a higher risk to the older demographic I would not expect to see them here in church as much as individuals with a lower risk. I want you all to feel free to make the decision to come or to stay with confidence.
Before we delve into some of the finer details of how things will go, there are some general things to keep in mind. The idea is to minimize the possible spread of the virus by limiting contact with individuals (or the things they have touched). Droplets (of saliva) can travel about 6ft from one’s mouth hence the 6ft distancing requirement. So, while we are gathering together we ask that you keep 6ft apart as much as possible and limit the amount of things that you touch. Most of what follows will be done to achieve these goals.
It needs to be said that if you are feeling bad, have a temperature or are exhibiting any other symptoms of COVID -19 you should stay at home. We will sanitize/disinfect commonly touched surfaces in the church prior to worship. We have removed the hymnals from the pews and will be using the bulletins only. Dispose of them after the service. We plan to have an usher open the doors for people as they enter the building (or prop the door) to minimize contact with the handles. We will make use of every other pew in order to maintain adequate distancing during worship. Bulletins will be placed in the pews intended to be occupied. Please sit in family groups (usually the people you drove to church with). The offering plates will simply stay by the back doors of the sanctuary and will not be passed. We do plan on offering communion. To echo what I stated above, you do not have to take it if you are uncomfortable. Care will be taken in the distribution of the sacrament, the details of which are more than I will get into here. Further details will be given in person on Sunday.
In order to help us adequately prepare for worship we need to have some idea of how many people will be attending, as there are some restrictions on space. For this reason, we are asking that you call the church and “sign up” (for lack of a better term) before attending. We would like to have a good idea of how many people will be there by Friday at noon. I understand that today is Wednesday which does not leave much time. If you call the church after hours and leave us a message that would suffice. We plan on having to do this in the weeks to come.
At this point we will only be having worship and using the church facilities as little as possible (no bible class, Sunday School, blood pressure checks, nursery use, etc.). We plan to continue in this way until the first week in June when we will meet again to decide further steps. We plan to continue to provide an online recording of the worship service going forward even at the end of this pandemic. Since the service will held on Sunday at 9am we will attempt to present it live on Facebook. Regardless of whether the internet connection holds up we will have a recording to post later. It will, of course, be later in the day though. I hope this letter will be able to address most of the question that you might have about what we plan to do. If there is something that you think needs to be addressed, please let us know.
In Christ, Pastor Mehl