Hello Grace Community!
I am writing to provide an update regarding Grace’s plans for reopening our campus for worship services and other activities. Earlier this week, the elders of Grace and I engaged in a thoughtful and prayerful conversation about what this will look like and when it would begin. At this time, we have agreed to wait for at least another month before we resume Sunday worship services on our campus.
It is our conviction that we need this time to accomplish three things: 1) to evaluate and manage all of the risks that come with resuming on-site activity, 2) to assess the long-term sustainability of staff and volunteer roles that will be needed to safely and effectively conduct worship services on campus, 3) to gain further input from YOU as we step forward together.
This update covers two important things. The first part briefly outlines how the leadership of Grace is ensuring a faith-driven and compassionate process. The second part offers a quick snapshot of what a typical on-site worship service would be like at Grace, taking into account all of the health and safety guidelines and mandates from the CDC, our state government, and the Orange County Board of Health.
FIRST, OUR COMMITMENTS AND GUIDING PRINCIPLES
In approaching the task before us, Grace is committed to being wise, safe, and compassionate.
- To be wise means we are not going to do anything out of selfish ambition, jealousy or fear of comparison with others. To be wise also means that our decisions will be influenced by the counsel of scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit.
- To be safe means we will make decisions that are peaceable (legal) and that are informed by God-given reason (advice from those who know more than us, like medical and science experts).
- To be compassionate means that in the decision-making process, we will be full of mercy and good fruit (loving and seeking the good of all).
Navigating difficult seasons often requires guiding principles. These are the principles Grace intends to follow in the weeks ahead:
- Stay Legal – We seek to honor the local authorities. Our witness during this time is more important than what we may deem as our ‘rights.’ We exist as the Body of Christ, not to serve our own interests, but to glorify God by first serving the interests of others – our neighbors, our city, our state, our nation, and our world.
- Stay Loving – We need to focus on trying to respect and honor ALL people, including the most vulnerable among us. We are not individuals, but a family, so we will think through every decision to make sure it is both safe and loving in every step we take.
- Stay Unified – We will fight to not allow the divisive nature of this pandemic to corrupt our unity in Christ. We will seek to maintain humility in how we express ourselves and serve others. We commit to being more influenced by the way of Jesus than a political stance.
- Stay Online – No matter what physical gatherings look like in the future, we will continue to offer online church services, since many of our members will not be able to participate in person until there is a vaccine.
- Stay Adaptable – If we have learned anything from this pandemic, it is adaptability. Change in life is inevitable and many changes will still emerge from this moment in time. We cannot hope to retreat back to the past. We must be open and creative in embracing how we can carry the best of what once was, as well as the essence of what it means to be the Body of Christ into new modes and methods of following and serving Jesus.
SECOND, WHEN WE RESUME ON-CAMPUS WORSHIP SERVICES, WHAT WILL THE EXPERIENCE BE LIKE?
In order to follow state and federal safety guidelines, worship services on campus will need to look very different. As you read this, please keep in mind the volunteers that will be needed to make this happen as well as the additional work that will be required of our volunteers.
BEFORE YOU ATTEND
- In order to attend worship at Grace, you will need to make an online reservation in advance. Those who do not have internet access have the option of making a reservation for the worship service by calling the church office.
- This is essential to ensure two things:
- that Grace doesn’t exceed capacity for our worship services (100 people per service -including all staff)
- that Grace has contact information for everyone who attends our worship services so that we can track down each person in case of contact with an infected person on our campus.
- This is essential to ensure two things:
- As part of this reservation process, you will be asked to complete a quick self-assessment in order to confirm that you do not have any of the known symptoms related to and/or have not tested positive for COVID-19. An example of this self-assessment can be found at COVID-19 Self Screening.
- Even if we leave a “buffer” for guests and new people, there is still a possibility some people will be turned away from being able to join in the worship service if we exceed capacity.
WHEN YOU ARRIVE
- As you arrive at Grace, you will need to wear a surgical mask or face covering for the duration of your time on the campus.
- This is a mandatory requirement from the OC Board of Health: click here for more info.
- The only exceptions are for children under 2 years of age, or anyone who has trouble breathing, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove their mask without assistance.
- Before you enter the Sanctuary, you will need to line up with social distancing to briefly check-in to confirm your reservation or to determine if there is still space available for you to participate in the worship service.
- You will need to plan to arrive a half an hour early (or more) in order to get through the check in line and not miss a portion of the service.
- You will not be permitted to enter the Sanctuary without first checking in, no matter how long the line is or how late you arrive.
- After checking in, you will be asked to sanitize your hands and then you will be directed to your designated seat, marked by a disposable seat cover.
- While families can sit together, everyone else will need to be seated six feet apart from others who are present.
- Children, including infants and toddlers, will need to sit with their parents through the entire service. No childcare or Sunday School will be provided due to even stricter safety Requirements and ratios that cannot currently be maintained.
- You will be discouraged from engaging in any extended gatherings on the patio and in the rear or front of the sanctuary before the service starts.
THE WORSHIP SERVICE ITSELF
- All of the regular elements of worship will be present, however, no singing, recitation of creeds, or corporate prayers will be possible.
- Scientific evidence has revealed communal singing is a “super-spreader” in terms of COVID-19. A 2019 report published in the scientific journal Nature said that particle emission is correlated with the amplitude of vocalization—or loudness—so singing releases more particles than other types of speech or breathing. It even spreads the virus more than coughing.
- In lieu of singing, you will be asked to hum along as we are led by a single solo singer. The same goes for reciting a creed or responding to a prayer.
- A fun but non-contact-oriented way of passing the peace will be implemented rather than the shaking of hands or giving of hugs.
- The offering will no longer be received through the passing of the plate. Online giving will be encouraged. Envelope offerings or cash offerings will be received via locked stations just before the entrance to the Narthex.
- If Holy Communion is offered, you will be offered the elements by means of a prefilled Communion cup that include a single portion serving of juice with a Communion wafer sealed in a separate compartment on top of the juice. Social distancing will be maintained as receive the sacrament together.
AFTER THE WORSHIP SERVICE
- When the service is over, you will be asked to leave promptly and return to your car while avoiding contact with other people.
- The side doors on the north side of the building will be open to avoid front lobby congestion. No coffee or donuts or time of fellowship will be possible.
- A detailed cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing will take place on all contact spaces in the Sanctuary (doors, pews, bathrooms, hand-sanitizing stations, etc.)
- A complete registry of all who attended the worship service that day will be filed in order to provide contact tracing to county health officials in the case that someone who attends contracts COVID-19.
What has been outlined here will be temporary. We realize this information is overwhelming. We also recognize the picture of what worshipping in person together will look like may not be what you were expecting. Please rest assured that our online worship services will continue even after we resume on-site services in the Sanctuary. We fully understand many will not be able or feel comfortable returning to our campus right away.
Our reason for sharing all of this is so that everyone in our community can appreciate what we are facing together as well as for each of us to evaluate how we feel about returning to worship. To that end, we need you to fill out a second, much shorter survey that allows you to give us your response to this reality. You’ll also have an opportunity to indicate your willingness to help volunteer in making in-person worship services happen again at Grace. The results of this survey will continue to inform how the leadership of Grace moves forward in these next few weeks. You can access this survey: HERE.
Please understand we are receiving messages from both those who are eager to reopen, and those who want us to be cautious. We hear you. We are thankful for your voice in our church family. We understand very well that there is a clash of opinions about what we should do. As you offer your voice to this conversation, we invite you to join us in prayerfully seeking the wisdom and leading of the Holy Spirit and the example of Jesus Christ as we move forward.
One day soon we will reopen the doors of our campus for worship. We will gather, open the Word of God together, sing praises to His name, and celebrate. I can’t wait for that day. In the meantime, Grace is not closed. For we, as the Church, are more than a building. We are, first and foremost, the Body of Christ – a community of His love, grace, and truth that is not confined by the contours of four walls but is most visible when we go beyond those walls and serve others. May we never forget that even as we long for our eventual homecoming.
Grace to you!