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From the Moderator: A Return to Gathering

Kerrie Kleppin-Winn
August 12 2020

Dear Friends,

I hope you are well and finding reasons to enjoy the blessings of summer.

I am pleased to let you know that First Central’s Council, at the recommendation of the Regathering Task Force, has voted to regather for worship in person starting this Sunday, August 16, 2020. We expect this will be welcome news for those who have been ready to return for some time. Also, those who plan to continue online worship will be glad to know our recent investment in new technology will enable us to keep streaming weekly worship services even after the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.

What can we expect from the service?

The initial phase of in-person worship will mean changes for those worshiping in the sanctuary as well as at home. As our worship leaders explained in the July 15 newsletter, with this hybrid service they will do their best to direct everything to both the online and in-person audiences, though some features of a particular service may favor one or the other.

There will be no choir. Instead we will use a cantor, with congregational singing reduced or even eliminated at first, since singing is considered a higher risk activity than talking. Preachers and speakers will most likely remove their masks when at the pulpit and lectern, so the pulpit and lectern will be 20 feet away from the first row where people will be sitting. Orders from the governor’s office require that all hymnals and bibles be removed from the pews, so everything will be printed or you can use your own digital device. We will hold off on communion until we have some experience with the rest of worship.

Is it safe?

While we know the risk of attending worship in person can never be zero, our public health and infectious disease experts on the task force believe we can offer a low risk environment for most congregants who wish to attend – if we have everyone’s diligence and cooperation.

Because there is ample evidence of asymptomatic transmission, we ask that you adhere to the following guidelines reliably, not just at worship, but in regular day to day activities:

  • Stay home whenever possible, and especially:
    • When you are sick with any symptoms, particularly those associated with Covid-19.
    • If you have any underlying health conditions such as those listed on the CDC website.
    • If someone in your home is ill. Isolate them as much as possible, self-quarantine and follow all other protective guidelines where possible.
  • When you do go out:
    • Keep at least a 6-foot distance between yourself and others with whom you do not live
    • Wear a mask (properly-covering both the mouth and nose) around others with whom you do not live, especially when you are indoors or cannot keep at least 6 feet apart.
    • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, or correctly use alcohol-based hand rub.
    • Avoid crowds where you cannot control physical distancing.
    • Always be aware of conditions where you may have put yourself at risk, so that you can limit contact with others for their protection.

What do I need to do when attending in-person worship?

  • Before coming to church, seriously evaluate if you are in the high risk categories and stay home if you are sick, especially if you are coughing (even with allergies). COVID-19 symptoms currently listed on the CDC web site include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Wear your mask or face covering into church, throughout the service and as you leave. Disposable masks will be available for those who do not bring their own.
  • Enter the church through the wooden front doors or the accessible (southwest) door. These doors and the doors leading into the sanctuary will be propped open. The glass door (office) entrance will be closed on Sunday. Use the center aisle to enter pews and the side aisles to exit pews. Persons with mobility issues may exit using the center aisle.
  • Everyone will need to practice physical distancing. Pews will be marked with seating areas properly spread out. Our sanctuary can accommodate 47 household zones, according to the current rules, which we believe will provide ample capacity to accommodate those who wish to worship initially. It will be crucial that you resist the understandable human urges to shake hands and hug.
  • Printed bulletins will have everything you need for worship (hymnals and bibles have been removed from the pews) or you can use your own digital device. Children’s activity packets will not be available, so please bring something to occupy your littlest worshippers if needed.
  • Exit the sanctuary at the front (east end) through the northeast doors, leaving the building through the Memorial (south patio) doors. There will be no Coffee Hour in this initial phase.
  • Restrooms available will be the men’s room just off of the South Lobby and the women’s room in the Main Parlor.

The Regathering Task Force continues to closely monitor COVID status and public health recommendations to see if modification of church services is advisable. They are not yet suggesting we resume any other activities of the church. Other programming and functions will be considered separately.

If you have the opportunity, please express your appreciation to the volunteers serving with me on the Task Force: Lyn Bouma; Stephen Bouma; Michael Cich-Jones; Bonnie Harmon; Scott Jones; Katie Miller; Philip Smith, M.D.; and Scott Sumpter, with additional contributions from Laura Grams, Bethany Lowndes and Sara Sharpe.

This group has dedicated countless hours to ensuring our return to in-person worship is as safe as we can make it, while also fulfilling the spiritual and emotional needs of our congregation by creating a meaningful, worshipful experience.

Whether your choice is to remain at home to worship or you will be attending the service on August 16, let us respect our varied opinions and decisions on regathering and keep each other in our prayers.

Warm regards,

Laura Mitchell