An Update on Church Reopening

May 26, 2020

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Many weeks into this season of pandemic, I pray that you and your loved ones remain well. It is a time of extraordinary challenge for all of us and each of us has found different ways of responding to the unique stresses it presents. However you have been coping, know that God remains with us and that the promise of hope in Christ continues to shine through the love and faithfulness and compassion and generosity we have seen in so many ways.

I want to let you know how things stand with our congregation.  We continue to offer at-home worship, available by computer, mobile phone, or landline telephone, through Zoom and Facebook.  20-25 folks have been attending or viewing these services each week.  If you haven’t tried them, I hope you will soon join us.  Our choir has also met online and has been recording a special anthem offering as well as composing a brand-new anthem of lament and hope for these times.  Through the C’ville Community ID Program, we have been able to provide vital ID cards to a handful of individuals in emergency situations and will continue to do that on a case-by-case basis.  Your faithful generosity has been a tremendous blessing, and not only have we been able to continue to pay all our staff, we are also (for the first time in a long time!) current on our Conference and District Apportionments!  Praise God for the gifts by which we remain in ministry even through these most challenging circumstances.

Since Governor Northam lifted some restrictions on churches, I am sure you are wondering what comes next for our church.  The Virginia Annual Conference was early to assemble a planning team with medical and legal expertise to advise on the process or re-opening our churches.  We are currently in Phase 1, which allows in-person worship only for a limited number of “pioneer” churches to test out procedures with small groups of 10 people or less at a time.  Very strict distancing and hygiene protocols are in place for those services, while others have chosen to hold drive-in services at which everyone must remain in their cars at all times.  For the moment, our Church Council has decided to stick with the online-only format.  When the state reaches Phase 2, more options will become available to us, but very strict distancing and hygiene requirements will still apply, numbers will be limited, and vital activities such as singing and taking the Lord’s Supper will not be possible.  Although some businesses and leaders are pushing to “get back to life” there is currently no vaccine and no treatment for this disease and the risk to individuals who contract the disease remains very high.  There is currently no way to know how long it will be before we are able to return to anything resembling “normal.”

In the meantime, our own Healthy Church Team has assembled and is reviewing the Conference guidance on how we chart a path through the stages of reopening.  Please pray for this team as they consider the many responsibilities and requirements that are essential to keeping everyone as safe and healthy as possible.  While we undertake this work, all other programs and activities remain closed, including the Scouts, Family Kitchen and the Clothes Closet.  Because we have a duty to ensure that the church is kept clean and germ-free and to document any potential exposures to COVID-19, access to the building is restricted as well. Under current guidance, anyone other than Church Staff or select Trustees must obtain authorization from the Pastor before entering the building for any reason. All persons entering the building must wear a face covering, wash their hands frequently, and maintain a distance of 6 feet from anyone of a different household.  Anyone entering the building will be asked to self-monitor and complete or update a Health Acknowledgement Form.

These requirements, while perhaps onerous and unfamiliar to us used to thinking of our church as “home,” may be difficult to accept. It is important that we remember our role in the community as an example of best practice and loving behavior.  Our scriptural mandate is to “do no harm” and to “do all the good we can” as we “stay in love with God.”  This places on us a special burden to hold everyone’s safety as our utmost priority.  In just three months, the COVID-19 pandemic has become the leading cause of death in the United States and the majority of our congregation is in the higher-risk category because of age or pre-existing medical condition.  It is estimated that possibly more than half of those carrying this deadly virus are presenting without visible symptoms.  For all of these reasons, the Conference Protocols are not recommendations and they are not optional.  There are to be no exceptions regardless of church size or location and the consequence of any violation will be complete closure of the church property until compliance is achieved.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and for supporting our Healthy Church Team in all of their efforts to keep us safe.  Please know that my prayers are with you and that we yearn for the day we can be together again in worship and fellowship.  Thank you for continuing to look after one another and doing all you can to keep your own home and family safe.  Please let me know of any way I can support or assist you during this difficult time.

As Paul wrote to the church in Thessaloniki, “As for us, brothers and sisters, when, for a short time, we were made orphans by being separated from you—in person, not in heart—we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face.” (1 Thess 2:17).  May the peace of Christ fill your heart with all joy and thanksgiving as you are kept by the Spirit’s tether close to the heart of our loving Father.

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Robert D. Lewis