I don’t know about you but I am almost in information overload. This week has felt a bit like when we initially went into COVID-19 mode- things have started changing rapidly and information is coming at me faster than I can get it all read. But we are approaching a transition point in our new reality and it’s time to update our Boone UMC community about what is happening and share with you how we are approaching this transition.
First let me start by saying how much I miss seeing your smiling faces and hearing your voices in person. Some of you I have been able to stay in contact via Zoom groups we are a part of or phone calls we have shared. But many of you I have not had that opportunity and I miss you.
At the same time I feel the tension of longing to reconnect with my church family and wanting to Do No Harm with safe practices while the COVID-19 continues to circulate around us. Many of you have shared with me this same tension. Let me share with you how our church is approaching making decisions about opening back up and why because as with most things, we may not all be on the exact same page regarding these decisions.
How and why we make the decisions we will make is as important as the actual decisions we make as a church. We the church should be leading the way by modeling a path forward that is safe, compassionate, and cares for the most vulnerable that others can follow. As a church we should also be modeling opening faithfully not just safely. And as Boone UMC we should look to our mission and vision as a guide to see if our decisions are helping us to “love our community.” Are our decisions helping us to “invite others to discover live in Christ”? Are our decisions helping others to become “transformed disciples living for the transformation of hearts, the church, our community and the world?” I hope each decision along the way the answer is an easily recognizable YES!
As I have observed what we have already done with innovative online ministry that has taken place with little preparation I am thankful for the amazing staff team serving this church currently. They have been working so hard to provide worship, pastoral care, study, spiritual formation and connection. Thank you for the ways in which you have engaged, offered us grace and feedback and adapted along with us! One of the most powerful lessons this new reality has revealed as that our church has never been closed! While most of our building has been closed down for 2 months the Church is not primarily a building. The church is our people in mission together. That has not stopped for one single minutes since early March! So while we may be discussing how we begin to use our church building again, we are not talking about restarting church. It never stopped!
One of the biggest questions on our minds is when can we start worshipping in person again? Currently we are remaining in our present status of no in-person indoor worship or on-site indoor ministry at the church through June 30th (exclusions being current preparing Thursday Night Dinner take-out meals). Any exceptions to on-site ministry will be approved by our Health and Safety Team and church leadership. While there are some mixed messages between some of the decision makers guiding us, we know that churches have been given permission to operate again in person. But just because we can doesn’t mean we should at this moment. So how are we making decisions at Boone UMC in order to guide our transition towards in-person ministry opportunities? We are following the directives of Bishop Leeland of the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. We are following the laws and ordinances as provided by Governor Roy Cooper of NC as well as any local ordinances that might differ from the state recommendations and requirements. We are following CDC recommendations for forming our own protocols. And we have created a Health and Safety Team in order to make recommendations for what is best for BUMC. The members of that team include Marshall Ashcraft , Lida Boren, Claire Cline, Lisa DeLaurentiis, Adam Hege, Lory Beth Huffman, Susan Milhaupt, Susan Shirley, and Scott St. Clair. A great group of doctors, nurses, school/University, public health, business, worship and staff representatives. Here is what the team is currently working on:
1) Creating a cleaning protocol for the building
2) Creating a daily screening protocol for all on site staff
3) Creating a worship in-person protocol
4) Creating a relationship with the Health Department for any guidance they can provide when/if we ever need to do Contact Tracing
5) Creating a list of all BUMC ministries and rating them High/Medium/Low Risk in order to determine how we will phase ministries back in
6) Processing the results of the congregational survey
So when will be able to worship in person again? We are working on that. The difficult truth for our church is it will be a little while. With the size of our church and the current recommendations for appropriate social distancing practices and cleaning/sanitizing recommendations, it is not feasible for us to pull off in-person worship with a sense of spiritual integrity, worship quality, and physical safety. Worship like we knew it is a long way off and may never exist completely like it did before. One of the questions I read in a helpful article by Alex Shanks this week encouraged church leaders to ask: What are the essential worship elements that express who we are and who we believe God to be, and how can we ensure those are done authentically in this new model? Until the worship team believes we can offer essential worship in this new model authentically, we will continue to offer you the very best we can in Online worship. We will consider creative possibilities with some special opportunities to worship outdoors this summer. But our online capabilities currently are in the sanctuary so that limits us to live-streaming from the sanctuary. And the last thing we want to create for the Boone community is a COVID-19 hotspot because our desire to gather in-person was more important than protecting the wellbeing of our community or our staff. So for now, we will continue to develop Sunday morning worship and Wednesday evening opportunities on-line. And we will continue to make preparations for worshipping on-site.
But we will look for ways to safely bring folks together in person. I promise you that. We just ask for your patience. And we encourage folks to connect into a small group because those groups will be able to come back in person before our large worship experiences will. Let us help you get connected if you are not currently. Email me! Reach out to any of our staff if you need anything.
To see our latest updates as we move forward you can always check out our COVID-19 page on our website and in our church app. You will find the latest information from the Conference and District as well as recommendations from CDC and other helpful resources. We will update you on BUMC decisions and any changes to our current plan of action. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to reach out to me or our staff.
In the meantime I invite you to join me in continued prayer and discernment as we await that glorious but right moment to worship God together as the gathered community in-person. Make no mistake about it, we are still worshipping God on Sunday mornings as the gathered community connected by the Holy Spirit in our kitchens or living rooms or backyards. I pray that the Holy Spirit continues to bless you and your family, keep you safe, surround you with peace, and comfort the lonely, sick or grieving. Know that if I could, I would give you a big bear hug filled with God’s love. But for now, a virtual fist bump will have to do.
Grace and Peace,