Pastoral Letter on the
Resumption of Public Worship
August 24, 2020
Brothers and Sisters,
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. On March 12, 2020, as the Coronavirus Pandemic began to make its effects known, our Bishop, the Reverend Hope Morgan Ward, requested that we suspend public worship in the best interests of community health and as a means of exemplifying our Methodist tradition of “doing no harm.” In recent days, we received a document from the Bishop’s Office entitled “A Model for Renewing Face-to-Face Community and Worship” whose recommendations provide a framework for the resumption of public worship. In consultation with the Administrative Council, we have decided to resume public worship, within the constraints of certain guidelines and procedures beginning at 10:00 A.M. on August 30, 2020. That said, between now and June 30th, we will closely monitor unfolding conditions, to see if any additional postponements might prove necessary. So, what will the resumption of public worship look like at First United Methodist Church of Sneads Ferry?
On arrival at church, or beforehand, we ask that you wear an appropriate mask or face-covering. If you do not have a mask or face covering, we will make every effort to provide you with one on arrival. The use of a mask is not intended as an infringement upon your personal rights or sense of dignity, but should be considered an “act of compassion and care” for those around you, particularly for those who are most vulnerable and susceptible to illness.
You may enter the church either through the main sanctuary doors or through the fellowship hall/ main office doors. Everyone entering the sanctuary will be scanned by the ushers with a laser thermometer. If the thermometer indicates the presence of a fever (100 degrees Fahrenheit or greater), we will ask that you forgo public worship for two weeks and instead worship with us via podcast. Again, our intent is not to exclude anyone but to create the healthiest environment possible given our current, even unprecedented, circumstances. The ushers will seat all worshipers by household maintaining a social distance of six feet between households. Because of social distancing requirements, we may have to limit the amount worshipers present in the sanctuary. Should we have more worshipers than we can accommodate, we will direct people to overflow seating or schedule additional Sunday services.
The usage of restrooms will be limited during the initial phases of re-opening. The hall restrooms will be closed, while the restrooms off the narthex (the sanctuary lobby) will be open in the event of an absolute necessity. Because the restrooms will need to be disinfected between each individual use, we ask you to mindful of this reality.
For the time being, a number of basic changes will be made to our worship practices in the interest of public health. First, we will forgo sharing signs of Christian hospitality within the context of worship. In other words, we will discourage hugs and handshakes. However, you may certainly turn to your neighbors, greet them and speak with them. In fact, you are encouraged to do so. Second, the children’s message will be temporarily discontinued in accord with Conference guidance. Third, public singing will also be temporarily suspended in accord with Conference guidance. Hymns and music will still be played and a soloist, whether myself or a chorally-inclined volunteer, will sing the hymns and responses on the congregation’s behalf. Fourth, we will not physically pass the offering plate. Instead, the offering plate will be placed, on a stand, by the sanctuary doors. You may place your offering into the plate on either your entry into the sanctuary or upon your departure. We will still dedicate the gifts in the course of the service. Sixth, a limited number of bulletins will be printed, therefore, you are encouraged to use the screen as much as possible. Seventh, in the interest of maintaining proper social distance, there will be no receiving line and no unnecessary congregating in the narthex following the service. The ushers will dismiss each row of worshipers in a manner similar to what is commonly practiced at a wedding. You will be asked to depart by the door through which you entered. For those who would like to speak with me following the service, I will position myself outside (weather permitting). Finally, the Sacrament of Holy Communion will not be celebrated in September. We will resume our celebrations of the Sacrament, conditions permitting, in October. If you wish to receive the sacrament between the reception of this letter and October 4th, please contact the church office and arrangements will be made.
Please note that the various conditions placed on our attendance and practice of public worship are not intended to be permanent. As the crisis abates, we will prayerfully modify our conditions and practices in response. While some of these conditions may seem daunting, onerous, or even nit-picky, they are meant to provide a relatively safe pathway on the return to normalcy in our worship life together. Think of them as guardrails. While they do not magically grant us immunity from trouble or difficulties, they are most certainly a good thing to have on the way down the proverbial mountain. Even with these guidelines and procedures, we are aware that many in our parish may still feel uncomfortable about venturing out into public due to age and infirmity. If you are one of those people, please don’t fret or feel the need to rush right back because the church doors are open. We will continue to produce a podcast, perhaps even a recording of the public worship service that you can listen to at home. We simply want you to be safe and to know that your community cares deeply about you. We look forward to the day when you feel comfortable enough to rejoin us in the sanctuary. You are not alone. None of us is alone. God is always with us.
Yours in Christ,
Reverend Robert W. Licht
Pastor, First United Methodist Church of Sneads Ferry