Ministry, like many jobs, has elements for which you cannot prepare. I remember some of those early ministry opportunities like the first funeral I officiated, or the first wedding. Sure, we talked about how to design the services during seminary. But, that is mainly a theoretical exercise. The thing about those ministry experiences is that there are relationships and emotions at play which simply cannot be simulated in the classroom. In some ways those initial experiences prepared me for these past many weeks. In other ways they did not and could not.
It has been said many times that none of my colleagues, or myself, have ever pastored a church through a pandemic before. Therefore, we have all had to make the best decisions we could at the time, often with limited answers and overwhelming questions. I greatly appreciate the support of my colleagues in the Disciples of Christ, and throughout ministry who have worked tirelessly to share their experiences and wisdom during this time. Especially early on I tried to reciprocate by sharing what I had learned about microphones, sound systems, and even broadcasting from my years working in radio stations as a DJ and a broadcast engineer. I also have been overwhelmed by your words of encouragement and notes of love and support. They have helped tremendously during these trying and uncertain times.
Over the past two months I have done enough research to write a term paper. That research has increased substantially over the past several weeks as we have navigated our way through the first two phases of our re-entry plan. The cases of COVID-19 have shown a steady decline for almost a month now (both in the state and in the US as a whole,) and the virus has (thus far) been very minor in Webster County. Therefore, we are preparing to enter Phase 3 beginning on June 1st, barring any sudden resurgence.
Phase three means opening the church facilities for in-person worship. There will still be many changes to our worship. Many experts have cautioned against singing together, so we will heed that advice until such time as we are comfortable that it is safe. We will maintain physical distancing by keeping six feet of separation between families and only sitting in every second or third pew, depending on what the measuring tape says. We will not pass the offering plate, or communion trays, but an offering tray and the communion elements will be available to you at the rear of the sanctuary. And the order of service will be abbreviated to limit the time we spend in close physical proximity.
Additionally, we will continue to stream the worship services to Facebook and offer at least an audio feed for Go-To-Meeting. A member of the congregation has donated some equipment which should enable us to stream a fairly robust version of our service (if the internet bandwidth will allow) and I will be working on the technical aspects of that in the coming days.
If you are feeling at all uneasy about returning to worship at this time, please continue to take advantage of the virtual offerings. It is VERY IMPORTANT that you also stay home if you are feeling sick or believe you may have been exposed to COVID-19. Churches have been hot spots for the spread of the virus, and we certainly DO NOT want that to happen here. Should this plan need to be modified, or postponed, we will use the phone tree, Facebook, and the church website to share that information.
May God continue to walk with us as we diligently seek to be witnesses to the Good News of Jesus Christ and work to co-create, with God, God’s beloved community here on earth.