On Tuesday, June 30th, the Session voted to postpone reopening
for in-person worship through August 1st.
Q. Who made the decision to target June 14 as the reopening date?
A. The decision was made by the Session – the elected Elders of the Church. The Session members were in unanimous agreement on the motion to set June 14 as the TARGET date, allowing for unforeseen changes in the external environment or lack of readiness with regard to our planning, staffing, or supplies.
Q. Why June 14, and why was it set as a “target,” not a firm date?
A. At the point at which guidance was received from the Presbytery, the Session considered many factors. These included the desire to respond to the strong wish of many to return to in-person worship; the demographics of our congregation (70% or more of members in the highest risk group); the external situation with regard to cases and deaths from COVID-19 in our county; and our ability to complete a plan and secure supplies for re-opening. After extensive discussion, the June 14 date was agreed upon. Making the date a “target” was important because of the volatility of the virus situation and our uncertainty about potential roadblocks to our preparations that might be encountered. Due to the rise of the number of cases in Palm Beach County, the Session voted to postpone to August 2nd, the reopening for in-person worship.
Q. Why does preparing for re-opening take several weeks?
A. Based on extensive guidance from the Presbytery of Tropical Florida, there are many aspects of re-opening that must be considered, addressed, and prepared for in order to keep everyone safe as we reopen. The Presbytery has requested that we submit a full plan to their office before opening our doors. Some of the challenges are planning for social distancing as congregants approach, enter and move inside the building; putting in place rigorous processes for sanitation and disinfection; and developing creative and safe ways to conduct Communion, baptisms, and the collection of offerings. While our appointed Commission has made excellent progress on the plan, there are elements that require time to put in place, such as hiring additional cleaning staff and assuring we will have sufficient ushering staff.
Q. Who is actually creating the plan for re-opening?
A. A subgroup of three Elders was elected by the Session to work with key church staff (Dr. Hood, Rev. Rapier, Grace Hood, and Nancy Fine) to develop the plan. They are consulting with both internal church resources and external resources to inform their work. The Elders chosen to work on the Commission are Anne Gaudrée, Mary Martinéz, and Jim Whitaker. Together, they bring a wide range of experience and talents that are serving us very well in this work.
Q. When will we know if the church will actually open on June 14?
A. You will be informed by letter and electronically (Facebook, website) by June 13 if there is any change to this date. On Saturday, June 30th, the Session voted to postpone until August 2nd the reopening for in-person worship.
Q. What if I don’t feel comfortable returning to
in-person worship in mid-June, if that is when re-opening begins?
A. That is perfectly okay! We want all congregants to make the decision to return in person based on what is best for them and their loved ones. We encourage you to continue to worship virtually until you are truly comfortable that it is safe for you to return. We will welcome you back whenever that is, and be in spiritual communion with you until you return.
Q. Will there still be on-line streaming of the worship service?
A. Yes! We consider this to be a vital part of our ministry and it has proven to be extremely important in this time when people have been asked to stay at home or feel that they need to do so for their best safety.
Q. What is the church doing to make it safe for congregants to return?
A. Key adaptations include: having all attendees wear masks; laying out a people traffic and seating map that enables social distancing; organizing and training ushers; placing additional hand sanitizing stations inside and outside the building; and hiring a special cleaning team to maintain disinfection in restrooms and on all surfaces that may be touched during the worship time. Modifications to the offering, Communion, baptism, bulletin distribution and greeting practices described elsewhere in this Q&A will also contribute to the safety of all. In addition, we are suspending some of our usual activities in this first phase of reopening, including Sunday School, youth groups, and use of our full choir.
Q. How will the church reduce the chance that someone who is carrying the virus might attend our in-person worship?
A. First, we are asking anyone who has any symptoms of illness not to attend. Second, we are putting in place all the safeguards communicated here. Experts now say that masks and social distancing, coupled with good air circulation, are the most important ways in which we can prevent the virus from spreading. We believe we are taking a very conservative approach that will offer a significant amount of protection for everyone who chooses to attend. We will ask – and require – that everyone who wants to join us in person adhere to the rules that we are putting in place.
Q. Will there be a limit on the number of people who are allowed to attend each service, and if so, how will I know that I will be able to get in if I make the trip to the church?
A. Yes, the capacity will be reduced. We will be marking off sections throughout the church so that we may seat people at an acceptable social distance (we are using 6 feet). With these changes, we will be able to accommodate about 150 people. However, we believe this will be sufficient for this season and given that not all congregants will not be comfortable returning on June 14. We will be monitoring closely to see if we need to make changes to our current plan (for example, expanding seating to Fellowship Hall). Right now, we don’t anticipate having to turn anyone away.
Q. How many services are we going to have?
A. For the months of June through October we will follow our usual schedule for this time of year and have only one service. See the previous question for more information.
Q. With only one entrance being used, will I have to stand in line to get into the building? How will this be organized?
A. To do a good job at social distancing, we are using only the entrance by the covered drop-off and will need to control the flow of people up to the entrance and into the Narthex and Sanctuary. So, it is possible you might have to wait a short time. The places will be marked where you should stand – just like going into some of our local stores. Some of these positions will be under the cover of the portico, but some will be beyond it. So, we suggest two things: arrive early, not at the last minute, and depending on the weather, bring along an umbrella to protect yourself from rain or sun. We will give priority to seating those who cannot stand for any length of time or use a device to assist with mobility – there will not be a wait for these individuals.
Q. Will I be required to wear a mask while I am on the church property/in the church buildings? What if I don’t have one with me?
A. Yes, you will need to wear a mask. We know this is unnatural and uncomfortable, but with 70% or more of our congregation in the highest risk groups, we must all be as careful as we can. Just think of it as a way of showing your Christian love in a real and tangible way. Once you enter our doors, it’s not a symbol of anything but that. If we all do it, we are all much safer.
Since most people have masks at this point, we ask you to bring your own to the service with you. For those who might be guests and unaware, or those who forget, we do have a limited number of new, packaged masks available.
Q. Will I be able to sit where I usually do in the Sanctuary?
A. Unfortunately, the answer is most likely, “no.” The only way that social distancing can work in a setting like our Sanctuary is to block off certain sections and seats and fill the Sanctuary from the front to the back. We appreciate everyone’s willingness to be flexible so that all who want to come back to in-person worship will be seated at a safe distance.
Q. I understand that there will not be congregational singing – why not?
A. A number of serious incidents of infection have been linked to choir rehearsals or performances. Singing projects the dangerous pathogens further than normal speaking. Also, we know from the research studies that the masks worn by most of us don’t block all the possible infection droplets. So, to be as safe as possible, we are asking that if the Spirit moves you to join in with our soloists, you to hum or sing very softly behind your mask. By having only soloists offer our music ministry, we are reducing the risk and logistical challenge that would come with having our full choir. Soloists and the congregation are protected by social distancing; soloists wear masks when not performing.
Q. Will there be any changes to the practice of ushers handing out bulletins?
A. Yes. because there is some chance that paper can pass the virus, we have come up with an alternate approach. Bulletins will be placed on all the seats that will be available for the service approximately 72 hours in advance of the service (considerably more time than suggested as sufficient for dissipation of the virus on paper materials). Because we are removing all printed materials from the pews – hymnals, Bibles, and cards for prayer requests, etc. – the bulletins will contain all the information you need for the service.
Q. Will there be passing of the offering plates?
A. No, we are modifying our usual offering practice. Offering plates will be set up on several tables/small stands in the Narthex so that you can deposit your offering before or after the worship service. As always, you can also give online.
Q. How can we safely greet our pastors and fellow worshippers?
A. Based on our social distancing practice, we ask worshippers to use ways of greeting each other that do not involve proximity or physical conflict. Our pastors will be placing their hands over their hearts as they move through the Sanctuary before the service (keeping social distance), and you may want to use this gesture. A wave or other gesture will be fine!
Q. Will there be Sunday School or youth activities?
A. Sunday School, Bible Bunch, and Nursery will not be held during this first phase of our re-opening (through end of October). There will be no in-person youth groups meeting or young adult events in this timeframe.
Q. Will we be able to take Communion?
A. Yes! We will be conducting Communion on the first Sunday of the month, as usual, but through a “self-serve” process. When you enter the Narthex, you will pick up a stack of two cups: the bottom with the bread and the top half filled with juice. The elements will be prepared by individuals wearing gloves and masks. During the Communion portion of worship, you will partake as you normally would from the containers you have brought into the Sanctuary with you.
Q. How long will all of the practices described here be kept in place?
A. Our current plan is expected to be in place from now until the end of October. During this timeframe the Session and staff will be working on a “phase 2” plan. It is also quite possible that modifications may be made in the June to October timeframe if the Session believes that external circumstances warrant it.