(Below is the fifth in a series of pastoral letters addressing the NWPC in the pandemic. To read previous letters click on the following links: March 13, March 26, April 17, May 21.)
Dear Siblings in Christ,
Grace to you and peace. I pray that this letter finds you well. I write to offer you words of hope, as well as important information about the future of worship at NWPC. There is good news: the Session met last evening and carefully chose a date for the resumption of in-person worship: August 2. It is quite possible that this date is farther out than some would like. It is equally possible that this date still feels “too soon.” Allow me to explain how the Session arrived at this date.
At our May meeting, even as we began to anticipate the possible move from “yellow” to “green” phases in the State’s play to reopen, the Session took to heart the old proverb, “Look before you leap.” It still wasn’t time to choose a target date, we determined. But that didn’t mean that some preliminary preparation couldn’t begin. The staff began making plans and placing orders for the supplies and materials we would need in order to open the building safely, anticipating that it would happen sometime this summer. And it’s a good thing we did, because some of the materials needed have been in very short supply. As it is, while we ordered masks, hand sanitizer, and dispensers on June 1, some of these items aren’t scheduled to be delivered until mid- to late-July. If we had waited until a return date had been chosen, we’d be starting even later than August 2.
In addition to the staff’s advance work, the Worship Committee has also met and made recommendations to the Session concerning appropriate health protocols for corporate worship, which the Session has approved. It is very important that, as you think about whether or not you feel comfortable returning to worship on August 2, you know precisely what you can expect the experience to be like. It is also important that we all keep in mind that while these changes to the worship experience may feel restrictive (and certainly mark changes from the “way we’ve always done it”), we glorify God when we love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). Our feelings of disappointment pale in comparison to the health and wellness of our siblings in Christ.
First and foremost, I feel compelled to begin by saying please do not come to church if you or anyone in your household is sick in any way. We love you, and we look forward to the day when we can greet one another in person; but, the health of everyone in the congregation and our ability to continue worshiping in person are at stake.
- We encourage you to plan to arrive at the church earlier than usual in order to allow time to get everyone seated.
- Upon arriving at the church, we ask that everyone enter through the (southeast) Church Street door, closest to the Ligo Room, unless you require the use of the handicap ramp at the northwest entrance. Please maintain a physical distance of 6 feet between yourself (or your household) and any other arriving worshipers.
- We strongly recommend that everyone wear a cloth face covering from the time you arrive at the church until the time you leave, with the exception of children under 2, those with breathing problems, and those who are unable to remove a mask on their own. We will try to provide space for those for whom wearing a mask is not possible.
- Upon entering the Ligo Room, you will encounter a hand sanitizing station. We will also have a supply of disposable masks if you forgot to bring your own.
- Any written materials provided will be handed to you by an attendant wearing mask and gloves. All that you need for the worship service will be provided by the projectors.
- As you enter the sanctuary, please wait to be seated by an usher who will work to ensure that our seating arrangements adhere to physical distancing protocols. There’s a very good chance that we will not be able to seat you in “your pew.” We apologize for this, but we trust that you understand the necessity of enabling as many people as possible into the worship space in as safe an arrangement as we can achieve.
- You will find that there are no pew Bibles, no hymnals, and no pew pads. Sharing such objects may spread viruses, so they have been removed temporarily from the sanctuary. Again, all that you need for the worship service will be provided by the projectors.
- You will notice that worship leaders in the chancel area are not wearing masks. This is to ensure that they can be heard/understood. You will also notice, however, that there will be at least 16 feet of distance between the leaders and the congregation in order to ensure your safety.
- There will be no congregational singing. This doesn’t mean there will be no music—of course there will!—but we will ask the congregation not to sing the hymns or praise songs. Instead, we recommend that you pray the lyrics silently, or hum along to the tune. Also, we will be severely limiting the size of our musical ensembles. You can expect, perhaps, a quartet rather than a choir; and far fewer voices singing in the praise team.
- Please do not leave your seats during the Passing of the Peace. Instead, find a way to convey the peace of Christ to your neighbors without approaching or touching them.
- The offering will be taken at the entrance—and you can leave yours either as you enter or as you exit. Or, if you have become accustomed to giving electronically during the offering time, those options will continue to be made available to you. Offering plates will not be passed.
- The monthly celebration of the Lord’s Supper will be suspended temporarily. When we feel comfortable that we have devised a way to serve communion safely, we will announce in advance the date of its next celebration.
- At the conclusion of worship, we will ask that you remain seated until an usher has dismissed you, in order to ensure that proper physical distance is maintained as everyone exits the building.
- Finally, as you may know, the treatment that I receive for my Multiple Sclerosis suppresses my immune system, rendering me particularly vulnerable to infection. I must be especially vigilant, and therefore will require an exceptional level of physical distancing from everyone around me. I appreciate your understanding and care.
Many people will not like these changes (I sure don’t). Some will feel uncomfortable—even anxious—about being present indoors with a gathering of people. Me, too. There has been a diversity of opinion about the timing and the methodology of returning to “reopening” society, including in-person worship, and you should know that that diversity of opinion is reflected even among the Elders on the Session. However, the vote to enact these changes was unanimous. While a diversity of opinions is to be expected, stigmatization—whether the result of a difference of opinion or a difference in life experience—is not Christlike. Like the wearing of masks in other public places, these changes to our worship experience are being undertaken out of love for one another, our first and highest calling as followers of Jesus Christ (John 13:34). If for any reason you are unable to attend or feel uncomfortable attending worship in person, we will still be live streaming our worship services and broadcasting on Titan Radio. Please know that whether you worship in the sanctuary or at home, you are no more or less valuable to God or to our congregation.
I look forward to seeing many of you on Sunday, August 2. Thank you for your patience, for your cards and calls of concern, for your kind and encouraging words over the past few months, and for your continued prayers for the staff and elected leadership of our congregation.
Yours in Christ’s Service,
Matthew L. Camlin,