Your Session is very aware that many of us are now vaccinated against Covid and activities and venues are gradually reopening. Many of you are eager to return to in-person worship, and many of us are also. It is time to discuss and plan for reopening, and we began that process at our monthly meeting earlier this week.
Here are some key takeaways from that discussion:
Covid cases in Albany County are still high; higher than they were when we briefly reopened in the fall. Although many people have been vaccinated, most are still waiting for their turn. Our main concern, as it has been since the start of the pandemic, is to keep everyone safe. That means we will follow best practices and protocols, as set out by state requirements for reopening. These can be found online at https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/ReligiousandFuneralServicesSummaryGuidance.pdf . We will also follow the reopening plan developed by our own Covid Task Force, headed by Elder Trudy Hutchinson, a Doctor of Nursing, and which also included several members with experience in and knowledge of public health.
When we briefly reopened last fall, some people were not prepared for the way worship must be conducted in these “Covid Times.” It is very important to understand that when we reopen, in-person worship will look very different than the in-person worship we cherish and remember. For example:
- Everyone must wear a mask (except the Pastor while she/he is conducting the service, for audio clarity) at all times.
- In-person singing will not be possible.
- Capacity will be limited, and social distancing will be required, with 6 feet between family groups and individuals not from the same household.
- Embracing or shaking hands with those outside your household is prohibited.
- Hymnals cannot be used, and collection plates cannot be passed.
- Fellowship Time may be possible, outside and in revised form, but we are still discussing how to safely do that.
Reservations will be needed to attend worship, and we must screen folks (symptom check) before they enter the church. Ushers will need to show people to their pew. After the service, pews and shared objects must be cleaned/disinfected according to CDC and NYS Department of Health guidelines.
It is important to note that even if you are fully vaccinated, you must adhere to the requirements above in order to protect everyone.
All of this means we will need more volunteers to hold each service: one greeter/screener, two ushers, and cleaners after the service. And just as we need to know in advance who is our lay reader for a given service, we need to know in advance that volunteers for these new tasks are in place in order for reopening to work.
In the coming weeks, Session will be continuing this discussion and planning for reopening. We will be circulating a sign-up sheet for tasks needed to hold Worship, and if you are comfortable returning to in-person worship, we urge you to consider how you can help and sign up.
For those more comfortable waiting to return to in-person worship, we understand and respect your decision. We have heard from many of you that you like having the option of Zoom/hybrid worship going forward, and we plan to continue hybrid worship into the future.
Going forward, we know there are many opinions on this topic. Please let any member of Session know your thoughts we continue planning for reopening.