A Message from the Session on Reopening
This past Thursday evening, June 11, your Session met in special session to discuss returning to worship in our church building. As you may have heard, Governor Cuomo announced on Saturday, June 6, that houses of worship in counties which are in Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan may move to holding services of worship at 25% capacity of the building.
That means according to the government, we can reopen, but the real question is should we and are we ready to reopen? What must we accomplish before we can return to our church building for worship? How do we provide a safe environment for worship? As the Albany Presbytery put it: “Each church has an ethical responsibility to determine its readiness (to reopen for worship) in light of biblical teaching, the movement of the Holy Spirit combined with public health, denominations, and governmental guidance … your readiness to re-open is not determined by the Governor—it is determined by you.”
After much discussion, and after reviewing a number of religious and public health sources, Session has decided that there is too much risk presented by COVID-19 to return to the sanctuary this summer. Discussion is continuing about when and how we might return to worship in our building. Many factors — spiritual, practical and public health-based — are important and factor into these decisions. Here are a few.
In order to open, our worship would be dramatically different. Everyone over the age of 2 would need to wear masks, and masks would need to be made available for those who forget theirs or lack one. Capacity would be limited to 50 people total (25% of our listed capacity of 200 in the sanctuary). Individuals or family groups would need to be 6 feet apart. Singing and praying aloud (these project aerosols into the air, which is believed to be a major way the virus spreads) would not be possible, and pew bibles and hymnals would need to be removed. The Sanctuary would need to be cleaned between services. There can be no physical contact between worshippers (shaking hands, laying on of hands, etc.). Ushers would need to be “trained” in new protocols so they could remind members and visitors alike what is OK and what is not OK. Communal food, such as at Fellowship Hour, could not be served. Communion would be difficult. And there is more.
The music program would be particularly limited. Until there is a cure or vaccine, the choir cannot sing, since all information about how the virus is transmitted indicates that singing in close proximity to others is one of the easiest ways to transmit it. Also, musical instruments (like brass or woodwinds) that require blowing air are not OK.
Cleaning protocols must be ramped up. The church office — at a minimum — will need to be cleaned every day it is open. The sanctuary will need to be cleaned between services. What about the restrooms? The Nursery? The Fellowship Room?
All of these new protocols must be documented in a plan developed before we can reopen, and the plan must be made available to public health authorities on our premises. The plan’s contents and questions are listed by and required by the state.
Clearly, we have a lot to do before we can safely resume worship in person. In order to begin the process of reopening and to help keep the congregation informed and involved, we have formed a COVID-19 Task Force to review the information available, assess risks involved in reopening, and formulate a possible plan for implementation to share with the congregation. Elder Trudy Hutchinson has agreed to chair this group, which also includes Steve Smith, George Hannett and Sue Smith. We would like 1 more person to participate; if you are interested, please contact Trudy directly or call the church office. We also will be adding a COVID-19 section to our website to keep you informed.
In closing, we ask you to focus on the positive things these challenging times have brought. It is a joy to see so many people at worship each Sunday — especially those who often cannot join us in person. When we are back in our Sanctuary, we plan to look at ways to continue to offer online services as well as inperson services. This pause has also given some of our Ministry Teams an opportunity to come up with new ideas and plans — stay tuned! And, even though as a congregation we skew older, we have discovered that we can learn new technology and make it work for us. As Pastor Janice says, we are resilient!
Through all of the uncharted territory of this pandemic, it’s important to recognize that things may change quickly, requiring us to adjust our plans on short notice. We must be attentive to God’s voice and direction. Let us be faithful, then—to God and to one another—as we receive the gifts and work through the challenges of this time in the life of our congregation and world. Let us be guided by the Word, responsive to the Spirit, and open to the grace of God. Let us remember that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus. We are all God’s Children, and we need to keep each other healthy.
- Bill Hasselbarth
- Trudy Hutchinson
- Nancy Messersmith
- Henry Montgomery
- Steve Smith
- Karen Williamson
- Nina Zanetti
- Ron Messersmith, Clerk of Session
- Rev. Janice West, Moderator