Dear Friends,

The Healthy Church Team continues to meet and discuss how best to implement our annual conference’s requirements for resuming in-person worship. We have submitted our written plan to the District Superintendent this week, and will keep moving forward as we await word on whether that plan is approved, or if we need to make changes.
Today, I want to identify the main protocols we are required to follow to resume in-person worship. Most of you already read about these in the survey, but we want to make sure everyone understands all that will be required.
From the latest document sent out by the Conference, the Technical Assistance Manual (emphasis added):
“Since its inception at the direction of Bishop Sharma D. Lewis, the Back to In-Person Worship Work Group of the Virginia Conference has worked to provide a comprehensive plan with a priority on loving our neighbors by first doing no harm. Using the best information and wisdom available from medical, church, governmental, and legal sources, the Work Group has emphasized four practices that have proven successful in limiting the risk of virus spread: hygiene, physical distancing, face coverings, and screening.” (For more on these practices, read this May 13 article in The New Yorker.)
By now, you know the drill: wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds, use hand sanitizer when you can’t wash, avoid touching your face, and regularly disinfect high-touch surfaces.
We hope you are practicing good hand hygiene on a regular basis, whenever you have been in shared or public spaces. The Healthy Church Team’s responsibilities focus on making sure that the church building, especially surfaces that may be touched by multiple people, is cleaned and disinfected on a regular basis.
To that end, our wonderful Custodian, Sondre McCuller, has been working diligently to sanitize everything and to keep the offices and restrooms clean for the staff who are coming into the building. One of the requirements under this section is to remove all items usually found in the pew or used during worship that would typically be touched by multiple people. So hymnals, Bibles, and attendance pads have all been removed, and will not be available during worship. This also has implications for Communion, which will look a little different (more on that in a future email), and Offering, which instead of being collected during the service, may be left in a plate in the narthex as you depart.
Beginning the week before resuming in-person worship, the Trustees have contracted with a company that provides disinfection services by means of a fogging machine. This method is safe for both people and all the various surfaces in our beautiful sanctuary, and can be carried out weekly a couple days prior to Sunday morning worship. It is important to note that no one should enter the sanctuary between the fogging process and Sunday morning in order to maintain the sanitization effect.
Physical Distancing
Physical distancing of at least six feet must be maintained between people who are not in the same family or household, at all times while on church property. This, in combination with face coverings, will help a great deal in lowering the risk of spreading the virus through respiratory droplets when we are sharing space and breathing together.
In the next few weeks, the Healthy Church Team will put together a video to show you how we plan to implement this requirement, from a volunteer in the parking lot directing arriving members to park apart from each other, to markers that help people stay 6′ apart as they wait to enter the sanctuary, to marking spaces in every 3rd pew where individuals, couples, and families may sit, to limiting restroom access to one person at a time.
We know this will feel different and awkward, especially at first. We will not be able to greet one another with hugs or handshakes, as we used to do. After so long a separation from one another, it may even be painful not to be able to come close and celebrate being together again. But we are asking all of you to follow these protocols for the good of the whole Body of Christ.
In addition to the primary motivation of keeping each other as safe and healthy as possible, we need you to know that the Conference requires that we strictly enforce all of these rules. Individuals who refuse to comply (after being reminded of the rules) will be asked to leave, and continued refusal will result in the worship service ending for that day. So we trust that you will honor the needs and interests of your sisters and brothers in Christ as we all work together to gather for worship in faith, hope, and love.
Our next email will include more details on Face Coverings and Screening, and future messages will also speak more to what worship itself will look and feel like. For now, please continue to hold us in prayer, as we pray for all of you.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you now and always.
Grace and peace in Christ,
Rev. Candee Martin, Rev. Kerry Greenhill, Jeremy Hooten, Meg Moore, Richard and Carolyn Slye
First UMC Healthy Church Team