Dear Church Family-
Greetings from your pastor. I’m writing to provide some clarity about our church’s plans for moving gradually into face to face gatherings beginning Sunday, June 7. I’ll give you a brief summary of our path forward. Then I’ll provide a lengthier explanation of the details of the plan and the thought process behind it in Q & A format. Finally, I’ll preach a little bit, seeking to provide some encouragement and challenge.
- Beginning Sunday, June 7, we will offer blended worship at 9am and contemporary worship at 11am. Both services will also be offered online.
- Community Groups: We encourage community groups to continue to meet online for the time being. No Sunday morning groups for now, but space is available in the facility for groups to meet at times other than Sunday morning.
- Wednesday Evening Prayer and Bible Study: We will gather in the fellowship hall at 6pm Wednesdays beginning June 10. This meeting will also be offered online.
- Ministry to Preschoolers, Kids, and Students: These ministries will continue to be primarily online for the time being.
- Music Ministry: Limited rehearsals will resume prior to June 7 with small groups/sections that can safely spread out.
- Two important clarifications:
- These plans are written in pencil, not in ink. The health situation in our community is ever-changing, and local guidelines are extremely fluid.
- Do not feel any pressure to return to the church building before you are ready to do so. Participating in online worship “counts” just as much as being at the building. Neither God nor your pastor will be disappointed in you if you continue to participate remotely!
Questions & Answers:
What steps will we take to ensure health and safety once on-campus worship resumes?
- Attendance at each service will be limited by county restrictions (currently 10% of capacity, which would mean 110 people in our worship center, though that percentage may increase before June 7). If necessary, we will set up overflow spaces for worship in our fellowship hall and/or student ministry space.
- We will block off every other pew and take other steps to maintain 6 feet of physical distance between worshippers who aren’t in the same household.
- The altered start times will allow time to clean the facility between services and reduce the potential for hallway crowding.
- Those who are sick are required to stay home, and those who are at risk due to age or medical condition are encouraged to stay home.
- We are eliminating high-touch activities (no handshakes or hugs, no greeting time, offering boxes at the back instead of passing the offering plate, no coffee or refreshments provided, no paper handouts, no Communion trays passed around, etc.).
- Worshippers are encouraged to wear masks, and masks will be provided.
How was this decision made?
- The decision was made by church staff with advice from medical professionals. From the beginning of this strange season I have relied heavily on two physicians in our church who are directly engaged in our community’s response to COVID 19 – Chris Moore (family practice physician) and Pat Liang (ER physician). There are people who are passionately convinced that we should reopen as soon as possible, and that failure to do so is a sacrifice of our freedom and a hindrance to our faith. There are others who are passionately convinced that reopening any time soon is a foolish risk and a failure to love our neighbors. I determined from the beginning that I would pray like crazy and seek to listen to all voices, but I would pay special attention to Chris and Pat. They are smarter than I am about this stuff. They recommended waiting until June, so we are waiting until June.
Jackson County has changed its policy and stated that churches can reopen now with limitations. Why are we waiting?
- Some churches are opening now. Some churches are planning to wait several months. On the advice of our medical experts, we have chosen a path between those extremes. Chris and Pat suggested waiting three additional weeks to make sure that the loosening of local restrictions does not lead to a spike in infections in our area. As ready as we are to get back together, it is wise to take that small step of caution.
Why are we delaying the resumption of on-campus Sunday morning community groups?
- This decision is a painful one, as we recognize the importance of our groups, but it is driven by limitations of our physical space. We simply don’t have enough large rooms for all of our groups to be able to safely spread out. The limited number of large rooms we do have may be needed for worship overflow space. Furthermore, having groups meeting in one part of the building and worship in other parts would lead to additional unsafe congestion in church hallways. As soon as it is safe and legal for our groups to resume face to face Sunday meetings, we will do so. In the meantime, please make the most of online meetings and/or meetings at church at times other than Sunday mornings.
What is the plan for future ministry to preschoolers, kids, and students?
- We hope to be able to offer some opportunities for face to face gatherings soon, and we will return to regular on-campus activity when that is safe and legal. Preschool ministry is honestly one of the biggest challenges for our planning: physically distanced preschool ministry is impossible, and many of the volunteers we count on in our preschool ministry are in the at-risk category for the virus.
Encouragement and Challenge:
Now for the short sermon, starting with some encouragement: You need to know that God is at work!
Though this pandemic has created more than its share of difficulties and frustrations, God has worked through it to bless our church and bless others through our church. Our online services have exponentially extended our church’s reach – they are being experienced every week by people who are not yet spiritually ready to take the step of coming to a church building (even without a pandemic) but are willing to check things out from a safe distance. Some people who were sporadic in their attendance in the building have become much more regular in taking part in livestreamed services and online groups. Online ministry will continue to be a big part of our strategy moving forward. We are the church when we are in the building; we are also the church when we are online and when we are on the go. The virus has pushed us to embrace the tool that has the greatest potential to enhance the spread of the Gospel that the world has ever seen.
Furthermore, the virus has created opportunities that we wouldn’t have otherwise had to share God’s love with our community. We have been able to bless downtown Lee’s Summit businesses, Lee’s Summit Social Services, and healthcare workers at St. Luke’s East.
We might be tempted to say that the church is closed right now, but that is simply untrue! The church is still being the church. And the impact of FBCLS for God’s Kingdom has actually INCREASED during this weird season! God is at work.
And now the challenge: Let’s work extra hard to cooperate with Christ’s work to keep us united as a church family. I’ve been concerned from the very first days of the pandemic that it could cause church unity to be at risk. People in our society, and in our church, have such strong and polarized opinions about the proper way to respond to the virus. The temptation will be strong to selfishly demand what you want, and to critique and judge folks with different convictions than yours. Satan would love to see that happen – let’s not give him the pleasure. The temptation to be unkind could be exacerbated by the fact that you’ve been locked in your house for too long, and by the fact that when you finally get back to church there will be no coffee or donuts and “your pew” might be roped off. But let’s make a commitment to God and to each other that we are going to love each other through this transition.
I love you all. I’m more honored than I can tell you to get to be your pastor. Keep praying for God to guide me as I serve and lead, and as I fulfill my role as a shepherd called to protect the flock. And know that I’ll keep praying for you. I look forward to seeing how God works next.
Grace and peace,