Worship in Uncertain Times
It was wonderful to be able to gather in outdoor worship while the weather lasted. I am grateful for all who were able to come and worship in-person with masks and responsible distancing as well as the many who followed along online and chimed in to say hello. We the Church are being a community in so many new ways and the flexibility of the faithful is a blessing.
As the weather turns, we are moving back to virtual worship. A few people have called to ask me why we haven’t gone straight back into indoor, in-person worship and I have explained that there are several reasons for this decision:
- Partly due to the pandemic, our usual cleaning service here at St. Luke’s is no longer available to us. This means that normal custodial duties are not happening. This includes dusting, vacuuming, taking out trash, and battling the many cobwebs as well as the new measures of sanitization for COVID purposes. The trustees are looking for a new service and have been generously giving their time to prepare the building for one-time events like hosting voting for the city of Essexville, but it is not an option to have weekly services until we have a reliable and regular custodial plan in place. Beyond the danger of things like spider bites and allergic reactions, it is now flu season and the pandemic is not over. Part of being the Church is caring for each other and keeping each other healthy, which includes not having an unsafe space in which to worship.
- The configuration of the sanctuary (bolted-down pews in a rectangle) does not allow for a lot of creativity in physical distancing, and the newest guidelines from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services require that we only gather at 20% capacity. For St. Luke’s sanctuary, this is right around 40 people. Given that we had 50 at in-person worship, we will have to create a system by which we limit the number of people who attend services on Sunday to fit the MDHHS guidelines. I am currently working with the finance team to have a calling system that might allow for this.
- Part of the capacity will have to include ushers who are trained to guide people in the necessary distancing, track who is attending in case of the need for contact tracing, and remind people to have their masks covering nose and mouth. I have had not had the opportunity to meet with the ushers to discuss this training.
- Bay County remains in high risk of COVID incidents and this is a congregation of predominantly high-risk members. Most of St. Luke’s is older and many have existing factors that would complicate an illness, so an overabundance of caution is far better than a lack of it.
Some have stated that I do not want us to gather as though I am purposely holding the congregation in isolation and thereby preventing worship and community. This could not be further from the truth; having come into this congregation in the middle of the pandemic, I still have not met many of you and keenly feel the gap left by not being able to have in-person worship. However, I am charged with the safety and wellbeing of this congregation and I will not risk our health unnecessarily. For the time being, we will remain virtual as we Livestream on Facebook and upload services later to YouTube for any who wish to listen at a time other than Sunday morning. You do not have to have a Facebook or YouTube account to view either. For those of you with a Facebook account, it is a joy to see you comment that you are present and part of worship in this sprawling body of faith and I cherish your engagement with the services.
If you would like to help any of the above things move more quickly, the trustees and ushers, and staff would appreciate constructive participation. You’re welcome to email me (email@example.com) or call the office (989-893-8031) and I will connect you with cleaning, training, or planning for eventual in-person worship. If you have further questions, I am willing to answer what I can with the recognition that I did not cause this pandemic and cannot predict what will happen next with it.
If you have other suggestions of how we can continue to be the Church in this time of newness, please do reach out and I will be happy to help support your vision for mission, community, and involvement. For those missing the more social aspect of Sunday mornings, I encourage you to gather with each other on front porches and back lawns and wherever responsible distancing allows; the Church is not confined to its building and our God moves among us in surprising and wonderful ways. May the Spirit move in you, siblings in Christ, as we learn and relearn this life of faith together.
Rev. Jenaba D. Waggy