It has been too long since we have seen one another in person! Due to COVID-19 and the inherent risks that accompany a pandemic, we suspended in-person worship for the past 13 weeks. During this time, our Worship team stepped up to offer online worship on the Disciples United Methodist Church public Facebook page that Steven Mathena has named, “VURCH”. – Virtual Church. We are so thankful that Disciples is blessed with wonderful, willing, talented people who have worked tirelessly over these weeks of VURCH to keep us all connected and worshipping together -even if we weren’t physically together.
Sunday School classes have found ways to meet virtually as well, thanks to the leadership of members who know how to use available technology to host meetings. We are again thankful for this leadership from within our congregation, and the creativity and willingness to adapt to our new normal.
Bishop Holston has given permission for us to begin in-person worship, with precautions. Congregations with high-risk populations (persons age 65 and above, African Americans and those who may have underlying health conditions) are asked to be especially cautious as to when and how we return. Obviously, Disciples has many persons who are considered at-risk.
We have received guidelines for re-opening from our Conference (28 pages of guidelines), and we will adhere to them as part of caring for one another – even as Jesus asked us to do. Some may seem excessive, others may wish we were doing more, but we are asking everyone to adhere to the guidelines so that Church may be a place of hope and healing, not a place of anxiety and illness.
We plan to begin in-person activities in phases. Our first phase will begin on Sunday, June 21 – Father’s Day – with Drive-in Church. Our Church Council members were invited to a dress rehearsal of Drive-in Church this past Sunday, and we believe we are ready to invite you back to be a part of this first phase of re-opening. We have secured a low-frequency FM band (87.9FM) that allows us to broadcast on our property and offers the ability to sit in your vehicle here in our parking lot for our regular Sunday morning worship. You may also bring a chair (and wear a hat or bring an umbrella for sun control) and sit, 6 feet apart, in our parking lot. We have an amplification system that allows us to be heard across our lot if you prefer to roll down your window or sit outside.
We ask everyone to wear a mask and maintain 6 feet of distance when talking with someone else. Yes, masks are uncomfortable, but masks have been proven to reduce the spread of droplets that can carry COVID-19. The purpose of masks is not to protect you, but to protect others – something that Jesus would approve, I am sure. If you simply can’t bring yourself to wear a mask, please continue to join us on VURCH from the comfort of your home.
Because singing greatly increases the distance that droplets carry, we will only have one hymn during our service, and our closing chorus. We ask that you sing softly, and we prefer that you wear a mask when singing to prevent the spread of droplets – even outside. When we return to in-person worship we will not have congregational singing until we are told that it is safe to do so.
I want to thank for sending in your tithes, gifts and offerings and invite you to continue to do so. We will have someone stationed at each exit with a bucket if you wish to bring your offering to Drive-in Church. Simply roll down your window as you exit the parking lot and drop it in the bucket.
We are aware that rain will cause us to suspend Drive-in Church on any given Sunday, but we will still VURCH. We won’t announce if we are cancelling outside worship on a rainy day. If you go outside and it is raining, consider it cancelled for that day. We have a piano and electronic equipment that does not need to be outside in the rain.
We will not resume in-person Sunday School or other activities in our buildings during Phase I. The extra cleaning and supplies required for inside activities, along with the reduced seating capacity due to mandatory social distancing, makes coming back inside a real challenge. Inside worship will be part of Phase II, and will hopefully begin sometime this summer. We are watching the virus numbers and what’s happening in our area (currently Greenville is a hotspot) to determine exactly when to begin Phase II.
Again, I understand that we want to get back to normal, but this is our new normal for now. I do encourage you to find a few people (10 or less) and form small groups for fellowship and study. Just because being together in one big group isn’t safe right now doesn’t mean you can’t get together in small groups. Just remember that we are showing our care and concern for one another when we follow recommendations from the experts to slow the spread of the virus.
I am aware that other churches are doing things differently, and that is fine. Remember when your parents used to ask, “If “so-and-so” jumped off a bridge, would you do it?” We are not any other congregation – we are uniquely Disciples – and we must do what is right for us right now. The Book of Discipline gives the Pastor of a local congregation authority over worship. As your Pastor and a Registered Nurse with 43 years of experience, I am following the required precautions and adapting our life together as I feel led, with much prayer. I wish we could just forget about all of this pandemic business and get back to the way things were – when Church felt like Church – but we all know that is neither responsible nor possible right now. I simply ask that you trust me as your Pastor to do what is best for ALL of us.
Pray for me, as I continue to pray for you. If you are uncomfortable coming to Drive-in Church, feel free to continue to participate in VURCH from your home. I simply ask that we all do everything in our power to look out for the well-being of others, which includes wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and staying faithful in the midst of change. Remember - in spite of all the changes, God is still God, Jesus still saves, the Holy Spirit still leads the way, and the Church is still God’s plan for sharing the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus Christ! Can I get an “Amen?”