Signal Mountain UMC Reopening Plan Phase 1 Letter to Congregation
Dear Church Family,
When we first closed the building to in-person worship I thought it would be for just a few weeks. Then I hoped we would be back by Easter, then Pentecost and… well you get the drift. At the beginning of this I also thought we would have a Sunday not just where we reopened to in-person worship but a grand return to “normal.” One of the funny things about life is that it only moves in one direction – forward. You don’t really get to just return to anything. We will come back together for worship, but we will not be able to do it as if nothing has happened. That’s okay. We have changed before. Things have been different before. Whatever happens, God is with us and will continue to be with us as what has been becomes what will be.
One of the primary responsibilities of the church is to love one another. There are many ways that we love each other but few so basic as helping to keep each other safe and healthy while we are gathered. The procedures in this document are designed to help us do that. They represent the best current understanding of how to make sure to limit or prevent the spread of Coronavirus in the church building. I will admit at first reading they may seem like a lot and they will require some getting used to. That’s okay. None of this was anyone’s first choice. We are seeking to make the best of the situation in which we find ourselves. So, thank you for all ways you have kept in contact with church in this strange time and for your continued willingness to try new things.
This is a serious letter and these are serious times. Even in the midst of serious times there are causes for joy. I feel joy that I get to spend another year with you all as your Pastor. When I came, I was fresh out of seminary, didn’t have any gray hair or a kid (maybe there is some connection). Some of the most important parts of my life have happened in your midst and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I feel joy at the idea of seeing each other again, gathered together for worship even if that worship will look a bit different. I know that it may be some time yet before we all are able to come together but that doesn’t change the joy I feel about starting the journey. I feel joy for the good things that have come out of this. The main one is, I think, that online worship has been a great addition to our church and will continue to be. I hope that you will join me in seeking joy in the midst of all this.
Lastly, do not read this document as the way things are going to be for the next 160 years of our congregational life. This is what we are going to do after we reopen with things how they are now. As the situation improves, we will make changes and improvements and communicate that with you all. There is also a possibility that if the situation worsens, we will have another period of online only worship. Thank you for your patience and your understanding at this time and in the days to come.
Pastor Caleb Pitkin
Our online worship has really come a long way. I will never forget the first Sunday where it sounded like I was yelling the sermon over a vacuum cleaner. Thanks to a lot of hard work by a lot of people it is worlds better. Online worship has also reached people that either couldn’t regularly worship with us or had never worshiped with us before. It has proved itself to be something beneficial to the church. We will keep offering an online worship experience at 11 AM.
I know how much many of you are looking forward to returning to in-person worship. Right now, we are aiming to return to in-person worship on July 5th. There are going to be some changes that take place to ensure that in-person worship happens in a safe manner for everyone who participates. The most obvious is going to be that we are going to have two service times for in-person worship. There will be a 9AM service and an 11AM service. This is to ensure that we can accommodate as many people as we can in the sanctuary with social distancing measures in place. Both services will be the same, so whichever one you attend you will not miss anything. Please note: The Holston Conference is still recommending that folks over 65, under 2 and with underlying health conditions remain at home. Please make the best decision for you and your family.
There will be some changes in the services themselves:
Online sign up – We are asking you to let us know you are coming and which service you will attend. This will help ensure that there are enough seats in the sanctuary for everyone and that neither service becomes too full. We will of course leave some room for those who cannot sign up online or visitors who don’t know to sign up online.
- Sign in – If you have signed up online don’t worry about this. If someone comes who has not signed up online we are going to make sure to mark their attendance and ask visitors to give us contact information in case of an outbreak.
- Masks – The Holston Conference is requiring all participants to wear masks while in the building for worship. If you cannot wear a mask please continue to worship from home for the time being. For those that don’t already have masks, we will have some at the church for you. I would not require anything of you all I would not do myself so I will be wearing a mask at both services. Right now, it’s one of the best ways we have to help keep each other safe.
- Social distancing – Some of the pews in the sanctuary will be closed and seating will be limited. We have done what we can to maximize seating and social distancing in the space. Since we’ve never done anything like this, it’s hard to be completely sure how many people will fit in the sanctuary. To ensure that we have enough seats for those who come we will have overflow seating with a livestream downstairs.
- Passing of the Peace – Its time to rewatch the video I did about different ways to pass the peace because we are going to be doing a lot of waving for the time being. The Passing of the Peace as part of worship is going to be taking a moment to wave at each other.
- Passing the offering plates – The offering plates will be placed around the narthex. We are also continuing to encourage e-giving.
- Singing – I know singing is a huge part of worship for many people. It is with a very heavy heart that I write this. For the time being we are discouraging congregational singing. This is because even while wearing a mask singing forces the air out of our lungs harder than normal talking or breathing. There will still be soloists and hopefully duets soon. It is my fervent prayer that this changes soon.
- Kids – The church is still a place for kids. Kids will need to stay with their families during worship. There will be a children’s time. The nursery will be closed and there will not be activities for them downstairs. Please feel free to bring books, crayons, etc. for your kids during church.
At present, all church sponsored activities other than worship will continue online.
Pastor Caleb is getting back to more normal office hours. To accommodate changes in my family schedule, I will be off Saturday and Monday rather than Friday and Saturday. Know that I want to be available. Please feel free to make an appointment to come by the church or meet in a place where we can socially distance. As always, you can call/text 423-903-1967 or email firstname.lastname@example.org . Please let me know if you would like to get together.
What can you do to help?
There are going to be lots of ways to help. The first and most basic is to follow the new guidelines. I know there are some differences of opinion about how best to reopen, the necessity of some of these practices, etc. The reality is that no matter how I feel about them, these are the rules we need to follow to reopen. Please know they will not be forever and that we will return to “normal” someday. There will be life after Corona Virus. IF you would like to go above and beyond here are some ways to help.
- Volunteer Ushers – Training for ushers Tuesday the 23rd at 6:30 PM or Friday the 26th at 1PM at the church. We will need ushers at both services. They will be responsible for helping folks navigate our new layout. Asking those who did not sign up online to sign in and asking folks to put on a mask if they did not wear one.
- Cleaners – Training for cleaners Tuesday the 23rd at 6:30 PM or Friday the 26th at 1PM at the church. Between the 9 and 11AM worships we will need to wipe down the areas that have been used. We need some folks to help with this task.
- Singers – We will still need soloists or duets for both services. Ideally, we would like it if you could help at both services, but even if you can’t please let Deb know if you would like to help in this way. Masks will not be required while you are singing but we will have a special place for you to sit.
- Children’s moments – If you would like to do a children’s moment, we would love to have you. Again, we would really appreciate it if you could help with both services. If you can only do one please let me know. The kids will stay with the parents during the children’s moments. They will also need to be short 2 or 3 minutes.