I have been posting about our church’s efforts to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, and I thought I would bring you up to date. We ended public worship on March 22nd. We’ve webcast our worship services now for six weeks, and more people have viewed our services online than came to public worship. We observed the Lord’s Supper online, and we held a business meeting by asking people to vote by email. In the last three weeks, we’ve used ZOOM for some of our adult Sunday school classes, and that has gone well. We never closed the church office. Except for the first week of shut down, our offerings have been good.
The question we’ve discussed in our staff meetings is: When shall we resume public worship. Our church is located in Texas, and we were anxious to hear Governor Gregg Abbott’s speech on reopening the state’s economy on April 27th. In his speech, Governor Abbott announced that many classes of businesses, including restaurants and theaters, could reopen at 25% of capacity on May 1st. Further, he stated if that goes well, then businesses could operate at 50%, beginning May 18th. To be clear, the state government declared that churches could reopen for worship on May 3, but the authorities advised against it.
Well, what did we decide to do? We did not see how we could open at 25% capacity and still practice social distancing, which the state recommends. However, we do believe that we can operate at 50% capacity. We reasoned this way. Our auditorium is certified by the architect at 800 occupants. Our normal Sunday morning worship is between 300-400. So, if we have 400 in attendance, we’ll be at 50% capacity. The state government is recommending social distancing, and our state convention has published suggestions on how to do that. In accordance with the convention’s guidance, we will rope off every other row of pews. We’ll ask family units to sit apart from each other. So, for example, if my wife and I sit on one end of a pew, another couple could sit on the same pew, but six feet away from us. We won’t pass the offering plate, and we plan to keep the doors open so that people need not touch them. We’ll disinfect the buildings before and after the worship services.
We plan to have worship, but not Sunday school, on May 24 and May 31. We expect to resume our full Sunday program on June 7th and our full Wednesday evening programming on June 10th. Of course, all of this assumes the governor will permit the 50% capacity on May 18th.
I realize that the situation is different in other locations. If our church was located in a hot spot, like New York or New Orleans, we would adopt a different timeline. In our small town, we’ve only had one case of COVID-19. Beyond that, our town mayor, who is a member of our church, has encouraged us to resume worship in May. Churches with a high percentage of senior adults may choose to wait longer to resume. It is interesting, though, that several of our senior adults have been quite vocal in urging the staff to resume worship. We realize that some senior adults will wait to return to worship until they feel safe. I’m sure that will be true of parents with young children, also.
What have you decided to do about resuming public worship?