Baby Steps: In-Person Worship to Resume in Family Life Center
Following the outdoor Easter service on April 4, the congregation will continue in-person worship in the Family Life Center (FLC) for the next several weeks. “This is the next step toward safely getting back to where we want to be,” says Pastor of Worship Don Fitzkee.
Effective April 11, the church will resume English worship in the FLC, following the same format that was used from August to November. Spoken parts will be live, with recorded music and children’s lessons from the online service being projected on the screen. Masks and physical distancing will be required with seating capacity of about 75. Services will include masked congregational singing. Maranatha also will resume Spanish language services in the chapel.
Tentative plans are to follow this pattern for approximately six weeks, with potential for relaxing protocols and expanding the number of services by Pentecost Sunday on May 23. Factors that will determine how quickly we move to multiple services include:
• Continued downward trends in Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
• Continued increases in vaccinations.
• Favorable guidelines from the CDC and the state.
• Strength of attendance at the Family Life Center service.
“In effect,” says Don, “we are asking people who are eager to get back to multiple services to vote with their butts in seats. If we begin to fill the space in the Family Life Center, that will be an indicator that it is time for multiple services. If attendance stays well within the seating capacity of that space (about 75 with physical distancing), we will be hesitant to go to multiple services.”
This plan was agreed to by the members of the Worshiping Together Task Team, who met on March 10 to help chart the path back from online-only worship. The Team’s next task will be to envision how to integrate a continuing online service with the multiple in-person worship services. The Team consists of the Moderator and Assistant Moderator, Pastors Misty and Don, music staff, and representatives from related Ministry Teams.
Why are we worshiping in the Family Life Center, rather than the sanctuary? Health risks associated with singing place limitations on live music groups, so for now we need the ability to project the recorded music that we produce for our online services. The sanctuary does not have projection capability.
Do I have to wear a mask? We all are tired of wearing masks, but CDC guidelines and advice from our own HVAC contractor suggest that masks and distancing still are needed to avoid spreading the virus. We considered masked and unmasked seating areas but, ultimately, we all share the same air. If we require masks, some may stay away. If we accommodate those who do not want to wear masks, that will keep others from attending. So we hope our desire to be back together will outweigh the discomfort of wearing masks and we all will be patient just a little longer.
I’m vaccinated. Do I have to wear a mask? Yes, for the time being. While vaccines protect the vaccinated, it is unclear whether vaccinated people can still spread the virus.
How is the ventilation in our worship spaces? Our HVAC contractor believes we have sufficient air circulation and filtration to safely worship with masks and physical distancing with attendance of 90–100 in the Sanctuary and 75 or so in the Family Life Center. Circulation is not as good in the chapel but should be sufficient for small groups.
Will the choir sing soon? How about the praise team? We do not anticipate having a Chancel Choir during the spring season. Key members of the Morning Psalm Praise Team are hesitant to return due to family health concerns. How quickly singers and others get vaccinated will help determine how quickly we have more live music.
Are we going to have permanent blended worship? We will return to multiple services with different styles. The single blended service in the Family Life Center is an interim step.
Other churches have been worshiping together for months, some without masks. Why not us? Churches weigh various factors and come to different conclusions. We believe that part of “loving neighbor” is to avoid putting others at risk. We have many members in high risk groups, we have had multiple Covid infections in our church family (including a few deaths), and even now have some infected members.
Don’t we trust God to protect us? There’s a difference between trusting God and putting God to the test. If you lock your doors at night, hide your computer passwords, wear seatbelts and helmets, receive medical care, and brush your teeth, does that mean you don’t trust God to protect you?