On Monday, May 18th, Governor Carney released some information that pertains to churches that provides a roadmap for reopening and gathering for in-person worship services. The Avenue staff has been discussing and preparing for this and I want to share some of the States requirements and how Avenue is looking to approach reopening.
Governor Carney’s requirements closely follow some of the requirements for other institutions within the State of Delaware. They include:
- Gatherings are to be limited to 30% of the capacity of our worship space. Our sanctuary holds around 230. This would mean that we could gather in a group of 69 in the sanctuary. Fellowship Hall is around 175-190. We add 52 in there. If we use both spaces, we have a capacity of 110 people at any given service.
- Social Distancing is to be practiced between households. We will be sitting in every other pew and leaving six feet between individuals and/or households.
- Mask are to be worn at all times during worship services by those 13 and over. This not only protects you, but protects those around you.
- Worship will be “no-contact.” We will refrain from shaking hands and hugging. As much as possible, we will eliminate contact with offering plates, bulletins and hymnals.
- While the Governor’s guidelines permit congregational singing, Bishop Peggy Johnson is recommending that we do not sing corporately to eliminate more risk from our gatherings. Singing can still take place from small groups or soloist from the chancel.
By far, the most restrictive requirement from Governor Carney is that no one is to enter who is “65 and older OR have underlying health issues identified by the CDC as higher risk.” This not only includes a large number in our church, but in many of the churches across the state of Delaware. This will be a hard pill to swallow as we consider reopening and gathering for worship. Our sisters and brothers who are 65 and older make up a significant portion of our congregation and of our volunteers who make ministry happen. The staff and leadership at Avenue are committed to explore ways to make worship available and life-giving for as many people as possible.
The “Greatest Commandment,” according to Jesus, is to “Love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves.” Loving our neighbor includes things like wearing a mask even though it may grate against our “rights” not to wear one. We care enough about our neighbor to do something we may not like or may not be comfortable with. Loving our neighbor means adjusting our worship times, expectations, and who gathers to ensure that we can keep our sisters and brothers as safe and healthy as possible- as an extension of our faith in Jesus and our love for our neighbor.
On May 19, 2020, there was reports through news sources of two Southern churches who recently reopened and now are closing indefinatly. Members and leaders of those churches have tested positive for COVID-19 after reopening worship. Early on in the pandemic, a church in Arkansas was resistant to closing and as a result at least 35 of 92 participants tested positive for COVID-19 and three of the church members died. Until there is an effective vaccine, gathering for worship will carry risks for those who attend.
When will we gather for worship? (It’s like a pastor to take this long to get to the point!)
We are working on policies and procedures to ensure that those who gather for worship can do so with the highest level of safety and the knowledge of the presence of God. While we long to gather together, the staff and the leadership have a moral responsibility to care for all the people in our care. We are in the process gathering supplies, figuring out how to clean and sanitize between worship services, and how to make worship “work” in this new reality. We have a goal of gathering by mid-summer. But it is too early to put out a specific date. There is much that is unknown and fluid.
In the meantime, let us continue to love our neighbors, to pray for all those who put themselves in harm’s way, and to ask God for wisdom and guidance in how to live our lives as disciples in these uncertain and changing times.
Grace and Peace,