Strategic Safety Plans for Reopening The Church
No one knows the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on reopening our society: Its businesses, transportation, restaurants, parks, concerts, schools, sporting events and …church. What we do know is that we want to see the reopening of all these things – safely.
Reopening is absolutely crucial to having a working economy. Beyond that, it is crucial to our long term health as human beings. I’m reminded of a research project to determine key aspects of programs in orphanages that helped children thrive. One particular institution in Germany had the greatest success by far of all the orphanages in the study. After a tour displaying all the pieces of the program, none of which seemed different or better than any other orphanage being studied, the researchers saw an elderly woman carrying and cuddling an infant in a hallway. “Who is that?” the researchers asked. “Oh, that’s just Anna. She’s just a volunteer who likes babies.” What the study found was that the success of the orphanage was because Anna gave each child tangible love – love communicated by physical touch.
Meeting as we now do online only means that a significant part of being community is lacking. We need to see that restored.
At the same time, we need to be able to do that as safely as possible.
This is the dilemma and the challenge our governmental leaders are facing as they try to balance limiting possible transmission of this highly-contagious virus and the stark necessity of social interaction in groups. Their guidelines are aimed at a step-by-step reopening of the whole community balancing these needs. We are very appreciative of the new reopening guidelines that specifically permit churches to begin public meetings again!
In coordination with that, we have been developing a careful plan to reopen our meeting together as a church and in our building. What follows here is an outline of that plan, developed with input from other churches around the country.
#1 – Preparing The Church Building
- We are deep cleaning the entire church. This includes cleaning all the carpets, sanitizing the chairs, bathrooms, tables and countertops, doorknobs, light switches, sound equipment and microphones.
- We’re paying special attention to cleaning and disinfecting every children’s area.
- We are removing all Connect Cards and pens from the seat backs in the sanctuary.
- We are placing all chairs in the sanctuary in rows six feet apart to aid in effective social distancing.
- We will be cleaning and sanitizing every room after each use.
#2 – Service Times
- The size of our services will be based on the guidelines set by the Governor of Massachusetts limiting the number of people allowed to gather. The initial reopen phase is currently set to a limit of 40% of our occupancy permit. That means we could seat up to 100 people. However, maintaining a social distance of six feet means that we can only seat a maximum of 80. Members of the same household may, of course, sit together.
- The worship service will begin promptly at 10am. This is especially important for our continued live streaming. According to the current Phase One Guidelines, everyone will need to exit the building quickly and not congregate inside.
- Every room used will be cleaned after each use.
- For those unable or not ready to attend, we will continue to live stream our services. This is also something to invite friends, neighbors, and family to as a step towards faith and becoming part of the church.
#3 – New Worship Service Essentials
- There will be no paper bulletins. Upcoming Events will be projected on our screens and communicated via email, our website, and Facebook.
- We will be using individual sealed packages of bread and juice instead of plates of broken bread and communion cup trays.
- Please continue to donate online, mail checks, or drop off at the church office. You will also be able to place your gifts in receptacles on the sanctuary stage and at the Welcome Center.
- We will have prayer ministry in every service. The Ministry Team will wear masks and keep an appropriate distance. Just a note: the first Vineyard met in the gymnasium of Canyon High School in Anaheim, California. There was no air conditioning and it was often brutally hot. The ministry team, instead of placing their hand on a person, kept their hand a few inches off the person being prayed for. Guess what! The Holy Spirit kept right on healing! He can do it whatever the distance!
- We will ask people to enter and leave keeping the recommended distance from one another. Please use either the left side entrance next to the Children’s Ministry room, or the entrance near the dumpster. There are many of us ready and willing to just get together as usual. Following these guidelines, however, will help those who are more cautious – and most especially those whom we’re inviting to come for the first time – feel safe enough to step over that hurdle of caution and fear and come to a worship service.
#4 – Hospitality
- We love having coffee, water, and snacks available – it’s what the café was built for. Unfortunately, we’ll need to hold off on serving food and drink right now. The lobby will be closed at present.
- We will have many bottles of hand sanitizer available throughout the building.
- People are required to wear a mask. We are assuming that they will bring their own. Children under the age of five do not need to wear a mask (see “children” below). We will have a few extra masks on hand.
- Greeters will be instructed to greet warmly, but without touching, hugging, high-fiving, or stuff like that. They will be able to describe the separation of chairs in the sanctuary, the availability of hand sanitizer, and directions to Rest Rooms and Children’s Classrooms. Weather permitting, the greeters should prop the entrance door open to minimize people touching the door handles.
#5 – Training Classes and Small Groups
- We often schedule training classes in the hour prior to the Worship Service. Some of these are currently meeting online. These classes may transition to meeting at the church; however, each class will need to follow social distance guidelines, and then make sure the used room is cleaned and disinfected after each use.
- Other small groups may use the building. They will need to follow the same procedures as the Training Classes above.
- We have other outside recovery groups (AA, NA) that have been using our building for many years. In order for them to return to that use, they will need to comply with all our conditions for social distancing and disinfectant cleaning, both for their used room and for the Rest Rooms.
#6 – Nursery, Preschool, Children, and Teens
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children 2 years of age and under do not wear masks or face coverings. The Massachusetts guidelines instituted on May 18 now exclude all children five and under from wearing a mask.
- We will not reopen the preschool and children areas, as the guidelines require. We are hoping that as schools are opened there will be practical guidance on good procedures.
- Families will be able to sit together in the worship service so long as their children remain with them, and as long as children over five are able to wear a mask. We are working to provide coloring packets, but parents may wish to bring their own resources.
- Teens will use the Teen Room as before.
#7 – Choirs, Orchestras, Praise Teams, Bands, Etc.
- The worship team while on stage will not wear a mask, but will maintain social distancing.
- All microphones, music stands, and other equipment will be wiped down with a disinfectant after each use.
#8 – Tech Teams
- All microphones, headphones, computers, laptops, etc. will be cleaned after every use.
- As much as possible, team members will maintain social distancing.
- As of May 18, churches are specifically allowed to reopen. This includes all services, classes, and activities.
- Our first reopen worship service will be on Sunday, May 31st at 10:00. Significantly, May 31st is Pentecost — The very beginning of the Church with the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit!
- We are upgrading our video and sound equipment so that we can continue our live streaming for those unable to come to the service, as well as new viewers who join via our web site or Facebook page.
- All of our planned schedule is, of course, subject to change as the COVID-19 situation changes. We could begin inside services and then be required to pull back. Our prayer is for an end to the pandemic – so unexpected, so destructive of life, of our economy, and of community. But we recognize all the ways God has used this catastrophe in us to deepen our relationship with and trust in Him. We know we are being cared for and prepared for some amazing GOOD as a result of and victory over this pandemic.