Dear Calvary family and friends:
As a Matthew 25 church, we are committed to caring for the “least of these,” the most vulnerable among us. Decisions about when and how we return to in person worship are based on doing all we can to protect the most vulnerable members of our church family. Even as we begin the journey back to in person worship, each one of you must decide when the time is right to join the journey. Not everyone will be ready at the same time, and no one should feel pressured to do so.
As Indiana County moves into the Green phase of Pennsylvania’s phased re-opening, and churches in our area begin to hold in person worship services again, you may wonder, “When will the Calvary family start meeting again?”
It is a harder question to answer than you might think. Although our county has seen a decline in new cases for a number of weeks, data from around the country shows that convening in a congregational setting of multiple different households carries a higher risk for widespread transmission of the COVID-19 virus, and may result in increased rates of infection, hospitalization, and death, especially among more vulnerable populations. Who are the more vulnerable? Statistics show that 87% of deaths from COVID-19 have occurred in those age 65 or older. When we resume in person worship, we increase the risk to a significant portion of our church family, regardless of the current risk in our community.
Journeys require planning and preparation. A Calvary COVID-19 Response Team has been reviewing resources and meeting to consider first steps toward a return to in person worship. After thoughtful and prayerful consideration by Session, the recommended first steps include the following:
- Continue on line worship. Although the format of on line worship will change when we are able to meet in the sanctuary, we want to continue making worship available to those who cannot or do not feel ready to resume meeting in person. More details will be provided in the future.
- Continue planning for return to in-church worship.
- Continue monitoring the situation to determine when it is safe to return to in-church worship.
- Weather permitting, hold an outdoor vesper service on the lawn July 12 (watch for details). Meeting outdoors decreases the risk of infection and will be our first step on this journey. Provided a quorum is present, the congregational meeting postponed from April will be held immediately following the service (see announcement below).
- No sooner than two weeks following the outdoor service, plan to have an in-church service.
When we do reach the step of meeting in person, there will be guidelines in place to help us do this as safely as possible:
- Those who are currently ill, have been exposed to COVID-19, or are vulnerable due to underlying conditions should stay home and continue online worship. A list symptoms can be found at the following link: CDC Symptoms of Coronavirus.
- Access to the building will be limited to the sanctuary (via 7th street entrances) and restrooms on the same floor as the sanctuary. Doors will be propped open to eliminate the need for touching.
- Access to restrooms will be monitored to avoid more than one family unit in a restroom at a time.
- CDC cleaning protocols will be implemented.
- Seating will be marked to facilitate physical distancing of 6 feet or more between family units (or units of those who already socialize outside of worship). In the interest of your safety and the safety of those around you, ushers will direct movement within the sanctuary.
- Masks will be required and will be provided to those who need them.
- There will be no socializing inside the church building.
- There will be no choral or congregational singing and only very limited verbal responses, as they increase the likelihood of viral spread.
- Passing the Peace will be limited to American Sign Language or head nods.
- Length of service will be limited to 40 minutes.
This probably doesn’t sound like “worship” as you know it. But our care for others is an act of worship, a way of showing love to God by showing love to our neighbor. Perhaps this will be an opportunity for us to come alive to worship in a new way, as we learn some sign language, enter into the quiet of contemplation and meditation, and find new ways to use our senses to enhance our experience of the presence of God. We have longed to be together again, and these are “first steps” toward satisfying that longing, while honoring our Matthew 25 commitment to care for the vulnerable among us. Although this journey has taken us all to places we never wanted to go, let’s stay open to the possibility that God has something to show us even in this unfamiliar landscape.
We are not alone in this journey. The Stated Clerk of the PC(USA) has encouraged us to be patient and his message is worth hearing on the PC(USA) website at the following link: Stated Clerk says don’t rush to get back into a church building for worship.
Be assured the leadership of Calvary will continue to monitor the situation closely and is prepared to make adjustments as needed, including suspending in person worship again for a time if necessary. The journey forward will likely include twists, turns, and bumps in the road. How we worship will continue to evolve. What hasn’t changed and won’t change is the fact that we are still the church (with or without in person worship), we still have ministry to do, and we trust the One who provides us with travelling mercies as we seek to travel faithfully into the future.
The Session has called for a meeting of the congregation on Sunday, July 12, at 7:00 p.m., weather permitting (rain date: Sunday, July 19) following the outdoor vesper service to elect ruling elders and deacons and elect the three at-large congregational members of the nominating committee.
Written by the Communications Committee on behalf of the Session.
Yours in Christ,
David J. Hanna
Pastor and Moderator of Session
Clerk of Session