This last Thursday, March 18, the church council approved a timeline and recommendations for beginning the process of “re-gathering” as a church community. The re-gathering process will take place in stages, with smaller groups gathering in-person first, followed by a staged expansion of the number of groups meeting at the church building. It also includes a timeline and protocols for beginning in-person worship.
The re-gathering process will adhere to all Washington State and King County guidelines for churches and businesses. This means that all safety and wellness guidelines established over this past year will be strictly enforced for in-person gatherings and modified as the state and county make changes. As always, if the number of COVID-19 cases begins to increase, and state and county guidelines tighten, Messiah will follow those guidelines as well.
The experience of small group activities, along with in-person worship, will look and feel different than before the beginning of the pandemic. For example, current guidelines for worship prohibit congregational singing. Messiah staff and leadership are working hard to create an atmosphere for both small groups and in-person worship that will be both meaningful and ensure the health and safety of all involved.
In a recent letter the pastors and deacons of our synod, Bishop Jaech shared these following words of guidance and wisdom:
I am thankful that all of our Synod congregations have acted in accordance with Washington State guidelines. I ask that you continue to do so. Governor Inslee’s latest update states that, on March 22, all areas will enter into Phase 3. Among other things, this will allow gatherings of up to 50% of seating capacity. I recognize that, by judicial decision, churches in Washington State are exempt from any seating limitation. However, I urge you to continue to maintain cautious limits to your seating arrangements for the sake of everyone’s health. This definitely includes proper social distancing, the wearing of face masks, limits on singing, and a safe manner of receiving the Eucharist. Jesus reinforced that the two great commandments are, “Love God!”, and, “Love your neighbor as yourself!” Both forms of love must be our highest purpose and guide as we worship and work as congregations.
Messiah has determined that its capacity for in-person worship, while maintaining 6 feet of distance between households, is approximately 60 persons. This number may be somewhat increased or decreased as we learn the process of hosting safe, in-person worship. Therefore, we when we do begin in-person worship there will be both an online and phone hospitality system for making your desire to worship in-person known. It will also involve a screening system for wellness, along with an agreement by all who attend to abide by the printed and posted procedures for safe worship.
When the timeline is approved by the council, more information will be shared with the congregation, and the process of re-gathering will begin. In this transition time, I ask all members and friends of Messiah to enter into prayer for a spirit of compassion and care for one another. We must be aware that not all of us will be at the same level of comfort with re-gathering, and so, as our Bishop reminds us, both loving God and loving our neighbor must be our highest purpose and guide.