Dear First on Fifth family,
With news of North Carolina beginning Phase 1 of “reopening,” you might be wondering when we will gather in person at the church house for worship, fellowship, study, and meetings. For the past several weeks, this topic has been a top priority in our Friday Coronavirus Task Force meetings. Given information from local health systems and national organizations, like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Task Force feels it is important to wait several more months prior to gathering in person at the church house.
We’ve been researching alongside a number of other churches and religious organizations, all of whom are diligently working on this question of regathering. We’ve read articles, participated in webinars, talked with trusted colleagues in ministry, and shared our best wisdom from the various spheres of our work and life with one another. We have prayed for God’s wisdom through it all. Because we believe information is powerful, we want to share with you some resources with which we have engaged in our work:
- Cooperative Baptist Fellowship ‘Resources for Resuming’
- Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina’s virtual roundtables on reopening
- The CDC’s guidelines for an interim reopening for communities of faith (p7-9)
- The Wisconsin Council of Churches “Returning to Church” guide
- City of Winston-Salem Coronavirus Information
- State of North Carolina Coronavirus Information
From our conversations, some key questions emerged and contributed towards our decision:
- Who is most at risk? Given the demographic spread of our congregation, we know that there are a number of us in the categories of higher-risk for a more severe case of coronavirus, including those over the age of 60 and those with pre-existing medical conditions.
- Do we have the cleaning supplies we need to keep the building clean and safe? Not yet, but we have begun to stock up where we are able. Like many other suppliers, ours is prioritizing medical sites with commercial accounts to follow in the months ahead. The House & Grounds Committee is working on a cleaning protocol for whatever point that we are able to gather in the building again.
- What might be the relationship of risk, value, and disappointment in our regathering at this point? While some may use language of “reopening,” we understand that when we gather again, things will most certainly not look the way we left them on March 8 when last we were together. Let’s take worship for example — in Governor Cooper’s description of Phase 2, only some of us could be in the room together, wearing masks, spaced apart, lessening what we touch and use (think hymnals, communion, passing of the peace, even seat cushions!), without the joy of lifting our voices together in song or standing around in joyful conversation after worship. Within such constraints, might worship be more disappointing than grounding? Might we feel more anxiety than refuge? Might those unable to join in feel even more distance from their community of faith?
- Even when we are not physically together, are we still finding ways to live into our core vision as “a community in the heart of the city called by Jesus to practice bold love of God and neighbor and boundless compassion for all people?” To that, we say a resounding YES! Through Zoom calls and Facebook Lives, online small groups and evening prayers, driveway visits and check-in phone calls, serving the community and caring for one another, we are bringing hope and steadfastness to this season. While the building has been closed, the church — our church — has certainly been open.
- And finally, our shared imagination has been sparked by this final question: if we weren’t spending an abundance of energy on ‘reopening’, where might we place those abundant energies instead? Ironically enough, it seems that as a church, we are well-practiced in a form of this very question! We have profound experience putting distance between our love of spaces and a more pressing hope for how energies can be redirected for ministry. We’ve recently been dislocated from our Sanctuary (can you believe the plaster issue happened about this time last year?!), and found a renewed vibrancy in our worship in Kelly Auditorium. We’ve learned the art of letting go, of innovation from constraint, of being pressed in all corners of our life together to reimagine ministry.
“What about the in-between?,” you may wonder, pondering what is possible between fully gathered and fully apart. What about a distanced hello in the church parking lot or a small group outside dinner this summer? To us, these wonderings point to a hybrid middle ground that our group is still sorting through. We’re talking with the ministry staff and continuing to listen to you, to God, and to all the helpful sources listed above. Trust that we’ll continue to update you as the weeks unfold.
Threaded through all that you’ve read here today is an overwhelming love for God and neighbor that has led us to this conclusion. It’s out of the fullness of that love — not, as it were, out of fear! — that we recommend continuing this time of physical separation from each other. And yet, we already feel the cognitive dissonance all around us, as spaces reopen (seemingly pointing to a sense of return!) yet virus cases continue to climb. With this, we remember that we are a church, not a business or a government or a restaurant or a sports team or an economy. We are the body of Christ, bound to God and neighbor in steadfast love! As much as we long to be together and trust we will again soon, we can and have found ways to be the church apart from the church house. Our engagement remains consistently high and hopeful.
The Task Force shared this information with the Deacons last week and with the church today. We know that you may have questions about the conclusions we’ve drawn, the resources that have informed our work, what’s happening ‘on the ground’ in our local medical centers, and the path ahead. We invite your feedback! We’ll be responding to it all in a Zoom conversation with anyone who would like to join in on Wednesday, May 27, at 7:00pm. Please send any comments or questions, or simply indicate your desire to join the May 27 Zoom call to the Coronavirus Task Force at firstname.lastname@example.org; we’ll respond with the link to the Zoom meeting.
In all things, we remember the guiding words of God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit throughout all time and space: “do not be afraid.”
Grace + peace,
The Coronavirus Task Force
Gary Stiffler, chair, Deacons
Roper Halverson, vice chair, Deacons
Matt Steen, secretary, Deacons
Scott Hudgins, chair, Finance
Joanne Henley, chair, Personnel
Joy Gambill, chair, Missions
Linda Lewis, co-chair, Senior Adult Ministry Team
Emily Hull McGee, pastor