Dear Church Family and Friends,
It’s now been 13 weeks since we last worshiped together in the sanctuary. I remember vividly that last Sunday, March 8, standing in the back of the sanctuary during the closing hymn and wondering if this might be the last time we worship together in person for a while. Sadly, it was. And sadly, so much has changed in our world in just 13 weeks. There have been so many times over these weeks, this week more so than any week before, that I have wanted to open the sanctuary for a time of prayer for our nation and for all of humanity. But I could not because of the health risks to so many people. As hard as it is to not be able to worship in-person, I know without a doubt that it has been the right decision. I am truly thankful to everyone who has been supportive and who has joined us for virtual worship. I have witnessed us being the church even though we haven’t physically been in the building.
During this time, our Re-opening Team has been prayerfully considering the timing of when to re-open for in-person worship. We are monitoring the number of new cases of COVID-19 and deaths as a result of COVID-19. We are also abiding by the Bishop’s guidelines for re-opening which outlines a phased in approach. As you all know, thus far, the number of cases and deaths continues to rise in Jefferson County. The curve has not yet flattened or even begun to decline.
Because of this, the Re-opening Team recommended to the Church Council that we not consider re-opening for in-person worship until at least July 1. The Church Council has approved this recommendation. We realize this will mean at least four more weeks of worship being available solely online … and we are sad that we cannot be together in our sacred space with our beloved church family. However, we believe the risk of exposure is too great. We believe we have to err on the side of extreme caution for the sake of the lives of all of us. Although it is hard for many of us, myself included, not to have a firm date for re-opening, I agree with our public health officials who keep reminding us that we have to watch the data rather than setting a date. When the data shows that cases are declining, then we can begin talking about a date.
In the meantime, the Re-opening Team has begun researching what we think it will take to safely re-open, and we are formulating a plan of how to make that happen. We are using the coming weeks to think strategically about how to move people through the building, how to seat people with safe distancing in the sanctuary, etc. In addition, we are beginning to order cleaning supplies and tools needed to keep the building sanitized. As you can imagine, this is no easy task since many of the supplies we need are tough to find these days. If you have connections or resources to things that might help us, please let me know.
At the same time, I have a team that is thinking through how to maintain online worship even when we re-open for in-person worship. There are many people who will choose not to return to in-person worship for quite some time even after we re-open because of the risk to their health and that of their loved ones. This pandemic has forever changed what worship looks like and how people want to experience it. Online worship is here to stay, and we have to determine how to maintain it and make it meaningful.
I want to leave you with this reminder … Just because our doors are closed doesn’t mean the church is closed. The church is you and me, and the church has simply left the building. Jesus told his disciples, and he tells you and me, to go forth in his name spreading his love to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:19). It is that divine love that is guiding us in the decisions we’re making for Avondale UMC. As the church, I encourage you in these days ahead to act and speak in ways that without a doubt show that divine love.
Our Re-opening Team:
Malinda Weaver – Pastor
Jeanne Baker – Trustee Rep to the Church Council
Margaret Kneisley – Trustee Rep to the Church Council
Kay Knowlton – SPRC Rep to the Church Council
Barbara Lee – Church Member
Randi Turner – Director of Children & Family Ministry