Dear Church Family and Friends,
Monday marked one year since COVID-19 forced us to suspend in-person worship in the sanctuary. I remember that weekend well as I agonized with church leaders over whether to suspend worship or not, and then ultimately realizing on Saturday evening that it was the only right decision if we were going to follow the command of Jesus to love our neighbors and if we were going to follow the number one rule of our Methodist founder John Wesley which is to “Do no harm.” Since then, the Church Council has formed a Reopen Team that regularly meets via Zoom to discuss how we can offer meaningful worship opportunities in a COVID-safe way and how we can safely provide space to our ongoing missions and ministries. The Reopen Team then makes recommendations to the Church Council for approval. Thus far, each recommendation has been unanimously approved.
As you can imagine, these decisions are difficult to make, and we are aware that not everyone will agree with every decision. Our prayer, though, is that folks will show us kindness, grace, and mercy because hopefully they understand that none of these decisions are made lightly or in vain. We’ve all lost so much this past year. Some of you have had COVID-19 and recovered easily while others in our community of faith are still suffering from the lingering effects of this terrible virus. We’ve also lost loved ones and a beloved church member to COVID-19. Thus, there is a great deal of both individual and collective grief among us. It’s hard on everyone not to be able to worship together in our sanctuary … and it’s hard not to be able to gather with our community of faith. Yet at the forefront of each decision the Church Council has approved along the way, we’ve reminded ourselves of the same thing that was at the forefront of that first decision: we must follow the command of Jesus to love our neighbors and we must follow John Wesley’s number one rule to “Do no harm.”
Our Reopen Team and Church Council have found hope recently as our COVID numbers have been declining, more people are choosing to be vaccinated, and the weather is turning warmer. We see all of these as positive indicators that we can begin to gather again safely outdoors. Thus, we will begin gathering in person on our Church Lawn for Easter Sunday at 10:00am. This particular Sunday carries so much meaning and purpose for all of us as followers of Christ, and we are very excited to celebrate the resurrection of Christ together just as we are seeing signs of hope and new life emerging around us. We will continue to meet for Worship on the Lawn at 10:00am each Sunday through the end of May. In the early part of May, our Reopen Team will once again evaluate the safety of in-person worship and make a recommendation to the Church Council. Be on the lookout for a survey coming in early April so you can give us feedback to help us as we weigh these decisions carefully.
In the meantime, we have a couple of teams working on projects to help with both in-person worship and virtual worship. One team is working to determine if our sanctuary’s HVAC system (which is original to the sanctuary from the 1930s) can be modified with better filtration and/or if we need to purchase air purifiers. The other team is working to determine what equipment we will need in order to be able to livestream our in-person worship services. We realize that some people may not be ready to return to in-person worship gatherings; thus, the livestream option will offer people an opportunity to continue to worship online at home. If you have experience or expertise that might be valuable to either of these teams, please let me know.
A few important things to note about Worship on the Lawn …
- For each Sunday in worship, you will need to make reservations for yourself and those coming with you. This is necessary for us to be able to alert attendees if someone who attends worship later tests positive for COVID. To make your reservation for Easter Sunday, click here.
- Please bring your own lawn chair(s) or blanket.
- Masks are required and will continue to be required even after the mask mandate expires for our state.
- We will not have assigned seating areas like we did in the Fall. It is too difficult to manage, and people sometimes didn’t like their assigned spot. Thus, we are leaving it up to attendees to accept personal responsibility for their seating arrangements and to maintain a safe distance of six feet away from people not living in their household.
I also wanted to give you a quick update on the missions that are happening at the church.
- Food Cooperatives – We continue to have three cooperatives who receive food once a month. We have a faithful team of folks who sort the groceries each week that we receive from the Food Bank and then place them in the trunks of the families who are part of our coops.
- Feeding Avondale School Families – This ministry began with the shutdown of the schools last March, and is still going strong one year later. We have a committed group of women who order and sort the groceries each week and another committed group of people who deliver these groceries to the families’ doorsteps.
- YouthServe – this wonderful nonprofit that focuses on youth leadership and empowerment held their annual Cardboard Connect event this past weekend in our parking lot instead of our gym. They had a great turnout. In addition, this summer YouthServe will be doing day camps with brief periods of time during the day where they’ll be using our gym or fellowship hall as a home base. Typically in the summer months, they have overnight camps that are housed in our gym, but they’ve changed their plans this summer to accommodate for COVID-safety.
- QuadW – a few years ago, our North Alabama Conference adopted an initiative focused on ministry with the poor. As such, they teamed up with an amazing nonprofit called QuadW that brings together college students each summer who are exploring a call to ministry. These students are assigned to work with various churches and nonprofits throughout the summer who are specifically doing ministry with people living in poverty. In the past, our mission arm Avondale Samaritan Place (ASP) has had a couple of students assigned to work with us. This summer, the team of eight students will be housed in ASP’s bunk rooms. The Reopen Team is hopeful that we can safely house them because there are only eight and because of their maturity and dedication to their mission role in our community.
I’m so thankful for all of these ministries, for their teams of volunteers, and especially for their dedication and their flexibility as we’ve had to be creative in how we are able to gather safely. If you have any questions or concerns about any of the information above, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’m also listing the members of Reopen Team and our Church Council below so that you can see the faithful and committed folks who love our church and her people.
Living with Resurrection Hope,
Rev. Malinda Weaver
Reopen Team Members
Henry Levens (chair)