Missing church has been one of the hardest things about this pandemic. I miss all of you. I miss visiting with you as your pastor, and I especially miss worshiping together in our sanctuary. I mourn for those we have lost and for the time we have lost together. Now, as more and more people are getting vaccinated and case numbers are going down, we believe it is time to begin to reopen our church.
We are calling this “Phase One reopening,” and it will begin on Sunday May 2. We are grateful for our large and airy sanctuary, which will allow many households to worship together with social distancing.
A longer FAQ is below, but here is the basic outline of our reopening plan. We may or may not require sign-ups, depending on expected numbers. Everyone will wear a mask and maintain social distancing. We will open the sanctuary windows and front doors, and hold a social time in the garden after the service. We won't sing hymns or have food at coffee hour, but we will be together in our beloved church. We will continue to live-stream our services on YouTube.
Our Buildings and Grounds committee put together a comprehensive safety plan for the return to in-person worship. Please note that although they include plans for balcony seating, in Phase One the balcony will be closed. We will follow all of the safety standards set out by the Commonwealth.
I’m proud of our online worship services, and especially proud that we will continue to provide that ministry to the world even as we reopen. I am proud of all the ways you have stayed connected to each other, and even strengthened your bonds during a difficult year. We will will build on these strengths as we return to in-person church. The seeds we have sown in this difficult year will yield fruits of spirit, service, and joy.
Rev. Sarah Stewart
Will we continue to live-stream our services? Yes. We have invested throughout the year in live-streaming technology, always with the plan to continue live-streaming indefinitely even as church reopens. Live-streaming will continue to be a mode of outreach to our parishioners and visitors who wish to experience our worship services but cannot or choose not to attend in person.
Will the church ask my vaccination status? No. Anyone who feels comfortable is welcome to attend our worship services in person. Everyone will be asked to wear a mask and maintain social distance, regardless of whether or not they have been vaccinated. Please stay home if you feel ill, if you have had a close contact with someone with COVID-19, or if you’re worried you might spread illness.
Will we require advance sign-ups? We don’t know yet. Once we have set a firm reopening date, we will ask all of you to let us know whether, in general, you plan to return to in-person worship services. Depending on the response we get, sign-ups may be necessary in order to maintain social distancing.
Will we wear masks? Yes. Masks are required both by church policies and by the state’s safety standards. Worship leaders standing in the pulpit, as well as certain musicians standing behind a plexiglass shield or in the balcony, will not wear masks while leading worship or performing.
What about Faith Development classes? Faith Development classes for children, youth and adults will continue to meet online and not in person. Director of Faith Development Juliet Donaldson and I plan to resume in-person Faith Development for Wiogora this summer and the beginning of the 2021-22 church year in September. Our youth groups will continue to meet online and outdoors.
Will there be childcare? No. The state safety standards are unclear on whether childcare is permitted during church services. All ages are welcome to attend the worship service.
Will we have coffee hour? Sort of. State safety standards prohibit serving food and/or drink during a post-service social hour. Until those standards change, we will have an outdoor social time without food and/or drinks following the service. Outdoors will be our only option rain or shine, so on some Sundays folks may choose not to gather in bad weather.
Will we sing hymns? No. The choir will not perform live, and parishioners will be asked not to sing out loud. We will continue to have a cantor sing the hymns, and will invite in-person worshipers to hum quietly inside their masks if they wish. We hope to return to robust choral and congregational singing in the fall.
Will anyone sing or play wind instruments? Yes. We will continue to invite soloists to be part of our services, including vocalists and wind instrumentalists, and they will not wear masks while performing. Someone will serve as cantor every Sunday to lead hymn-singing for worshipers using the live-stream. All singers or musicians will either stand behind a plexiglass shield at the front of the sanctuary, perform from the balcony or (if Rev. Stewart is leading the hymns) sing from the back of the pulpit.
Does the sanctuary look like a TV studio? Not anymore! Director of Music Will Sherwood, Assistant Director of Music James Haupt, and volunteers have worked tirelessly to improve our camera set-up so that our beloved sanctuary looks like our sacred space.
What about summer services? Summer services will offer both in-person attendance, following our safety guidelines, and live-streaming. They will remain in the sanctuary to allow social distancing, good ventilation and the robust live-stream experience our community is used to.
Can I sit wherever I want? No. Our Buildings and Grounds committee has figured out where households can sit in the sanctuary in order to maintain 6 feet of distance. An usher will seat your household in one of those spots. The balcony will be closed. It probably won’t be “your” pew. You might have to sit in a different spot every week. Once it is safe to have less distancing, seating will open up more.
Will I appear on camera? A little bit. Two of our cameras provide shots of the whole sanctuary to help live-stream worshipers feel present in the space. Anyone in the sanctuary could be captured on camera in passing.
Will I be able to see the children’s story and other images on the screen? Yes. Thanks to a generous donation, we will have a large flat-screen TV on a stand at the front of the sanctuary so that the story and any videos are visible to sanctuary worshipers.