The Action Team tasked with evaluating the question of whether, and when, we might return to in-person worship met this past Tuesday.
We unanimously agreed that the possibility of returning to worship indoors, in the sanctuary, is not viable at this time, due to the well-documented high risk of infection associated with indoor, congregational gatherings.
With respect to the possibility of gathering outdoors — most likely in the Pavilion — we considered both the pros and cons.
On the favorable side:
- There is a growing body of evidence that outdoor gatherings pose dramatically less risk of serving as source points for the spread of the coronavirus. How much less, though, has not yet been conclusively determined.
- An outdoor service would provide a welcome — perhaps even much needed — opportunity to connect with one another in-person. Even if this connection was only at a distance, and even if we were all wearing masks, this would provide benefits that cannot be experienced via Zoom or other online forms of “in-person” communication.
On the unfavorable side:
- Coronavirus infection rates are rising sharply not just nationally but also here in North Carolina. This pandemic is still very active and dangerous.
- Much of our membership is comprised of older adults who are at higher-risk
- The age range of at-risk or higher-risk populations has expanded, leaving more people at-risk now.
- To avoid contact exposure, attendees would either have to stand or bring their own chairs.
- The restrooms near the Pavilion are small, and we are unsure if they will be sanitized regularly over the summer. These could serve as source point for contact exposure.
- In-person gatherings, even outdoors, run the risk of providing opportunities for inadvertent violations of social distancing protocols. (To paraphrase a beloved hymn, “How could we keep from hugging?”, especially after weeks and even months of not seeing one another.)
- Even if we all wore masks and were careful to keep our distance, we would still likely have to impose a moratorium on congregational singing, out of an abundance of caution. This would obviously greatly alter the nature of the worship experience.
- Although not directly related to the COVID crisis, heat would be a factor if we were to meet outdoors during July and August.
Phase 3 delayed; Phase 2 limits remain
Due to the rising rate of new infections here in NC, Governor Cooper announced on Wednesday a delay in moving to “Phase 3” of the plan to re-open the state.
This means that there is still a limit of 25 people for outdoor gatherings. At the federal level churches are exempt from this limit; however, this exemption is not necessarily grounded in strict scientific considerations.
We therefore agreed that we would want to comply with that limit.
This would mean that we would have to determine a way to cap the number of people who might attend an outdoor service at 25 — a limitation that is at odds with our commitment to full inclusivity and welcome at all our services.
Our online services have been well received and they continue to improve in quality.
Our current recommendation, therefore, is to continue to offer our services online through July.
Given the constantly changing fact-pattern associated with the coronavirus, we also plan to reconsider this question again in a month’s time.
We know that this recommendation might be disappointing. We understand and share the desire to gather together for corporate worship, and for the fellowship that follows.
But we believe that not rushing to return to in-person worship is the best and most faithful way to protect the health and safety of all the members of our church family.
Thank you for your understanding.