Beloved People of God,
“Never lag in zeal. Be aglow with the Spirit. Serve the Lord.” Romans 12:11
This verse was my confirmation memory verse and read at my Service of Ordination 25 years ago this June. I have tried to embody this as a guide for my life. Lately, I find myself praying these words with hope that I receive the same encouragement the Apostle Paul intended to share with the church in Rome.
Encouragement is needed, especially in times like this. The fact is, one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make in my twenty-five years of ministry was to suspend worship back in March. In hindsight, it was the right decision. Another, very difficult decision, is when worship, in physical community, should resume. This letter is meant to serve as a guide for this decision and I hope it may bring you some encouragement.
At the April 2020 Council meeting, the task force, “Moving Forward in Mission 2020” was established to develop a plan regarding how we will move forward in mission together during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Legally binding orders, insurance guidelines, a survey of best practices, local medical expertise, recommendations from health officials, recommendations from the Northeast Ohio Synod and the ELCA’s Considerations for Returning to In-person Worship Being Church Together During the COVID-19 Pandemic (Updated May 12, 2020), were all considered in developing this plan. We recognize that many may not feel safe nor find it advisable to gather for in-person worship for some time.
A guided “phased” approach is recommended with the aim of reducing the level of risk for our community while addressing how we will provide opportunities for worship. The “phased” approach will likely not be linear. There will be times of gradual reopening potentially even followed by new restrictions. In all situations, we will err on the side of protection for the most vulnerable and love for our neighbor and ourselves, knowing that change is inevitable. Patience, grace, and flexibility will be necessary as we strive to make the most appropriate decisions for the people of God in our community at this time. As we are currently in Phase 1, this letter contains guidance for a special Drive-in Worship on May 31, and for Phase 2 worship beginning June 14 thru the summer and, at least, the early fall. Phase 3 will be addressed at another time.
Phase 1 is currently in place as we offer worship on-line.
We will continue to strive to communicate clearly with you through all appropriate channels, including mail, newsletters, email, websites, and social media.
Throughout all phases, we will continue to encourage our Good News/Great Times, Helping Hands and staff to check in on our members through phone calls, curbside visits, emails, Facebook and mailings.
We will use clear signage that describes church policies and best hygiene practices.
We are requiring the wearing of face masks/coverings for those in our building and will have some available for those who arrive without them. This is a way for us to protect the most vulnerable among us and to love your neighbor as yourself.
A Special Drive-In Worship on The Sunday of Pentecost, May 31, 2020
“Drive-in” worship is an option we can utilize on occasion, in which worshipers remain in their cars for the duration of the event. We will utilize the “drive-up” worship option on May 31, 2020, borrowing an FM tuner for a 9 a.m. Gathering Service and an 11 a.m. Spirited Traditional Service. There will be no entering the building other than for worship preparations or medical emergencies.
· Please enter the parking lot through the North entrance on Fulton Dr.
· Cars will be directed/ushered to a space in the South lot. Cars will be staggered to give line of sight. We ask that you remain in your cars for the entire service.
No bathroom facilities will be available.
The FM channel will be made known that morning so that you can fully participate in the worship service.
If you would like to participate in Holy Communion please bring your own communion elements, including bread and wine and/or grape juice. You are welcome to bring bread only if you prefer, for “communion in one kind.” A bread recipe for communion will be shared in the weekly E-Pew. (Please bring just enough for just you and your family. We suggest a small bottle that can be discarded upon exiting the parking lot.) All elements will be consecrated that morning.
An offering basket will be made available at the exit.
After the service, we ask that all turn right (South) out of the South parking lot, following the direction of our ushers.
The order or worship for both the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. service will be available at www.wherelovelives.org.
Both services will be simultaneously shown on Facebook Live.
Phase 2: (We can have limited numbers indoors but more outside as long as physical distancing is observed.)
Outdoor Worship at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Beginning June 14 – Early Fall
St. Stephen is blessed to have a wonderful pavilion, which we believe can serve as a worship space throughout the summer and into the fall. Worshipping outdoors allows for greater distancing without adding several additional worship services and disinfecting each space after each use if we were to worship indoors at this time. Further, as mentioned above this allows any aerosols created to dissipate more quickly.
9 a.m. will be a Gathering Style Service with a small praise team.
10:30 a.m. will be the Spirited Traditional Style Service utilizing the keyboard, cantor and other instrumentation as available.
We will continue to utilize the Service of the Word and refrain from handshakes, passing offering plates, and handing out printed bulletins.
One family unit per picnic table with priority given for those requiring handicap accessibility.
Lawn seating is available. Please bring your own seat and utilize physical distancing protocols of six feet between family units.
The facility will remain closed, except for those preparing for worship or for emergency purposes. There will be no restrooms available.
Worshipers are expected to wear masks while on church property as a way of protecting the vulnerable and loving our neighbors and ourselves.
Anyone who is experiencing any symptoms of illness please refrain from attending. Those who are in the most vulnerable population, including those over 65, those with underlying illness, or weakened immune systems, please consider your own personal risk before making the decision to attend.
Both services will be available on-line utilizing Facebook Live.
We will provide an opportunity for communion once a month, on the last Sunday of the month, by inviting you to bring/prepare your own bread and bring your own communion wine or grape juice that can be consecrated by the pastors (enough for you and/or your family). Other communion practices are not suggested until Phase 3.
Church activities open for more than 50 people (Federal Guideline Phase 3):
I look forward to being able to worship with you in our beautiful sanctuary and Family Life Center. Guidelines will be provided when more than 50 can meet once again. It is our hope that more time and effort will help everyone gain a better understanding of what measures will be necessary to control the spread of COVID-19 to those that are most in need of protection from it. Guidelines will be provided when more than 50 can meet once again.
A Word about Singing and Praying Together
Sadly, singing together, even from a distance, is one of the riskiest behaviors due to the spread of aerosols and droplets that can carry the virus a significant distance and remain suspended in the air. Singing utilizes forced air and projects further, making masks less effective to protect your neighbor. Further, the preparatory breaths taken during singing or playing wind instruments are deep inhalations, even diaphragmatic breaths for the trained musicians, causes the lungs to expand and take in air beyond typical shallow breathing. For singing, we encourage you to take the position of prayer, bowing your heads and singing softly.
Similar caution applies to unison speaking, such as reciting the Lord’s Prayer and other communal speech. We will encourage you to share any communal speech and prayers by taking the position of prayer, bowing your heads, and speaking softly.
For continued updates visit our webpage at www.wherelovelives.org.
May we all continue to be filled with God’s zeal and Spirit and serve the Lord!
In Christ’s Service,
The Rev. Dr. Bruce R. Roth