The New Reality
What a strange season we find ourselves in as we enter the month of May. As April turns to May we are still under Governor Evers “Safer at Home” order and we continue to worship via the internet. I must thank Brian and Jenn Lamancyk for their willingness to take online ministry to a new level. I tremble to think what our online presence may have been if Brian and Jenn had not offered their abilities and passion to serve the ministry .
Volunteer readers, musicians, and leaders of Message for all Ages” are still needed.
Virtual Church is great, and I imagine that we will continue to have some form of virtual church even after the “safer at Home” orders are phased out. Virtual church allows us to reach people who might never have stepped inside the doors of our physical building. That’s great, but NOTHING beats worshiping together inside the sanctuary of our own church. I join with you in asking when we might be able to worship together as a church community,
As you know, at this point, the Safer at Home order is scheduled to phase out on May 26 and Wisconsin will start “bouncing back”. There are 3 phases to the Badger Bounce Back plan, and these phases will affect how the Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church responds to onsite worship. The following information is taken from the Wisconsin Council of Churches.
“In the Badger Bounce Back plan, Phase One begins when all gating Criteria and Core Responsibilities are met. In brief, look for two weeks of declining case counts, widespread availability of testing, contact tracing and no PPE shortages. See the Badger Bounce Back for more details.
What we (Wisconsin Council of Churches) recommend:
Churches should continue holding online worship services only.
Consider resuming recording in the sanctuary, while maintaining at least 6 ft of space between people – greater distance between those who are singing.
Life rituals (weddings, funerals) should be kept to less than 10 in attendance. If you need to help set a limit, consider using immediate family. We advise only publicizing the date and location to those who are on the approved list to prevent hurt feelings or awkward situations
Bible studies and small groups continue to meet online.
Keep office functions as limited as possible to ensure essential operations. Those in the office should be wearing masks; if you have more than one person in the office, make sure that surfaces, including the phone, are regularly sanitized.
Consider allowing building users/renters back in (music lessons, etc.) if they are able to observe gathering limits and distancing protocols, and you are able to accommodate the cleaning needs.
Church councils and leadership teams of less than 10 might consider meeting in person while wearing masks and maintaining social distancing or continue meeting online.
High risk individuals (people over 60 and those with underlying conditions), whether staff or volunteers, should continue to shelter in place.
In the Badger Bounce Back plan, the shift from Phase One to Phase Two is based on a re-evaluation of the situation using the original criteria. You might expect several weeks of improving conditions to pass before this shift. This will require careful observance of physical/social distancing recommendations on an ongoing basis.
Worship, depending on size:
Churches over 50 average worship attendance (AWA): We recommend that you continue holding online worship, recording from home or the sanctuary with participation from small groups of people. If you choose to have multiple services, have a plan for managing the number of people per service. Have a plan to clean surfaces between services. Consider exploring what small group worship could look like as an alternative.
Smaller churches (under 50 AWA) might consider holding in person worship but make sure their space is large enough to allow for social distancing. Have a contingency plan for overflows beyond the approved number of people.
In the Badger Bounce Back plan, the shift from Phase Two to Phase Three is based on a re-evaluation of the situation using the original criteria. You might expect several more weeks of improving conditions to pass before this shift.
It is possible that conditions will not improve, but infections will increase again. In that case, physical distancing recommendations would need to be tightened temporarily in order to get back on track. Progress will not necessarily be linear. You can help by encouraging careful hygiene, following of the physical/social distancing recommendations, encouraging people to stay at home if they have any symptoms of illness, and to cooperate with contact tracers if they are diagnosed.
High risk individuals (people over 60 and those with underlying conditions), whether staff, volunteers, or program participants, should continue to shelter in place during Phase Three. Hospitals and care facilities are recommended to continue limiting visitors. This has implications for church program, pastoral care and business.
Wear cloth face masks while at church and in community ministry, as is recommended in public spaces.
We recommend that churches of all sizes offer in-person and remote/online options.
Physical distancing is not required by Phase Three of the Badger Bounce Back. We recommend that you avoid crowding in the sanctuary to the extent possible. Consider continuing to offer multiple services, as people may want to spread out.
Watch for public health recommendations on Communion as we get to this phase and consult your ecclesiastical authorities.
Watch for public health recommendations on group singing as we arrive at this phase. The Council will monitor recommendations from the CDC and Wisconsin’s public health officials and offer updates.
Continue to use no-touch alternatives for passing the peace, collecting offering, and liturgical resources.
We recommend against offering a fellowship/coffee hour. Continue encouraging people to leave the building rather than mingling.”
As you can see, as we transition back into in-person worship we will be operating under what is being called “the new normal”. As many pundits have observed, we will never again go back to what we once considered “normal”. I need your help as we make this transition. I am looking for 5-7 volunteers who can assist me in setting up the guidelines and procedures for a safe return to worship. Ideally volunteers should be equipped to meet remotely via Zoom .
I thank each of you for your continued prayers for me, for the church, and for each other. It has been gratifying to talk with folks and be told of all the wonderful care that is being shown to our community through phone calls, cards, and letters. We are showing what church community really is. Well done!
May God continue to bless you as we journey together towards that new normal.