Over these past few months, the Lord in his providence has taught us to know more fully the heart-cry of the Psalmist: My soul longs, yes, faints, for the courts of the LORD. For one day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere (Ps. 84.2, 10). As Hebrews 12 so faithfully reminds us, when we gather as the church on the Lord’s day, by the outpoured Spirit’s power, we come not only to a physical landmark, but the Gates of the Zion itself (Heb. 12.18-24). The assembling of the saints for worship serves, in one sense, as a portal to heaven. It offers a foretaste of the age to come (Heb. 6.5). The ministry of word & sacrament reorients our heart’s desires for a better world (1 Pet. 2.1-6), a new heavens and a new earth, for that land where righteousness dwells, and sin and misery are excluded (2 Pet. 3.13). Our Lord has so designed worship to be the appetizer given, to whet our appetite for the consummation of all things: the return of Christ, and the marriage supper of the Lamb (Luke 22.14-16).
These past few months have been difficult for everyone across the world, be it physically, mentally, emotionally, or economically. In recent weeks, we have witnessed great social unrest for a variety of reasons, all of which can be summed like this: that things are not as they should be. The situation has become even more pointed for believers, as we feel disconnected and cut off from one another, perhaps even from God himself. Like the Psalmist, we miss the fellowship of the saints, and the congregation of the righteous (Ps. 42).
During this time, our elders, deacons, and various committees have been hard at work, seeking earnestly to provide a way to reopen our doors in a way that honors both God so that we might worship; but a way that also promotes the good of our neighbor’s health and safety. With these things in mind, I write on behalf of the session to inform you of our present plans.
Livestream Services. We will continue to offer live-stream services as a fixture of our corporate worship. We do this for two reasons reason: (1) we have shut-ins in our congregation; beyond that, (2) we have many who are (rightly) cautious about gathering together for health and safety reasons. Many in our church fall within the ‘at-risk’ category, and I, your pastor, and the rest of the session have sought for a safe way for you to still able to sit under the ministry of the Word, even in the midst of a global pandemic. We as a session are emphatic on this point: if you are hesitant in attending due to these health concerns, or fall in the at risk category, we do not want you to feel as though you are a second-class citizen, because you are not. Quite the contrary: if you have any concerns or worries about attending, we encourage you to continue staying at home, and worshipping with your family from home, using the live-stream capabilities.
To clarify, we have provided a list of categories for those individuals deemed to be ‘high risk’: those 65 years or older; those who live in an assisted living facility, nursing home, or other long-term care facility; or those of any age with underlying medical conditions (particularly if not well-controlled), including chronic lung disease, moderate or severe asthma, heart conditions, the immunocompromised, those with severe obesity (BMI of 40 or higher), those with diabetes, liver disease, chronic kidney disease, or those undergoing dialysis.
Worship Service. That said, there are others who are willing, able, and eager to attend during this time. Now that our governor has allowed churches to reopen according to specific guidelines, the Session of Bethel has deemed it appropriate to open, under certain conditions. Beginning June 21, 2020, we will reopen our doors for public worship for the morning (9:30 am) service, according to the following procedures. Please read carefully!
We will allow up to sixty people to attend per service, attending on a weekly rotation, according to parish group. Here is the schedule for the month of June and July:
June 21 – P. Burke
June 28 – L. Shannon
July 5 – J. Potoshnick
July 12 – J. Veenstra
July 19 – S. Werkema
July 26 – B. Miner
Note, if you are not a member, or you do not know which parish group you are in, please email the church at email@example.com to be assigned to a particular group.
During this season, for health purposes, we will not be administering the Lord’s Supper. The library, nursery, classrooms (except for the youth room), water fountains, kitchen, sink and coffee areas will be closed during this time, and meals and refreshments will not be served. Nor will we have any choir music during this phase during the service. Any cloth-based furniture (such as chairs or couches) will also be cordoned off.
Prior to attending, we will ask that you RSVP to confirm you are attending, so we will know how many to plan for. You can access the online RSVP form on our website here. In addition to an RSVP, we ask that you agree to abide by our guidelines (see below) that we have established during your time at church, be it for Sunday worship, or any on-site activities.
When you attend, we ask that every person over the age of two wear a mask for the duration of your time on site, and that each family maintain a safe social distancing of six feet, even in the parking lot. (Since we will be singing during the service, families will be separated by a ten foot distance for the worship service and Sunday school hour.) You are welcome to bring your own mask, but if you do not have one we will have disposable masks available upon entry. We will also have hand sanitizers scattered throughout the church for use.
Only the South Entrance will be open for entry. We will have an usher at the door to welcome you and bring you to a seat in one of five rooms: (1) the sanctuary, (2) the upstairs fellowship area, (3) the downstairs fellowship area, (4) the lower level piano room, (5) or the youth room. Up to thirty people will be allowed in the sanctuary (although the balcony will be cordoned off; only the pianist and his or her family will be allowed to sit up there); the other thirty will be spread out among the other designated rooms. We have set up large screen monitors in these other rooms for worship.
Due to safety concerns, we will not have Bibles or our hymnals in the sanctuary or overflow rooms. You are always welcome to bring your own Bibles and hymnals, if you have one. If you do not have one, we will provide photocopies of the psalms and hymns when you enter. For copyright purposes, you will not be allowed to keep these photocopies, so trash cans will be placed for you to dispose them on the way out. Those in the sanctuary and upper fellowship hall will exit through the South entrance; and those in the lower fellowship hall and youth rooms will exit through the East entrance. We will have fixed slotted lockboxes available in both the upper and lower levels for you to give your offerings when you leave the church.
Sunday School. Immediately following the worship service, we will offer a live-streamed adult Sunday school, and ask that those in attendance on-site remain in their respective places, unless you need to leave immediately following the worship service. The bathrooms will, of course, be open, but we do ask for you to practice safe social distancing and sanitation if you have to use them. At the conclusion of Sunday school, we will not have any fellowship time available in the church, and ask that everyone recess in an orderly fashion.
Midweek Church Activities. To ensure further safety, we will have a cleaning service disinfect the church twice during the week. Committees and Bible studies are allowed to meet at the church, indoors. If so, however, we ask that that group takes full responsibility for wiping down those hard surface areas, knobs. Furthermore, only the upper-level fellowship area will be available for use, and face masks and maintaining a social distance of six feet will be required. If a group would like to use the facility, please contact our administrative assistant (firstname.lastname@example.org), so that more than one group tries to use the area at the same time.
Of course, if your group would like to meet on-site outdoors, we welcome that as well; but we do ask that the host or organizer let the relevant overseeing committee or session know, how this group plans to abide by the relevant requirements set forth above for worship, in case inclement weather or bathroom usage necessitates relocating indoors.
We recognize this is a work in progress, and that no solution will make everyone happy. We ask that you bear with us in our own infirmities, oversights, and shortcomings; and know this, that what we do, we do for your well-being and good. Over the coming weeks, your parish elder will be contacting you to follow up. If you have further questions, complaints, or suggestions, we ask that you feel free to speak with your parish elder as we seek to do all things for the glory of our risen and ascended Savior.