New Guidelines for Worship Gatherings

Dear church family,

I am about to discuss the new guidelines we will try to practice in the coming weeks. Our elders have reviewed this document and signed off on its contents. However, if reading a lengthy message is not your thing then just know this: Beginning this Sunday and throughout the rest of the summer we ask each person to use their good judgment about how to best function in this time of pandemic. Whether you wear a mask or don’t wear a mask, whether you decide to sit in the rows of pews that are intentionally arranged for socially distancing, or if you decide a regular pew is fine for you, then we respect your personal choices.

Everyone is welcome to gather for our worship meetings. But, we must do so in God’s love and being mindful that different people can make different decisions about how they will live in this time and at the same time, all be right.

Now if you are up for the version with more “meat on the bone,” read on.

This Sunday begins the fourth and final stage of Idaho’s reopening guidelines.

For churches the state guidelines are pretty simple and general:

  • If you are sick you should remain at home.
  • If you are exposed to the Coronavirus you should self-isolate for two weeks and then be tested if you develop symptoms.
  • We are encouraged to socially distance ourselves with others when possible, and engage in reasonable sanitation practices (such as the using hand sanitizers and/or consider wearing a mask when requested or when you are around the most vulnerable because of their age or medical condition).
  • Ultimately, we are to use our good judgment in keeping each other safe and comfortable when we gather together to worship our Lord, while at the same time cherishing our personal freedoms.

These new guidelines, beginning on June 14th, are meant to generally direct our behavior during this pandemic until a vaccine is discovered and manufactured. This is the “new normal” we have heard so much about, as we adjust to living in this “in-between time;” a time between when the Covid-19 virus is still a threat, but when a vaccine to counter it is not yet available. The bottom-line for the guidelines governing group behavior is what churches should be best at doing. We are to use our good judgment about how to keep one another safe, while at the same time, be very accepting of those who take a different approach.

The reality is, all of us are not in the same place, physically or philosophically, about how to best live during this pandemic. The question is, can we cherish our individual freedoms to live as we think best; and at the same time, love and respect our neighbors who feel they have different needs and so chose to live in a different way? If anyone can do this, a church family should be able to do so.
At a practical level, the Dalton Gardens congregation we will do the following:

  1. We will continue to have hand sanitizing stations around the church building.
  2. You may wear a mask or not wear a mask, as you think best. And we ask everyone to also do what they think is in the best interest of others.
  3. We will reserve an area in our large auditorium where every other row of pews will remain marked off for maximum social distancing (especially where our most vulnerable and/or cautious members may wish to sit). However, many rows of pews, that have been closed for the past two weeks will now be open for anyone to use (we only ask that family units try to provide some spacing between themselves and others on the same pew or on the pews in front and behind).
  4. The coffee bar and water fountains will be open. Try to touch as few things as you can, but there is certainly no danger in holding a styrofoam cup.
  5. We are working on a time table for restarting our Bible classes and Children’s Worship. We hope to have everything in place by late July or early August, but it will depend upon the judgment of teachers (children’s teachers. children’s worship leaders, and nursery workers should consult with the parents of their students before a plan to restart is announced).
  6. We will continue to use the sealed communion items for many weeks to come and most likely will not pass the offering baskets again until this fall.

This is NOT a one-size fits all approach. People are different. Their needs are different, and their orientations for how to live during this pandemic are different. Therefore, how we function as a church depends on people sharing their personal preferences with others and then deciding how to best navigate through this uncertain time, doing our best to respect those with different needs.

Wear a mask, don’t wear a mask, that is up to you. But if you are not wearing a mask and someone comes up to you wearing a mask, you will need to consider what is a safe distance for each of you to keep. The only way to know that is ask, talk about your preferences, it’s OK to talk with each other. If the pew where you are seated becomes too crowded for your personal comfort, get up and change pews… it’s OK, no one will boo. If some are comfortable touching others more than some think best, be sensitive to their preferences and it’s OK to share your feelings on that with others.

We have been blessed in North Idaho where the Coronavirus outbreak has been mild and so far, no one has died from the virus in our area. So, is the worse behind us? Maybe. Has the threat of the virus made people for fearful than necessary?  Could be. Will infections from the virus increase in our area in the weeks to come? Probably. Will we have to backtrack on how we are trying to gather for worship? Hopefully not. But honestly, we just don’t know. There are 16 states where Covid-19 cases continue to increase and Idaho is one of those states. However, the outbreak has remains relatively small in Idaho on a per capita basis. So let’s just be thoughtful about how we proceed and in the course of the coming weeks communicate with each other about one another’s needs.

Personally, I plan to be vigilant and respectful of others, but I will not live in fear or isolation just because of the unknown. I will try to avoid going to either extreme on how to live during this pandemic. I do not wish us to be a church that separates each family unit off with plexiglas, nor should we be a church that totally ignores what health officials tell us. I will continue to pray for God’s love, wisdom, grace, and protection. I will stay open to new information and then each day make decisions about how I can best bless others. I invite you to do the same. I hope to see you this Sunday.

May God bless us all,

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