Dear Friends in Christ!
Well 2020 has been quite a year hasn’t it!? Though we traverse through turbulent times let us remember that God Almighty sent His Son Jesus Christ to endure all the hardships that we endure, even death on the cross, in order that we might have a faithful high priest who understands our sufferings, frustrations and anxieties. Call upon the Lord Jesus Christ in your time of challenge, for He cares for you!
We, St. Paul’s Council, Elders and Pastors are happy to bring you our Covid-19 Action Plan for November-December. As we do, we are dedicated to improved communication regarding practical ministry matters as well as perspectives that our members have regarding Covid-19 itself. We want to thank all the members who submitted comments to our Council for review and consideration as we worked toward this plan. We carefully reviewed and considered every comment, and in so many cases, actions are being taken in direct relationship to the comments you made. As we look to the future, we want to continue this communication stream. If you have a comment you would like to share with the Council, please do so via e-mail, in person or in writing, and we will gladly consider it.
As we visited with members over the last two months and considered your comments in writing we came away with the following general observations that served to guide our planning.
Two perspectives: Our congregation, like our community and nation, generally looks at Covid-19 from two perspectives. On the one hand, folks would like to see greater restrictions due to the Coronavirus in order to flatten the curve and protect fellow citizens. On the other hand, folks are of the opinion that greater restrictions pose a threat to individual and religious liberties. Interestingly, each side is very concerned about their neighbor and many on both sides are deeply hurting, anxious and concerned at this time.
Charity: We believe that it is exceedingly important for us, recognizing these two perspectives, to put on charity with one another and our fellow citizens. While members, friends, or family may not agree on every point, we have so much more that we agree on in Christ the crucified! We encourage charity and kindness in all conversations and communications.
Compromise: In light of the first and second points, it has become evident to the Elders and Council that this is an area in which we can compromise. As the above verse from 1 Corinthians 9 shows, our Pastors are very eager to join Paul in “becoming all things to all people” for the sake of the Gospel. While we will never compromise on our beliefs or Jesus’ Words, how we respond to a virus and conduct ministry during this time is certainly an area where compromise is appropriate.
Objective Standards: What objective standard can we follow in order to give unity around an approach to ministry during this time? While this was a difficult question to answer as advice varies all around us, we thought the most general starting point we could find was in the proclamations issued by our Governor’s office. So long as they are not in conflict with the Word of God and our constitutional rights related to religious liberties, the Council and Elders felt it was appropriate to create a standard based on these statements.
With this introduction, St. Paul’s Covid-19 Action Plan for November and December follows below.
A Standard for Ministry at St. Paul’s During the Covid-19 Pandemic:
(Adapted from Section 6E “Spiritual and Religious Gatherings” of the Governor’s Proclamation from November 16th.)
“St. Paul’s will implement reasonable measures to ensure social distancing of gatherings held on our properties as well as increased hygiene practices and any other public health measures to reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19 and to continue moving forward actively in mission and witness.”
Observations– Many respondents to the recent survey shared interest in either a “mask only” service on Sunday, (needing to be the first service for sanitary reasons) or providing a service on a different day that can offer more protocols. Comments on guidelines varied, but in summary, they related to the desire of having stricter and more clearly communicated protocols that people followed. There were also several comments relating to returning the pads to the pews.
Action- In response to much feedback, St. Paul’s Church Council and Elders are establishing a Saturday night mask only service to be held at 5:30p.m. beginning on November 21st. Protocols other than masking will include social distancing, hand sanitizer placed in each entryway, the opportunity for bulletins only, offering plates placed at entrances, continuous communion and other such protocols. Reasons for this day and time include the following:
1. Those who attend on Saturday night will be the first in the sanctuary after it had been sanitized by our janitors the
2. An additional service will help further spread our members out in order to make social distancing easier to achieve.
3. Following new, more extensive protocols will be easier to achieve in a new service on a separate day.
4. Sunday’s bulletin can be used and printed fully for those who would rather not use a hymnal.
5. A Saturday night service has been considered at different times throughout St. Paul’s history anyway. This will give others who cannot make a Sunday service the ability to worship on a given weekend.
2. Communion Offered throughout the Week or in Homes:
Observation– It is clear that since we came back to church in May midweek communicants have dropped off. People may not realize they can still come in for weekly or regular communion during the week individually or in small groups.
Action– Here we simply want to communicate our Pastors’ desire to be seeing and communing our members. They are very eager to set up times for communion during the week if you are not comfortable coming to church for worship. They are also very eager to visit you in your home or elsewhere if you are comfortable with that. It should be noted that our pastors follow whatever protocol is necessary in order to see our members and they are happy to do whatever it takes to share God’s gifts with our members.
3. Janitorial Service:
Observation- A few respondents asked if any extra measures were being taken by our janitorial staff related to Covid-19. In a few cases suggestions were offered.
Action/Response– Yes. Since the onset of Covid-19, one of the measures we took right away was to increase the responsibilities of our janitors on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Currently our janitors disinfect all door handles, light switches, and all the pews. St. Paul’s leadership has made a point to be in frequent communication with our janitors in case we should want to modify or increase their responsibilities.
4. Sunday School:
Observations– Very few respondents commented on details that related to Sunday School in terms of extra measures to be taken. However, many respondents commented on the need to offer Sunday School to all ages. Many adults would like to return adult Bible class to the fellowship hall citing discomfort in the sanctuary, difficulty of hearing, and lack of fellowship.
Action– Citing the Governor’s guide of “reasonable measures under the circumstances of each gathering,” the Council and Elders felt our Sunday School classes could social distance well enough throughout the building, especially with reduced numbers at this time. The Director of Education along with the Sunday School teachers have been tasked to identify appropriate classrooms for classes that take into consideration class size and spacing.
Observation– The nursery has not been staffed since the beginning of Covid in March. Respondents requested creative approaches to enable its use again for the few that might need it.
Action– A generous member offered funds to provide a deep cleaning and “refresh” to the nursery. The Council and Elders believed that creating a space with fewer small objects that could be kept clean was important at this time. Parents who have children nursery aged are asked to create a schedule for nursery staffing of their own children.
6. Christ Academy:
Observations– Like Sunday School, most comments relating to Christ Academy focused on the need to offer programming for all ages. Additionally, many adults again asked about returning to the fellowship hall citing discomfort in the sanctuary, difficulty of hearing and lack of fellowship.
Action– When the Covid-19 Action Plan for September-October came out, we had no idea what to expect in terms of numbers at Christ Academy. To be sure, our numbers are way down from years past. With fewer attending, it is quite easy to space out room to room on Wednesdays. Like with Sunday School, the Director of Education along with the Christ Academy volunteers have been tasked to identify appropriate classrooms for classes that take into consideration class size and spacing. Beginning in December, we will resume offering classes for all ages.
7. Food Offered at Church:
Observations– It may be that next to God’s Word, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, food is next in line regarding importance! Through surveys and conversations we have learned how important food is at Christ Academy and doughnuts and coffee are on Sunday morning. While some fear that Covid-19 may present itself in a dangerous way through food preparation and consumption, others are equally concerned about the negative effects everyone is having from the protocols themselves, especially from a mental health perspective citing loneliness and depression.
Action– The Council and Elders believed that this should be an area of compromise and that food should be allowed, however in an orderly, refined manner. For both Christ Academy and Sunday morning doughnuts and coffee, food will be brought in the from outside, plated and served on disposable surfaces, either a napkin or plate. Those who consume food or drink should throw their own paper products away. Clorox wipes will be provided at tables appropriately distanced for individuals to wipe down themselves after usage. A single volunteer is being identified to oversee any food provision on both Sunday and Wednesday.
Observations– In September and October the planning of choirs and special instrumentalists was left to the pastors and Dr. C as to how exactly to continue. There have been some comments over the past two months about lack or communication or clarity on our choirs. Other comments have shown appreciation for the diversity of small groups developed since March and the reliability of many of our volunteers.
Action– Leaders of our choirs are committed to incorporating anyone who wants to participate. Our leaders are again being asked to contact members who may wish to participate. Vocalists are being formed in groups of four or less and are all singing from the “choir loft” in the area near the organ. This allows more space for members to sit socially distanced in the nave and keeps the singers quite a distance from the congregants. It is indeed a challenge to communicate and organize special small groups at this time when standardized rehearsal times are not occurring. If you are interested in participating in this way, please let us know!!
9. Live-streamed services:
Observations– Live-streamed services are without a doubt the most unanimously positive feature to come out of the Covid-19 crisis. So many respondents were thankful for this service. This is something everyone agrees on. Thanks be to God!!!
Action– St. Paul’s will continue to live stream well into the future. Ever since March, John Timm and Dan Wych have been arriving to church around 7:00 a.m. on Sunday mornings and at times coming in during the week to work on projects and fix things associated with the live streaming. Nate Heinicke and Joel Maurice have also been involved with this work. Please call, write or in some other way thank these men for what they have done for all of us. They have truly participated in delivering you the Gospel at this time! If you are interested in joining the live streaming team, please let them or one of the pastors know.
What comes to your mind when you think of “Church?” For many, we just think of Sunday morning worship. It makes sense. That’s where the old joke comes from that “Pastors work only one day a week!” But for St. Paul’s, Sunday morning is but one part of a very full week. Monday morning we have to be on task ready to operate a full service Early Childhood Center. Music Conservatory lessons and outreach are occurring each day of the week. Much planning goes into Sunday worship as well as Sunday School and Christ Academy opportunities. David’s Harp is a growing ministry our Pastors are leading, and gains are made each week across the nation and in the foreign mission field. Kahl Therapy, housed at our ECC and Spence Counseling, housed at our Church are just two more ways we serve our community and intersect with people’s lives. As a Christian ministry, much of our work goes unseen, occurring person to person as an outgrowth of the primary work of our core areas of ministry. Suffice it to say, though Sunday morning is the point from which all ministry flows, it is practically speaking, only one part of the whole.
When the Council and Elders consider “St. Paul’s Ministry,” we are considering lots of things occurring everyday of the week in many locations. We are attempting to create a plan of action that takes into consideration all of our members and all of our ministry work. To be sure, this is not perfect, nor do we assume to be experts. We humbly submit this plan to you with the goal of helping our members and community members remain safe and continuing our ministry with full confidence in Jesus. We remain, as always, yours in Christ.
St. Paul’s Council, Elders, and Pastors