People are hoping the social distancing restrictions will ease up some by the end of May, which means many churches are pondering the best ways to reopen without encouraging a resurgence of CoVid-19 1. Here are thoughts which are being pondered at Central Baptist. The key word is “pondered.” This is an ongoing conversation.
I’m not expecting either the six foot distancing rule, or the requirement to wear masks in public, to end any time soon. For this reason, folks who attend worship will be required to sit six feet apart 2. Masks will also be required for attendance. The church will need to find a way to provide masks for folks who show up without knowing this rule, or are unable to procure their own.
To keep folks spread out in the sanctuary we will need to mark spaces indicating where it’s OK to sit.
Music and Media
I’m not sure how Choir can come back together and maintain physical distancing. Spreading members out separates them from the accompianment and makes it more difficult to see the director. In addition, choirs have been a vector for the spread of CoVid-19, so ours may not be able to come back until the mask restrictions are lifted.
The worship band will have to find a way to follow distancing guidelines in the way it’s laid out. This may mean moving the vocalist 3 away from the other band members because we don’t have a lot of space.
Our lyrics and media projection table will probably need to move away from the sound board so the person working the board can maintain the required six foot spacing.
All Things Passed
We have several moments in worship when the congregation passes something to one another. Each of these will have to be reimagined for this new environment.
Closing the Presses
Printed bulletins will be a thing of the past. These will be replaced by QR codes which link to the order of worship, as posted on our church’s web-site. Announcements will be put on screen during a pre-worship slide show. We’ve held off from this shift for years because the folks who most valued the print bulletin were also the most likely to not have access to a smart device, but print bulletins are a potential vector for spreading the virus and will have to go.
Replacing the Plate
Offering will have to be re-thought. Either worshippers will be asked to drop their offerings in a locked box as they enter the sanctuary 4, or the plates will be held out to individual worshippers. To keep distancing intact plates may have to be fixed with poles, which I don’t like. In either eventuality the offering will still be brought forward during worship, as that is a moment of theological significance.
No Mic For You!
During our prayer time it has been Central’s custom to pass a microphone to worshippers as they shared their requests and praises. That practice will end. Instead, our prayer leader will need to relay requests to the congregation through the microphone on worshippers’ behalf. We’ll also have to institute guidelines for people to keep their requests short–limiting requests to a sentence or two, and encouraging folks to either write out or type their requests in advance. Another alternative would be to submit written requests as they enter worship, and our prayer leader could glove up to read them during our prayer time.
Live Long and Prosper
“Passing the Peace” is an ancient practice, and carries weight. The tradition has been to say to people, “The Peace of the Lord be with you.” And the congregation responds, “And also with you.” From that point worshippers are encourages to convey this passing of peace to their neighbors. The depth of that statement is often overlooked, it is a blessing calling for the shalom of the Creator and Ruler of all things to be upon people. It’s been replaced in most low church settings with a “meet and greet time,” which is being dropped, but that theological moment needs to happen during worship. We’ll have to replace migrating around the sanctuary with handshakes and smiles with remaining in place and making signs of peace to one another. Central had already begun this practice prior to the shut down, and there were a plethora of options being used by folks 5.
In Remembrance of Me
Communion is the most difficult practice to adapt. In low churches like Central, trays are passed between worshippers, who take the elements for themselves before passing the tray one–first the bread, and then the cup. During the post CoVid-19 recovery, and perhaps for much longer, this will not be a viable option. Perhaps the best option would be to bring people forward for intinction. Gloved and masked distributors will take a piece of the bread and dip it in the cup, after which they will drop into worshippers’ hands. The worshipper can then partake, after which a third server will distribute a healthy squirt of hand sanitizer. This would be the only moment when worshippers would be permitted to remove their masks.
Sunday School and Fellowship
Both these practices are going to be put on hiatus for the near future. We’ll likely do some Christian Education via streaming in the future, but it’ll be asynchronous. One of my friends who is a professor uses voicethread, which may be an option 6.
I’m reading a book on the 1918 Influenza Pandemic which points out that the mucus control for small children is “less than optimal,” which may be one of the greatest descriptions in non-fiction literary history. As controlling snot and coughs and sneezes are important mitigation skills to have, putting kids in large groups may not be a good idea. In addition, children under two shouldn’t wear masks because it can inhibit their breathing and toddlers are prone to ripping things off their head as a rule. I don’t see Bump heading to worship any time soon, and school age kids are going to need to follow the same guidelines as the adults. Worship may be “almost all adults” for the near future, which will mean churches will need to find ways to minister to parents who remain cut off from church because of their life situation–much as we are called to take care of “shut ins.”
It’s a New World
Until there’ is a vaccine, or at least a viable treatment, for CoVid-19 some mitigation policies are going to have to be in place. I don’t like this, not even a little bit, but I like running the risk of making our church building a vector for a second wave of this disease even less.
- The notable exception being the churches which have refused to close. They hate their neighbors. And, no, I will not apologize for that. ↩
- People who live in the same households don’t need to keep this distance from each other. ↩
- That is to say, “Me.” ↩
- Or a plate, our council likes that idea better. We’ll just have to keep someone by it. ↩
- My favorite is the Vulcan Salute, though the 90 plus year old who was flashing double peace signs at folks was amazing. ↩
- Oh boy, new toys! ↩