First Presbyterian Church of Fayetteville, TN will welcome congregants back for Sunday service on May 31, marking the first time in 12 weeks that members will be able to greet each other in person.
With many members over age 65, and therefore at the highest risk of complications from COVID-19, the church’s leaders made the decision to reopen only after a week of prayer and discernment, according to the pastor, Rev. Bruce McVey.
Church leaders still deciding when and how to reopen their buildings may find helpful guidance in Rev. McVey’s letter to his congregation. Here is his full announcement:
May 21, 2020
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” (Acts 2:1)
So begins the account of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church in the book of Acts. As we approach the day of Pentecost, we understand that it may not be possible for the members of our congregation to be “all together in one place” in the near future. While some restrictions are being lifted in some places and for some people, the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 global pandemic will require that we return to church in a way that is measured and mindful of the needs of the most vulnerable among us. While some may begin to attend public worship in person, we know that some will need to continue to worship at home for a while.
We give thanks, then, for the promise of our faith — that the Lord God will bless us and keep us, the risen Christ is with us, and the Holy Spirit connects us with believers near and far in every time and place. We take comfort and inspiration from the example of the earliest believers, who “spent much time together in the temple” and “broke bread at home … with glad and generous hearts.” (Acts 2:46) As we anxiously track the news in these times — numbers of new cases, numbers of persons who have died, and numbers of those who are recovering — remember the good news of the gospel: “And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47)
With these things on our hearts, the session met last night to discuss our return to in-person worship. We entered this meeting after a week of prayer and discernment. After thoughtful discussion, the session has decided to resume in-person worship on May 31, 2020 — the Day of Pentecost (“The Day When God Made the Church”). The resumption of in-person worship does not mean we are returning to “business-as-usual.” Please carefully read these highlights of our plan:
• For the foreseeable future, we will worship in-person every other week. Since COVID-19 symptoms can take 14 days to manifest, and folks are usually contagious three days after exposure (even if they are not symptomatic), we are building a “pause” into our in-person gatherings. This pause will permit any symptoms to manifest between our times together so that folks can self-isolate should they become symptomatic. Here is the worship schedule for the coming weeks:
o Both in-person and digital worship: May 31, June 14, June 28
o Digital worship ONLY: June 7, June 21, July 5
• If you feel safer at home, please stay home. We do not expect anyone to compromise their safety, or their conscience, in order to attend worship. Showing up on May 31st is not the litmus test for our faith in God or our commitment to FPCF! In fact, we strongly encourage everyone over the age of 70, and those in higher risks categories, to remain at home. We will still provide for digital worship services.
• We will worship in the Family Life Center (the gym) for now. We have more room to manage social distancing there. Please do not move the chairs — they are arranged to follow the governor’s and CDC’s recommendations. The chairs will remain set-up throughout the week in the Family Life Center (the gym) in order to limit physical handling.
• Unless you are helping lead worship (e.g., usher, musician, liturgist) you may not enter the building until 9:45 a.m. (worship starts at 10:15 a.m.). If there is a line of folks waiting to enter, please do maintain social distancing by standing six feet apart.
• Masks are required for entry into the building and must be worn at all times. No exceptions. Should you not have a mask, we will provide one for you. Please take masks home with you — do not leave them at the church (even in the garbage).
• We will check temperatures of each person as they enter the Family Life Center. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4° or higher will not be permitted to enter the building.
• Maintain social distance of six feet from each other. No shaking hands, no hugging, no back-slapping, no “kisses of peace.” Waving, air hugging, and sharing the peace sign are great (and safer) alternatives.
• We will not pass out bulletins or hymns. We will use only the projection screen. We will email the bulletin before worship so that you may use your own personal smartphone or tablet, if you would like.
• We will not have congregational singing for a while. Singing presents particular concerns for transmitting this disease. Consequently, we will have a soloist or same-family duo sing hymns while the congregation hums, whistles, and/or silently reads the lyrics. The singers will be 15-20 feet from the congregation (per scientific guidelines) in order to limit exposure.
• We will celebrate the Lord’s Supper on May 31 with individually-prepackaged communion elements.
• We will not offer in-person Sunday School classes, Wednesday night programming, or host any groups or activities at our facility for the foreseeable future. Moreover, the church office will also remain closed to the public.
• The restrooms will be opened for emergencies. Should you need to use the restrooms, please wash your hands thoroughly (at least 20 seconds — say the Lord’s Prayer) before returning to worship.
• We encourage you to prayerfully give electronically or via US Mail. For those who gather in person, we will have buckets at the exit doors in which you may drop your tithes and offerings as you leave. We will not “pass the plate.”
I know that is a long list of rules and regulations. I, too, am sad about some of these changes. Please know, though, that we arrived at these guidelines after a careful process of discussion and discernment, with an abundance of caution and concern for those who are most vulnerable, upon consideration of the best scientific knowledge at our disposal, in the spirit of constant prayer, and with full trust in the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.
We will make mistakes along the way. There will surely be awkward moments as we adjust to new protocols and practices. There will be times of frustration, disappointment, and grief. We will have countless opportunities to exercise the spiritual gifts of patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.
But there will also be blessings. There will be wonderful surprises, great celebrations, and moments of deep satisfaction. We will get to see glimpses of the new thing God is doing, even now. We will have opportunities to savor the spiritual gifts of love, joy, peace, generosity, and faithfulness.
Let us be faithful, then — to God and to one another — as we receive the gifts and work through the challenges of this time in the life of our congregation and world. Let us be guided by the Word, responsive to the Spirit, and open to the grace of God. Above all, let us remember and rejoice that “nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Brief Statement of Faith; Rom. 8:38–39)
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Bruce McVey
First Presbyterian Church of Fayetteville