Slow re-opening, beginning May 24, 2020

1. Prayer: Gracious Lord God, watch over us as we prepare to return to worship together like exiles returning home. You have been with us while we have been separated, and we pray that you would continue to watch over us, keep us safe, and give us wisdom as we return, that the spiritual, physical, and emotional wellbeing of all may be preserved and strengthened. Guide us always to put the Love of Christ for us and for our neighbor first, and help us to trust in your forgiving mercy and grace. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
2. I met with the elders and chairman of the congregation last night to discuss plans for St. John’s as the covid-19 crisis continues. We all expressed a desire to return to worship together, in person, and to receive the gifts of our Lord through His Holy Sacrament. Yet we are cautious because of the threat still posed to many due to covid-19.
3. At this time, we have decided to make a tentative return to worship together on Sunday, May 24 (NOT THIS COMING SUNDAY), for an outdoor service (weather permitting). We do not plan to have an FM transmitter like some churches in our area are using. We plan to set up chairs in “family groups” and hope that Pastor’s voice will be sufficient for those who gather. We are planning on celebrating the Lord’s Supper, cautiously. As we approach that Sunday, if weather looks questionable, we will decide how to proceed and announce any changes via email, text, and phone.

4. There will be no in-person Bible Study or Sunday School until we decide otherwise. And . . . Pastor will still do a children’s sermon, but the children will remain with their families for the present. Social distancing and all of that.

5. We realize that some people will still be reluctant to return. We understand. We will continue to livestream for the foreseeable future, to provide the Word to those who do not feel safe returning to the church. And I will offer times other than 10am Sunday morning for people to join me to receive Holy Communion. We are working on those details already. While we may not yet be all together, especially if we worship inside the building, I will make every effort to make sure that everyone is able to receive the Lord’s Supper. If any plans I set out do not make that possible for you, *please* contact me so that I can share this blessing with you.
6. One principal reason that we will begin with outdoor worship is the nature of viruses like covid-19. Research has shown that brief encounters with the viral particles are rarely sufficient to cause infection. The longer the time a person is exposed, though, the more likely an infection. Naturally, I assume that nobody who thought he was infected would come to church and risk infecting others. As we have heard, though, many can have it and be either pre-symptomatic or a-symptomatic. Put an infected person in an enclosed space with little circulation, and the mere act of breathing can put the infectious particles in the air. If another person is there only a few minutes, infection is less likely. But stay there for an hour and infection probability increases (again, assuming that there is an infection present). By remaining outside, the air is “naturally” purified, and infection risk is greatly diminished. So we will try to worship outside for the safety of all.
7. When we need to worship inside, we should, because of the threat posed by covid-19, out of respect for our brothers and sisters in Christ, and out of respect for our governing authorities trying to keep us all safe, limit the number of people in any particular gathering. I addressed this in a brief post on the webpage, with a poll. Please look at it here: http://www.stjohnstringtown.org/other-worship-times/
8. As we resume the celebration of Holy Communion, there will be some additional precautions. The bread and wine will be prepared by someone (pastor or elder) wearing mask and gloves. We will not use the chalice for a while. We will use disposable individual cups, which will be spaced out in the trays so that each person should be able to grab one cup without touching others. Pastor and Elder will wear masks during distribution. They will thoroughly wash their hands immediately prior to distribution. These precautions will be in effect any time the sacrament is celebrated for the foreseeable future.
9. We will not share hymnals, offering plates, and the like. An offering plate will be set out, as we have done at some services previously, such that you can put in your offering before or during the service. The bulletins will be printed much like what has been distributed on the website during the last couple of months. You are welcome to bring your own hymnal and use it during the service. You are also welcome to take a hymnal with you from the church with the understanding that you will bring it back with you when you attend worship, and will return it to the church when the greatest danger of covid-19 seems to be past.
10. Some people have asked about the new online giving. There is a button on the church’s webpage where you can donate, or you can download an app for your smartphone. Either way will allow you to make one-time or recurring donations straight from your bank account (I have set this up for myself for weekly offering). This is not in any way required for anyone. It is offered as a convenience and a level of safety (does not require close proximity nor sharing paper that could be contaminated by a virus). You can give at http://www.stjohnstringtown.org/electronic-giving/
11. As we begin to move back into the church, we would like to continue to livestream. A number of people with whom I have spoken have expressed an interest in keeping it going. There is essentially no ongoing cost to it other than the music license to broadcast the hymns (around $225 per year, I think). To date, the elders have approved about $1200 in emergency funding to have the equipment to do the livestreaming so far. Another camera was added at $600 for better video at the pulpit. Right now, the entire setup is in the front four pews. If we continue, we need different equipment as the recording setup is moved to other locations to be a little less intrusive. I am working with some technicians to figure out the best way forward, but it is looking like a cost of easily $2000-$3000 more to have something more permanent. The good news is, something more permanent would also allow us more flexibility to record weddings, baptisms, etc. It would also accommodate guest pastors and microphones for other purposes (children’s programs?).  And a couple of pieces of equipment that would not carry over from the temporary setup could be used for other purposes. Right now, this process is on hold until we have a better idea of what equipment would best serve us (and we know how much that will cost). While we already spent “in emergency mode”, we want to move cautiously forward seeking the approval and support of the congregation.
12. Wow, who knew I had so much in me to share this morning (I know, probably everybody reading this!)???
13. I do not recall sharing this information, but Marilyn Brandt is at home again following her stay in the hospital and then Lenoir Woods. She still has routine doctor appointments, but has expressed that she is glad to be stuck at home rather than stuck in her room at Lenoir.
14. I have begun doing a midweek devotion, based on the hymn of the day for the following Sunday. I have tried livestreaming at 10am on Wednesdays. That has proved problematic. And it might be a little late for some of you. So I am now going to plan to pre-record it and have it “premiered” (gotta love Facebook) on Wednesday mornings at 7. It will be available via the normal page (or on the “videos” or “live” tabs on the left) any time after that.
15. I would be open to doing a Bible Study if there would be interest. I am not particularly comfortable doing a lecture style and livestreaming on facebook. I would like to use zoom and have other people participate with me. In my understanding, this could be recorded and posted online for others’ benefit. Please see the post at http://www.stjohnstringtown.org/bible-study-in-strange-times/
16. Tamara Sellars asked me to share her family’s deep thanks for your support of their family after Kelton’s death. The fundraiser was a great blessing to them in many ways, and they continue to appreciate your prayers.

17. I think that is all I had to share today. Thank you for your attention. I would like to tell you that you get a prize for reading all the way to the end, but since I am trying to remain socially distant, I am not giving out prizes right now.
18. The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His Face shine upon you. The Lord lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace. Amen.
In Christ,Pastor Whittle