Regathering During COVID-19
Dear Church Family, October 31, 2020
It is with a heavy heart that I write to you today.
After a recent COVID-19 outbreak in our neighboring city of Fitchburg, Leominster and a handful of other nearby towns have entered “the red zone,” the highest infection rate category in the State of Massachusetts. In response to the increased infection rate in our area, the Church Council voted yesterday to close the church building until further notice.
This decision was prompted by a directive from our bishop on Thursday morning. The bishop asked for churches in areas with high infection rates or known outbreaks to refrain from any in-person activity until the risk of infection has dropped significantly.
The one exception to the closing for our local church will be for the operation of our monthly food pantry, which has been successfully operating via drive-thru since April.
LUMC’s safety precautions for in-person worship and other in-person gatherings have been and will continue to be heavily researched and held to a high standard. We are proud to report that there have been zero known cases of COVID-19 in our congregation, and our aim is to continue being leaders in safe remote and hybrid worship innovation.
While I understand that announcing a time frame for the closing would be helpful for holiday planning, we are unable to confidently do so at this time. I am working with our bishop and other church leaders to determine an appropriate time frame and criteria for regathering. I wanted to let you know this news as soon as possible, and I will continue to update you as new information is available.
This decision is disappointing for many of us, and we do not take it lightly. We are particularly grieved by the loss it presents to our community partners and youth group, who depend on our building space to fully conduct their vital work.
We will continue to worship online at 10:30am on Sunday mornings. As always, the service is accessible at www.leominsterumc.org or www.facebook.com/leominsterunitedmethodistchurch. The church office will continue to serve you remotely by phone (978-537-1356) and email (email@example.com), and if you are in need of support, assistance, or pastoral case, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Finally, if you are able, please take this opportunity to reach out to your neighbors and church family to care for one another. We’re all in this together, and with God’s help we will get through this.
The church is not closed and never has been. We are the church together.
Grace and peace,
September 13, 2020
Dear Church Family,
Beginning September 13, we will be reopening the doors of our church building for Sunday worship at 10:30. The same service will also be live-streamed. Thus we will all worship together as one congregation, both gathered and scattered. If you’re a high risk individual, we recommend that you stay home and worship with us through the service live-stream. If you are considering attending worship in person, the purpose of this letter is to tell you everything you need to know about what to expect.
Above all, we want to emphasize our calling to both responsibility and grace. We are asking you to take personal responsibility for respecting and protecting the health of others around you, and of yourself. We are doing everything we reasonably can to keep those who walk through our doors safe. Our safety protocols are based on the guidelines from the Center for Disease Control, the State of Massachusetts, and the New England Annual Conference.
But also, we ask you to offer grace. The church is made up of people, and that means that it’s never going to be perfect. If you see someone around you doing something that makes you feel unsafe, try to give that person some grace. Be kind. Try to be a non-anxious presence. If a situation needs to be addressed directly, please speak to one of our ushers.
Before entering the building please put on your mask and keep it on at all times, fitted properly around both your nose and your mouth. (If you forget your mask, we will have extras available.) When you come inside, sanitize your hands. You may need to wait to enter the sanctuary, and if that’s the case, please observe the social distancing markers on the floor.
We will have paper copies of the bulletin, but if you’d prefer the no-touch option of viewing the bulletin on your phone, there will also be a QR code that you can scan.
If you need to use the bathroom, the first floor bathrooms will be open.
When you enter the sanctuary, you will notice that things look a little bit different. In order to maintain social distancing, we have marked off every other pew and put up some signs to help you navigate your way around. We are expecting everyone to sit a minimum of six feet away from anyone who does not reside in their immediate household. If if you have a special request about where you want to sit, please contact the office in advance so that we can do our very best to accommodate your needs.
Keep in mind that a large portion of our congregation will be joining us online, and in order to make that possible we’ve got a camera and some other equipment. If you have safety concerns about being seen on camera, please let an usher or Pastor Michelle know, and they can direct you to an appropriate location in the sanctuary.
We won’t be passing the offering plates, but you can give your offering by placing it in a plate either on your way in or on your way out of the sanctuary. Online giving options will continue to be available, too.
We’ve also adopted a new way of passing the peace without touching that you will learn.
Anyone who is singing or projecting their voice will always be a minimum of 16 feet away from all others. I’m going to remove my mask when I am speaking to you, but there will be a line on the floor to show me where to stop so that I don’t get too close without my mask. From time to time, we may also have soloists or small musical ensembles. We’ve mapped out a few places where those musicians can stand and sing or play at a safe distance from others, indicated by x’s that have been placed on the ground. Sadly, we won’t be doing any congregational singing for the time being.
We will, however, continue to celebrate communion once a month on the first Sunday of the month. When that time comes, you will remain in your seat and receive a pre-packaged wafer and cup of juice.
Unfortunately, we are unable to safely offer nursery or childcare at this time. However, children of all ages are always welcome in our worship services.
When the service is over, we ask that you please exit the sanctuary and building in an orderly fashion, maintaining social distancing, and keeping in mind both responsibility and grace. Please exit the building immediately following the service. You’re welcome to stay and fellowship in the parking lot.
In closing, we want you to know that we have adopted more rigorous cleaning protocols, including regular sanitizing all high touch surfaces. We are also increasing ventilation in the sanctuary.
At this present time, we regret that the building is not able to safely open to our community group partners. The only groups using the building are the LUMC congregation, and our sister congregation, the Antioch Korean United Methodist Church. They’ll be worshiping a couple hours after we do on Sundays, and we’ll be cleaning all common spaces in between.
If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us. You can reach me directly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grace and peace,
Rev. Michelle Ashley