We’re writing with an update on the work of our Re-Opening Task Force, which has been meeting since May to discuss our plans, procedures, and goals during the pandemic. I hope you'll take a few minutes to read this update, which is in three parts: What CLC is doing now, what considerations have guided us as we've made our plans, and our future steps for the rest of the fall and into the winter. And as always, we invite you to be in touch to share your needs and concerns.
I. What we are doing now:
- Starting October 4 we have offered a sign-up for limited participation in the sanctuary for our 9:30 a.m. live stream. For our indoor services, we chose to adhere as closely as we could to local public health guidance by limiting participation to ten adults (with any children in attendance not counted toward the total). Anyone not wishing to use SignUpGenius is invited to call the church office at (214) 363-4355 or email Sergio at firstname.lastname@example.org by the end of the day Friday to reserve a place. Everyone has graciously complied with mask-wearing and social distancing requirements. Thank you!
- At the same time we began offering a full outdoor service of Word and Sacrament, with readings, the sermon, prayers, and a hymn at 10:45 a.m. Outdoor services require masks and distance but no sign-up and no limit to participation.
- Also starting October 4 we have held in-person gatherings for children following the 10:45 service. Wanting to give the children of the congregation a way to meet and interact safely offline, we tried this on an experimental basis, focusing on preschool/kindergarten children the first week, first through fourth graders the second week, and confirmation students the third week. We plan to continue these gatherings in some form in November.
- All other classes and meetings have remained online as we watch local and national trends in virus transmission.
II. Our guiding considerations
- First, this is a bad disease. The very large majority of cases are not fatal. But we have seen fatality rates higher (either by a little bit or a lot) than seasonal flu, which kills tens of thousands of people each year, and unlike the flu there is as of now no vaccine and no widely available treatment like Tamiflu to ease symptoms. And some non-fatal and relatively mild cases, even among young and healthy people, have been shown to have long and difficult complications, from lingering severe fatigue to profound cardiac symptoms.
- Second, it is important to think ahead. The rates of new infections and hospitalizations have gone up and down and up again this year, so any decision made at one point in the infection curve will be implemented at a different point and then evaluated at yet another point. We have pursued our steps cautiously because we are mindful that an encouraging decline in new infections at one moment may become a negative trend four or six weeks later. We did not want to pursue a broad or rapid re-opening at a low point in the pandemic only to have to roll it back later when new infections are rapidly increasing.
- Third, it helps to use multiple layers of precautions at the same time. No single intervention can stop the spread of the coronavirus. Masks reduce transmission but do not eliminate it. The same is true of six feet of distance, increasing ventilation, limiting numbers of people or time in an enclosed space, and so forth. We've combined multiple interventions to make worship as safe as possible, and done so cautiously to reduce the likelihood that we would have to cut back on an activity that people come to look forward to. We can gather in greater numbers and longer durations outdoors than indoors. If we’re widely spaced out, we can be together for longer durations than if we are closer together. We can be together longer if we reduce the amount of droplets we disperse by singing and talking. As we continue with indoor worship, we will keep adjusting these tradeoffs: more people will probably mean shorter services and/or less singing and talking.
III. Future Steps
- Starting on November 22 (Christ the King Sunday), both the 9:30 and 10:45 services will be indoors with advance sign-ups. The 9:30 service will continue to be live-streamed and archived on YouTube and Facebook. We expect to increase the attendance limit at that point to one household per alternating pew on each side. That's a capacity of up to 20 households. The advance registration will allow us to conduct contact tracing should that be necessary. We plan to check temperatures of worshipers on arrival. Communion will be distributed continuously rather than at the rail and everyone will be asked to sanitize their hands before receiving, as is our current practice at the outdoor service.
- If there is more demand for worship than two services can accommodate, we will add a third service earlier in the morning.
- We are making plans for Advent vespers in the sanctuary on Wednesday evenings as in Lent with advance sign-ups.
- We are making plans for three Christmas Eve services with times to be announced.
- Education and fellowship activities will continue to adapt their practices on a case by case basis, with input from families, staff, and volunteer leaders.
Thank you for taking the time to read this update. We are aware that this has been an emotionally exhausting and controversial time for everyone, and we know that no decision we make together will satisfy everyone's needs and priorities. We are thankful for the assumption of good faith that has been extended by the congregation to us and our work. We will do our best to be worthy of it. We know that this period will end, and we pray that it will be soon. And we are deeply thankful to God for your continuing prayer and support, without which nothing we do or hope to do will be possible.
Grace and Peace,
Pastor Ben Dueholm
Connie Uhri, Council President
Ginger Hagens, Council Vice-President
Sharon Karol, Council Secretary
David Marshall, Treasurer
Greg Nelson, Financial Secretary
Tina Deuber, M.D.
Joanne Osterland, Director, Christ Lutheran Preschool
Hando Nahkur, Director of Music Ministry
Marc Hatcher, Director of Youth and Family Ministry