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October 16, 2020
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COVID’s Fine Line
October 16, 2020
As you may know, after months of careful consideration of a myriad of factors, and in close consultation with local public health officials, we’ve decided to give in-person, indoor worship at First Church a try.
And, even though we have worked diligently to develop and put into place a number of well thought out protocols in order to offer a safer in-person experience, it is important to remember that individual education, awareness, and responsible decision making is always going to be paramount in these COVID times.
Last week we shared the numbers and trends we are watching, along with local public health officials who are helping us interpret what these numbers mean. By keeping your own watch on Tarrant County COVID-19 Statistics dashboard, you, too, can monitor the key numbers behind our decision making, such as new case counts, hospitalization rates, and emergency room visits.
We also noted that monitoring one other key indicator of community spread known as the R0 (pronounced R-naught), tells us how fast cases are multiplying because it models the expected number of new cases that will result directly from each single case within our community.
When the R0 goes above 1.0, that means we’re having fast spread, and the results will show up over the following two months. Although the R0 has remained relatively stable lately at just under 1.0, public health officials are now expressing some concern that this number is rising and now sits slightly above 1.0 — at 1.1. We will continue to monitor this key indicator of community spread as well as CDC reports and public health guidelines.
The most important message is this: in consultation with public health officials, we know that we have some of the most stringent safety protocols in the county. As long as everyone follows all the protocols, we can have limited in-person worship safely with a lower chance of transmission. However, please keep in mind that even with our stringent protocols in place, First Church leadership may choose to stop in-person worship again if the county trends continue in this upward trajectory. This is a decision to be made week-to-week, in consultation with our public health officials.
In the continued fine line we’re walking between making in-person worship church accessible for those who are comfortable with it and continuing to model good community partnership, we are so grateful to our First Church family and the “can-do” spirit that keeps us engaged and connected, whether we worship together online, in-person, or any combination of the two!
We have been carefully planning a safer return to in-person worship for months now, and we are so excited to invite you back to in-person, indoor worship this Sunday, October 18 at the 9:30 Gathering and 11:00 am Sanctuary services. We’ll hold both of these services in the Sanctuary using a limited (under 25%) seating capacity.
Of course, we will also continue to livestream all of our Sunday services, and they will continue to be available “on demand” throughout each week. We look forward to worshipping together as one community that combines both online and in-person First Church worshippers.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Please make a reservation for the service you’d like to attend. Reservations open at 1:00pm on Sundays and close at 1:00 pm on Fridays for each following Sunday’s worship services
- Reservations will help us ensure that we are able to maintain at least six feet of space between all seating groups
- This system will also help us to immediately employ contact tracing should the need arise
- Reservations also allow us to make sure we are using all our entrances and exits to mitigate the number of people in any one entrance or exit
- Your reservation will allow us to take attendance at the door
- For worship registration, our COVID-19 Screening Form is part of your reservation; making a reservation means you meet the criteria for attending in-person worship
WHAT TO BRING:
- We require that you wear a mask covering the nose and mouth at all times while on campus; if you don’t have one, our ushers will have extras available for you
- Please feel free to bring your Bible or electronic device; there will be no Bibles or hymnals in the sanctuary
- We will not pass an offering plate; please plan to make your offering electronically via your phone or drop your cash or check in any of the black boxes located at each entrance/exit
WHAT TO EXPECT:
- When you arrive, we’ll first take your temperature and then an usher will help you find your seat
- Bring the whole family— we encourage children to join their families in worship! (Our Sunday School classes and Children’s Ministry are not yet meeting in-person on Sunday mornings)
- Youth Ministries will be offering indoor in-person, outdoor in-person, and virtual options for our teenagers during the 11:00 hour, as well as additional virtual and in-person programming options on Sunday evenings. Registration is required for all in-person events; please contact Kat Bair (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information
- Please do not sing, even with your mask on; humming is just fine!
- No food or beverage on campus unless medically necessary
- Please greet one another safely, with a friendly wave instead of hugs or handshakes (we understand how hard this may be)
- Be sure to maintain at least six feet of distance from people who don’t live with you at all times
- We’ll clean the Sanctuary prior to the 9:30 am service and again between services with our new Victory Backpack Electrostatic Sprayer
- Please use hand sanitizer upon entering and exiting the building using the hand sanitizer stations available at all entrances/exits
Thank you for your help and patience in making worship safer for everyone. See you at church!
October 18 and an Ongoing Caveat
October 9, 2020
On September 25 in our FUMCFW Weekly Enews we published the article, “Why is it taking so long?” to address the many questions surrounding our return to in-person, indoor worship in our beloved Sanctuary. In that article we outlined the thinking behind our decision making, our reliance on science, and our close working relationship with our local public health officials.
We also mentioned a hopeful return date of October 11; however, upon looking at the weekly trends we’ve been advised to watch most closely and the advice of public health officials, we have delayed that start date another week — to a new hopeful date of October 18.
With an ongoing caveat.
With our deep commitment to keeping vulnerable members of our congregation as safe as possible and averting contribution to the community spread of this virus, we will continue to watch the weekly trends as advised and stay in contact with public health officials to make this in-person worship decision by the end each week.
We realize that last-minute decisions are never ideal. And that having to make a reservation to go to church seems odd at best. Please be assured that we’re doing all we can to make this transition back to “normal” (whatever that’s going to look like) as easy and user-friendly as possible.
A phrase that we have learned to live with is “During COVID…” That phrase reminds us that what we are doing now to keep people safe — to do no harm — is not forever, but during this unprecedented time.
When key trends seem steady and we’re cleared to go forward with in-person worship, you’ll receive an email as soon as that determination is made with a link to make your online reservation for the following Sunday’s service. Our clergy and program staff, led by Worship Coordinator Elaine Johnson and Director of Welcoming Ministries Lisa Helm, have worked very hard since early June to develop and implement protocols we will follow once we’re back on campus for worship. Watch your email for specific instructions!
Want to know more? Click here to view the site our public health officials monitor regularly.
In addition to new case counts, hospitalization rates, and other stats you’ll see on this Tarrant County Public health Dashboard, one local biostatistician who regularly puts out reports for the county and the state on this topic says that epidemiologists also watch a statistic known as the R0 (pronounced R-naught) that indicates how fast cases are multiplying. The RO models the expected number of cases that will result directly from one case within a community. When the R0 goes above 1.0 we’re having fast spread, such as it did in June, and we saw the results throughout July and August. Because the R0 is currently less than 1 and has been relatively stable, we are able to consider and actively plan our return to in-person worship, with the ongoing caveat that if it the RO and other trends go back up, we shut back down.
Why is it Taking So Long?
September 25, 2020
Most of us wonder how long this unprecedented time of online Sunday worship will continue. Many of us may be feeling unfulfilled and disappointed with “online everything” — longing to return to “church as usual,” especially when so many other churches, businesses, and organizations are resuming some semblance of normality.
You’re not alone.
You may also wonder why these other groups and denominations can do it and we can’t. Looking around you may see some of the same demographics we have and wonder, “what is wrong with our church that we can’t move forward, too?”
We get it. It’s frustrating. And your church leadership grieves with you. And if you, like so many, just want a date when all of this will be over, we feel your angst and echo it. This virus isn’t giving us — or anyone else in the world — any solid clues.
However, here’s what we do know, drawing on information curated from our local public health officials, that provide ample cause for this continued and elongated pause:
- Throughout the pandemic, we have looked at several possible dates to return with protocols in place, but as each date approached, the trends in Tarrant County were such that we had to postpone. We have had plans and protocols in place since May, waiting for a time when we could safely return. To date, those same trends continue, and our Tarrant County Public Health Department still classifies our community spread as “substantial.” We have also been advised not to change anything we’re doing until this spread becomes “moderate.”
- In consultation with our public health experts, we made plans to hold three weeks of very careful outdoor worship and evaluate those experiences. This Sunday will be the second Sunday of outdoor worship at 9:30 on Fifth street; for the next two Sundays we will worship outdoors at 9:30 (The Gathering) and continue to livestream the 11:00 Sanctuary service from the sanctuary.
- Once we have had a chance to evaluate the first two weeks of in-person outdoor worship, in consultation with public health officials we will announce another tentative date for returning to in-person worship, knowing full well that as we continue to watch the trends we may have to postpone these plans, as well.
- Recently we began allowing small groups to meet on campus, including our new Fall study opportunity, GROW, which meets both in-person under strict COVID guidelines and via Zoom for those who are not yet comfortable with in-person worship. We will continue to monitor these groups and make decisions as warranted by changing trends in the spread of COVID-19 in our local community.
Because this virus — and response to it — has become so politicized, it can be very difficult to sort out fact from political spin. It’s enough to make your head spin right along with it. That’s why we rely on the insights offered to us by our public health officials, the actual data gathered by the county on confirmed cases and deaths due to COVID-19, and the most current scientific knowledge about how this virus behaves and spreads. For some, getting COVID-19 may not result in serious illness or death. But for others, contacting COVID-19 could be fatal. And, based on statistics, we have no way of knowing who that is.
Here are a few of these guideposts that help us make the determinations about how, whether, and when we will return to in-person gatherings:
- We are still a “substantial” spread. Public Health officials agree that they would like to see that rating move to “moderate” before moving forward with much.
- We only have 1427 hospital beds in Tarrant County out of 5025 available on 9/22/2020, so only 28% of our hospital bed capacity would be available in the event of another spike.
- Potential good signs are that September confirmed cases and emergency room visits seem relatively right now. Ideally, we would like to see them start decreasing.
- Because of this relative flatness, public health officials have let us know it’s worth exploring an opening plan but caution us that we must be willing to close back up if things increase again.
We miss being together in person, but at the same time, it is very important to remember that we are a church family, and the safety and wellbeing of one another has to be our primary concern.
Ultimately, the decision not to hold services indoors wasn’t made out of fear, but rather with our deepest respect for health and life. Our love for God and our neighbor drives us, and we are called by John Wesley to do no harm.
We’re hopeful that the COVID-19 numbers in Tarrant County will continue to trend downward, and we will be able to gather indoors in a limited capacity beginning October 11. Our staff has worked diligently to create a plan that prioritizes the health and safety of our members and guests, and we look forward to sharing those details with you as the time for in-person worship indoors grows closer.
Even after our doors reopen, we will continue to offer Sunday morning worship online and on-demand throughout the week so you will have the opportunity to make the best decisions for you and your family.
Yes, we’re all sick to death of social distancing. Nobody likes online worship as well as being there. Know that your church leadership is well aware of the frustration you are feeling. Know that your church leaders love and miss being together as much if not more than you do. And that your clergy is more than tired of preaching to empty spaces and the lenses of cameras rather than to the expressive faces of our congregation, sitting in their usual places.
Also know this: we will be together again. This pandemic will be behind us all someday. And just because we don’t exactly know what day that will be, or how will get there from here, it doesn’t mean that anything else has changed about who we are as a church — and that caring for one another will remain our highest priority.
Gather With Us on the Church Steps
September 18, 2020
On Sundays, September 20 and 27, First Church will celebrate another first with The Gathering headed outdoors for in-person worship at the 9:30 am on the front steps of the church. Fifth Street will be blocked off, just like in the good old days, and all are welcome to bring your lawn chair, sit with your family or household in the social distancing grid marked off to help keep everyone safe, and enjoy worship al fresco at First Church!
In this service, Rev. Lance Marshall, Co-Pastor, will continue his current Put Down Your Phone, And Other Steps For Spiritual Growth sermon series, and we’ll enjoy special music from Clint Church and his wife, Taylor (not socially distanced because . . .married!), along with prayers, scriptures, and all of your favorite Gathering worship elements — outdoors!
“What a day to celebrate!” Lance exclaims. “I can’t wait to see as many of you as possible! The weather should be beautiful. It’s going to be a great time of worship.”
A few reminders:
- Masks must be worn at all times, covering mouth and nose
- 6-foot social distance must be maintained at all times while on campus (including before and after the service, including in the parking lots as you go to your cars.)
- Bring your own lawn chair and sit with your family or household in the social distancing grid marked off (we get it, you want to be able to sit together — and you may even have been isolating with or have had Saturday dinner with another family. For now, however, we’re keeping in-person gathering on our campus to family/household only. (This is partially to get us all used to what the rules will be when we move inside!)
- Greet one another in non-contact ways (we know it’s hard not to hug — and virtual hugs and elbow bumps are getting so old!)
- We discourage entering the building for any reason. Restrooms are available for emergencies only. (One family unit at a time; an attendant will direct you)
- The church will not provide water/coffee service; please do not bring beverages as masks are to remain in place (no gaps!) at all times
- Please do not bring food unless it’s medically necessary
- We will not celebrate communion during this service
- We will not be singing (even with masks on, even outside)
- BYOB! (That would be Bring Your Own Bible); we will not be distributing any paper items during this service (but we’re working electronic hymnals and bulletins, so stay tuned!)
- Please be sure to register to attend by filling out our COVID-19 screening form. (This is for the purpose of contact tracing and also to get everyone used to the protocols as we move toward indoor, in-person worship)
We so look forward to taking this huge and careful step back toward in-person worship. Please help us keep everyone safe and allow our church to move forward with additional plans that count on our concerted efforts to adhere to the protocols established with the help of Tarrant County Public Health representatives.
See you THIS SUNDAY on the steps!
Important Update from Tim and Lance
April 30, 2020
We want to celebrate with you the vibrant ministries of our church, particularly during this time of Stay Home – Work Safe physical distancing. Recent comments by the Governor and City of Ft. Worth have led a few of you to question our church’s plans for worship in the immediate future. Here is where we are today:
First and most importantly, in the most meaningful sense of the word, our church is open and has never been closed. We continue weekly worship and daily prayer and discipleship, connected through the Holy Spirit and through technology. We have merely suspended gathering on-campus for a short while out of an abundance of love for those who are vulnerable to COVID-19 and to those who dedicate their lives to treating the ill.
At some point resuming in-person gatherings will be prudent and safe. What a day of celebration that will be! Until then, we will continue our vibrant ministries and witness of hope and love to our city and the world using all the technological tools at our disposal.
You can find links to all the worship, study, prayer and connection opportunities developed for our “digital campus” are now available on our home page at fumcfw.org. Our church is celebrating the positive connections we are making through these online offerings with our First Church family and others who are now finding us online and participating in the life of our church!
When it comes time to resume in-person gatherings, we will do so under advisement of public health officials. Because our church features very large attendance, some social distancing practices may be possible at other churches before they are possible at ours. Our staff and lay leaders will receive guidance from health professionals regarding the best timing and methods to resume in-person worship and gatherings to ensure that we all stay healthy and safe.
We wish we could provide a firm timeline for resuming in-person worship, however that is not yet possible. While we yearn to see you in person and to gather together physically, our many online connections with you help us to feel closer to you than ever, despite this distance. Stay home, stay safe, and we’ll see you soon!
Grace and peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
Rev. Lance Marshall
Message from Tim and Lance About Our Covid-19 Decision
March 13, 2020
Several of you have asked about our church’s response and specific precautions around the Covid-19, or coronavirus, outbreak.
Like everyone else, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), US Department of Health, and even the World Health Organization, we are learning as we go about this virus and its spread in our local community. As you know, things are changing rapidly, and more information becomes available every day about this virus and the most effective preventative measures.
Today our clergy and program staff, after a lengthy consultation with a local public health official, decided to suspend all worship services, group meetings, and activities until March 25. At that time we will we re-evaluate the spread and severity of Covid-19 in our Fort Worth community and the best time to resume our normal operations.
We did not make this decision lightly.
This is a particularly hard call to make because, as a church, it feels wrong to not meet in the middle of a crisis. However, after learning more about this pandemic in the last 24 hours, it makes sense for the protection of our congregation’s most vulnerable members as well as our responsibility to our local community.
By doing our part to help stem the spread of this extremely contagious disease that is particularly dangerous for senior adults and those with underlying health concerns, we are taking an important stand and setting an example for others to follow. By making our decision now rather than later, we are demonstrating the courage and social conscience to respond appropriately rather than to try to react once it is too late.
Last week, you may recall, we published an FUMCFW Enews article, “Pass the Peace, Not the Germs” with a list of recommended precautions, and I encourage you to review and follow those recommendations. However, as we learned this morning, this type of individualistic response is simply not enough.
In responding to the lessons learned from other communities devastated by this virus around the world and enacting “social distancing,” we lead others in the only measure discovered so far to slow down the exponential spread of this virus. Our role — and our opportunity as people of faith — is to help our community contain this virus, and by so doing, to become part of helping to protect our city from crisis, especially our most vulnerable populations.
Although our church will be closed to the public during this time, our staff will still be working hard to use technology to provide you with a sense of connection, pastoral care, and diverse worship opportunities during this time. Look for details in this week’s FUMCFW Weekly News about how to access these services, download worship bulletins, register your attendance, make your weekly offering online, and even take notes as you worship.
If you are in a Bible study, Grace Group, or other group that has planned to meet at church between now and March 25, you will have the opportunity to get together via Zoom. Watch for details on how to set up a Zoom meeting from your own home so you can continue to meet as planned and participate fully in real time from the safety of each individual’s home.
Meanwhile, please keep those who have contracted this virus and their families and friends in your prayers, as well as those who are in at-risk populations. We especially pray for all the first responders and health care workers around the world who have no choice but to be exposed, and for their families and friends who are most certainly worried for their health and safety. We pray, too, for all the leaders of governments, organizations, businesses, and service providers of all kinds who are having to make some hard decisions with serious repercussions in all directions.
Please also remember that this coronavirus outbreak will not last forever. Regardless of our local and church responses, the important thing to remember is that even if we don’t agree with the decisions made, we must pull together for the good of all. If we all work together, we can help limit the spread and minimize the effects of Covid-19 in our community and beyond.
Grace & Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
Rev. Lance Marshall