In response to widespread wondering and speculation, we want to address the issue of “reopening.” The first thing we want to emphasize is that our church has never been closed. The church isn’t a building in one location — it’s the people, wherever they are. And the people of our church have been closely connected with God and with one another during these past few months of physical distancing brought about by COVID-19.
The issue of re-opening the building for in-person events, however, is one that requires careful consideration and extreme caution to protect the health and wellness of our congregation and community — especially our most vulnerable populations.
Last week, the lay leadership of our church came together to discuss ideas and recommendations for exactly how we would proceed. What criteria will we follow? Who will make these decisions? What guidelines and protocols will need to be in place? were among the questions considered by this group that included leaders of Trustees, Church Council, Staff-Parish Relations Committee (SPRC), Committee on Finance, and Board of Stewards.
The unanimous recommendation of this group was to place the decision making with respect to time frames, protocols, and procedures for resuming in-person gatherings and worship on campus in the hands of the clergy and program directors of the church staff — with each decision following a four-point evaluation:
- Is it ethical?
- Is it practical?
- Is it missional?
- Is it legal?
After grappling with the many details and questions surrounding resuming in-person gatherings, the clergy and program directors agreed yesterday that first we will follow guidance from Tarrant County Public Health officials and the CDC to set the conditions under which the process can begin.
Although no one knows what this exact timeframe will be, health officials are carefully watching the trends following the recent reopening of local businesses, restaurants, and, most recently, the crowds gathered for Memorial Day celebrations. As program directors, lay leadership, and clergy, we agree that following the criteria set by Tarrant County public health officials will be a reliable starting point for resumption of our onsite worship and gatherings.
So with that in mind, the group agreed on a gradual return to in-person worship and gatherings that generally falls into three stages:
Starting now: Small Outdoor Gatherings
- Church and/or family groups may gather in outdoor spaces, staying at least six feet apart and all wearing masks;
- These gatherings may take place either at people’s homes or in the Garden or other outdoor areas on the church campus. (If a group wishes to have their meeting in the Garden, they must schedule that meeting by emailing Sandy Williams, Director of Operations, at firstname.lastname@example.org so that you will have security for your event);
- Participants will need to bring their own chairs;
- The church building will not be open, so restrooms will not be available.
In approximately 2-3 weeks: Small Group Meetings Inside the Building
Depending on Tarrant County Public Health guidance and the sustained positive signs of improved conditions, and pending the arrival of necessary — and backordered — cleaning equipment and supplies for proper disinfecting of inside surfaces:
- Small groups (10-12) may begin meeting inside the physical building
- Proper social distancing will be required at all times;
- Masks must be worn by all participants;
- All meetings will be held in Wesley Hall (please reserve your time with Sandy Williams (email@example.com).
Future Steps: Moving Toward In-Person Worship
Our staff clergy and program directors will continue to meet every two weeks to evaluate the most immediate and up-to-date information available. With continued health of our congregation and improved COVID-19 conditions across Tarrant County, we will actively begin steps toward in-person worship. This will likely include significant accommodations to minimize the possibility of transmission.
As we continue through this uncertain time with patience, support, and active engagement as a church beyond our walls, we look forward together toward improved conditions that will allow us to begin to move into this framework. And, regardless of our return to in-person gatherings, please know that we will continue to offer all we are doing now — and likely more — through our digital campus.
“Thank you for all you are and all you do,” adds Dr. Tim Bruster, Senior Pastor. “We could not be prouder of our church and how you all have responded during this challenging time. Our church is a strong and vibrant faith community that shines a continuous light for others during this unprecedented season of uncertainty. We love you, we miss you, and we look forward to the time when we are physically present with one another.”
To learn more about our church’s decision to remain digital for now, even with others opening and increased pressure to resume in-person worship services, read last week’s FUMCFW Weekly Enews article, “At the Intersection of Freedom and Responsibility” and “Faith Leaders Say it is Too Early to Reopen,” the Op-Ed piece in the Fort Worth Business Press signed by Dr. Bruster and 17 other local religious leaders.
Questions? Feedback? Please feel free to contact Rev. Lance Marshall, Co-Pastor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.