I would imagine that one of the first nursery rhymes you learned growing up had to do with church. Do you remember how it went?
“Here’s the church. Here’s the steeple. Open the doors and see all the people.”
What made that rhyme so memorable was the way we were able to act it out. First, you’d put your hands together into a ball. Then, you’d press your thumbs together to make the doors. Next, you’d stick up your index fingers to make the steeple. Finally, you’d open the “doors” and have the rest of the fingers represent the people. I don’t know why that exercise was so compelling. Maybe it’s just that we found some level of comfort in knowing that the doors to our church could be opened any time we felt like it.
That, of course, hasn’t been the case these last couple of months, at least not in terms of our worship. Due to the coronavirus, large gatherings have become anathema, unless you are talking about grocery stores, warehouse clubs, and home improvement establishments, businesses that are considered “essential.” For those of us who view worship gatherings in that light, it’s been tough not to be able to have the doors open so that we might gather with God’s people.
All of that changed two weeks ago, when Governor Ivey amended her “Safer at Home” order to allow for gatherings greater than 10 persons, which included churches. As I have written earlier, we immediately responded by sending out a church survey, to which around 375 persons responded to help our Advisory Team gain a sense of what our membership’s expectations are about returning to church. The surveys are in and the Advisory Team has come up with a four-phased plan for how we might best “open the doors to...all the people.”
The first phase began this week with the reopening of the church offices. The office staff, custodial staff, and ministerial staff came back on Monday and things have gone quite smoothly. Yes, it’s been an adjustment to wear face coverings and see other colleagues in face coverings, but understanding the importance of safeguarding the health of everyone we come in contact with has made this new addition to our wardrobes more tolerable. We hope you will feel the same way when you come to see us, wearing your face covering also.
The second phase will begin June 14. On that day we will resume our worship gatherings. We’ll have two services going forward for the foreseeable future (get used to that term “foreseeable future”) - a traditional service at 9 a.m. and a contemporary service at 11 a.m., both of which will take place in the Sanctuary. Waiting until the second Sunday in June will give us ample time to have the Sanctuary and other areas we’ll be using professionally cleaned.
Trust me when I tell you that there are many details to be implemented in this second phase, but these are the ones you need to know for now:
- We will only be doing worship in this phase. There will be no other ministry activities taking place just yet. Those will come in subsequent phases.
- There won’t be any childcare in this phase. We will ask parents to bring their children with them to worship (and we’ll ask everyone else to be understanding of their doing so).
- The only doors that will be open to the church will be the downstairs door at the receptionist office and the upstairs door by the columbarium. These doors will be propped open so that we can prevent attendees from having to touch these hard surfaces after one another.
- The elevators will not be in operation and we will not have valet service in this phase. So, if you cannot come up the grand staircase leading to the Sanctuary from the receptionist desk, it’s best that you park where you can use the columbarium doors.
- Because of social distancing guidelines, we will be limited to 150 attendees at each service. Therefore, we will ask you to preregister your attendance so that we can make sure there are enough seats. We will offer two ways to preregister. You can do so online at our church website or you can call the receptionist and have that person do it for you.
- Attendees at the traditional service will sit in odd-numbered pews, which will be marked with blue tape. Attendees at the contemporary service will sit in even-numbered pews, which will be marked with yellow tape.
- We will require face coverings to be worn. The only exception to this rule will be those who will be leading in worship, and even they will have on their face coverings when they are not speaking or singing. If you have a face covering, please bring it with you. If not, we’ll have some available.
If these restrictions seem too severe to you and you aren’t ready to accept them, or if you simply wish to wait until the COVID-19 threat is diminished, we’ll be streaming both services, so that you can continue to participate online. I certainly understand both sentiments. I’d only ask that you try to understand that we have everyone’s best interest at heart, and by starting out with tight restrictions, we might in time be able to loosen them as things improve. Those of you who are parents can appreciate how it never works well the other way.
As far as the other phases and target dates, we’ve put together a PDF document, titled “Reopening MBBC,” which you can access through our church’s website and Facebook page. Both contain the additional information about our plans for the months to come. As you read it, please take into consideration how all of this could change depending on how everything plays out. Being responsible, rolling things out gradually, and taking a flexible posture is more art than science; but even in a season where we’re being directed by the science, we are also taking that artistic approach. Put them together and I even think you have a faithful approach!
Speaking of faithfulness, thank you again for all of the faithfulness you’ve shown since we were last together in early March. I’ve missed seeing your faces in our worship. I can’t wait until June 14, when once again we will “open the doors and see all the people!”
And let us consider how we might spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together…but encouraging one another – and all the more as we see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).