Pastoral Letter for May 28, 2020
Pastoral Letter for a Distributed Church May 28, 2020
The above graphic is a nice way to let you know that A) there is a plan, and B) you should keep reading. This is the eleventh pastoral letter of the coronavirus pandemic and I hope it finds you staying alive and well … and hopeful! The Governor of Virginia is moving slowly to reopen the Commonwealth and we’re preparing for the day when we can worship together again. However, we want to do it responsibly and safely, avoiding unnecessary errors because we rushed things. Before we get into the details, let me tell you a little about how we got here.
About 12 weeks ago, we all realized COVID-19 was going to affect Potomac Hills’ Sunday worship, as well as our weekly church life, and we responded quickly. Before the official stay at home order was given, we canceled meeting together and put together a plan to move to worship by Community Group and then worship at home. As you may recall, as the pandemic escalated, we ended up implementing that plan faster than anyone had expected.
In a matter of days, we made tough decisions, moved our worship and community life online, figured out new technology (at least for us), stopped doing some things, and started doing other things. Our main concern was (and is) having the appropriate response and keeping people safe.
Attached is our detailed plan for the next phases of worship at Potomac Hills, but I wanted to give you a snapshot of what we know and how we went about developing that plan to re-engage the next season of our church’s life and ministry.
With all the talk of “reopening” the country and churches being “essential,” there’s a renewed push to go back to in-person gatherings. While I would love to be able to do that immediately, it simply isn’t a viable, safe, or wise option for us … yet.
By the way, the church has always been essential, but you already knew that.
So we considered a lot of questions about reopening and how we might best carry that out. We consulted numerous sources and read way too many articles. We downloaded the state and CDC guidelines for houses of worship. We consulted several sets of denominational instructions. We examined several eBooks on the best reopening plans. As many churches in other states have already reopened, we looked at what they said about best practices and lessons learned. And so we had to distill hundreds of pages of information down into an easy to understand plan.
So what types of things did we consider?
First, we asked a lot of key questions. Here’s a sample of some of them …
- Do we have a reason to return to gathered worship instead of what we’re doing now?
- What do state and local officials recommend right now?
- How do the people of Potomac Hills feel about gathering publicly?
- Where will we begin gathered worship again? Will the school be available? Are there other churches willing to allow us to use their worship space?
- Do we have a real sense of how volunteers will participate?
- Do we have a real sense of how parents and children will participate?
- What must stay the same when we regather for in-person worship?
- What must change for us to reopen the doors when we regather for in-person worship?
- Will we have a specific plan in place to explain the reopening process?
- Will we have a cleaning plan in place to allow us to reopen safely?
Second, we launched a comprehensive church-wide survey to get a sense of the openness to gathering again for in-person worship from among our people. We got a 72% response rate (considered good for surveys), analyzed the results, and presented it to the Session. Those survey results helped guide us in finalizing the plan. We will send out a shortened version of the survey results presentation to the congregation this weekend.
Third, our plan emphasizes the need for flexibility and adaptability. We fully expect to discover needed changes as we progress through each phase. With that flexibility in mind, this plan requires us to be prudent and wise on an individual level too. If you determine that you and/or your family should refrain from in-person attendance for a time, the Session will support you. We would encourage you to continue to participate in worship through the online resources that will continue to be provided throughout all phases of this plan while looking forward to the day we can all physically worship together again.
Fourth, our plan emphasizes the need for the protection of vulnerable members. People over the age of 65, those with compromised immune systems, anyone who is or has been sick, or has other health concerns are encouraged to participate online until it’s clearly safe for everyone to gather again. Finally, I want to share with you that while our doors have been closed for more than 12 weeks now, Potomac Hills isn’t canceled and hasn’t been closed! There are countless stories of you being the church … and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
I also want you to know that we don’t yet have a firm date for when we will gather again in person. Our plan lists a few “tentative target dates,” but those are not confirmed dates. I hope as we continue to dialogue with the school system and like-minded churches, that we’ll have something more concrete to share with you soon. It was clear from the survey results that many of you prefer to be cautious, so we’re not pushing to open as soon as possible, but allowing enough time to ensure that we’re prepared to reopen when that day arrives. In the meantime, we will continue to meet and worship and pray and gather online and keep showing up with expectant hearts that will encounter Jesus and be shaped into disciples of Christ.
I’m so proud of you, Potomac Hills! You’ve sacrificed, served, generously given of your resources to support the mission of this church and help those in need. You’ve stayed engaged with the church through online worship, Sunday School, and Community Groups. The future of Potomac Hills may not look anything at all like what we’re used to, but it’s filled with promise and potential. I want to repeat what I closed with in my last letter. We need to extend grace. And we can extend grace even as we are, Philippians 1:27b, “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”
I miss seeing you all on Sunday! And I’m looking forward to worshiping together again!
Dr. David V. Silvernail, Jr., Senior Pastor
Potomac Hills Presbyterian Church