Session Approves Plan to Resume Public Worship
Following three and a half months of closed buildings and “virtual” online worship, many area congregations are now preparing to resume “in-person” worship services. As promised, LPC’s Session met in a special meeting via Zoom on Wednesday evening, June 17 to discuss the possibility of resuming public worship in the Sanctuary sometime in July. The Worship and Music Ministry team presented a plan based on guidelines for faith communities from the Center for Disease Control and a document entitled “Guidelines and Recommendations for Reopening Church Buildings” approved for distribution by the Coordinating Cabinet of our Presbytery (LPC Pastor Jim Butler is a member of the Cabinet).
The Session voted to resume public worship services in the Sanctuary beginning Sunday, July 19 unless state and county health departments report an increase in COVID-19 infection rates. LPC member and physician, Dr. Sheryl Buckley, has agreed to monitor state and local COVID-19 statistics and make weekly reports to Session as July 19 approaches.
The Session approved the implementation of the following safety protocols for Sunday worship services:
- Masks/Facial Coverings must be worn by all worshippers. Extra single-use masks will be available on greeter tables in the Atrium and Narthex as well as hand sanitizer.
- Sanctuary Seating will follow “social-distancing” guidelines. Worshippers will be seated every other row of pews with individuals seated six feet apart (approximately three people per pew). Couples and families may be seated together.
- Service Bulletins will already be in place on the pews (three per pew), with extras for families/couples in pew racks.
- Singing will be limited to soloists in the chancel choir loft. Congregational singing easily spreads the COVID-19 virus (see Ruth Draper’s article below). We will, however, find creative ways to keep hymnody alive in worship services.
- Offerings will be collected at the doors as the congregation departs. Offering plates and attendance registers will not be passed from person to person.
- Holy Communion will continue to be celebrated on the first Sunday of the month by using individually packaged and sealed communion elements. Worshippers will be served in their seats by clergy and elder teams.
- Passing of the Peace/Greeting will not be practiced with physical contact — we will be creative!
- Child Care and WeeKirk rooms will not be open for the time being, but we have not forgotten your little ones. Each family will have a busy bag assigned to them to avoid cross contamination. Each bag will have age appropriate books, quiet games, and a children’s bulletin to help your children engage and build their faith as we worship together. Please look for your family bag in the Atrium as you enter the Sanctuary. Children who complete each weekly lesson will receive a prize in their bag the following week. Guest bags will also be available for those who do not regularly attend. Worship services will be approximately 45 minutes and will include a children’s message with pastor and kids masked and social distanced. Because we know that not all children are able to wear masks, we will have a family section in the Sanctuary. This will help keep all of our members safe and allow children to stay in their seats and allow Pastor Jim to speak directly to them during the children’s message. Children are always welcome in the Sanctuary!
- Coffee/Food will not be available before or after worship services, and we discourage bringing food and coffee/beverages into the building. In addition to the Atrium, we encourage people to gather safely around tables and chairs in Lawther Hall and, weather permitting, on the stone patio at the rear entrance of the Kilgore Center.
- Worship services will be recorded in their entirety, edited, and then uploaded to the church website by Sunday evening for those who are not yet ready to worship in-person. Only the faces of worship leaders will be seen on the videos.
- Cleaning and sanitizing of the church building is done three days per week by a professional cleaning company. Pews, door handles, bathrooms, and frequently touched surfaces will be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized after each service. Hand sanitizer will be available at the doors, in the restrooms and other locations throughout the building.
As we prepare to worship together again, we must seek one another’s safety and well-being, remembering the apostle Paul’s sobering words to the believers in the city of Corinth: “For in the Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews and Greeks, slaves and free — and were all made to drink of one Spirit. If one member suffers, all suffer together. Now, you are the body of Christ and yet individually members of it” (I Corinthians 12).
A Message from the Pastor
by the Rev. Dr. James C. Butler
This has been a summer like no other and we’re not quite half-way through it! COVID-19 pandemic. A tense presidential election. Anti-racism protests. Record unemployment. Cancelled vacations. Closed schools and churches. I think the U.S. is at a critically important intersection and I pray, trust and hope that Paul’s words about “all things working together for good” will be our nation’s reality.
As we prepare to celebrate the 244th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence from England, I hope Americans will sit down and read the document, especially those who are inclined to racism. And I especially hope we will read the second full sentence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…” Unfortunately, the authors and signatories to the Declaration did not consider a black person, especially a slave, to be equal to a white “man.” It took time, earnest prophets and protesters, a Civil War, amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and the Civil Rights Act before the vast majority of Americans seriously leaned into Thomas Jefferson’s tear-inducing words.
As followers of “the way” of Jesus (an identity I believe is more important than our U.S. citizenship status!) we must bravely and humbly proclaim the beautiful truth that scripture reveals: no one is qualitatively superior or inferior before God. We all stand on equal ground no matter our race, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status or political affiliation. Racism and bigotry must have no part of us.
As you may know, the Session has voted to resume public worship on Sunday, July 19. No doubt about it, our worship service is going to look, sound and feel different. The Session takes very seriously the health and safety of those who will worship inside these walls. So please be sure to use a face covering, practice social distancing, and pay attention to your body and any symptoms of illness. If you aren’t comfortable in public yet, please know that the service will be recorded for viewing on the church website. And finally, I want to express my deep gratitude to our Session for continuing to keep staff employed and generously compensated. Thank you! We have been striving to serve you during this oh-so-very-strange time. God’s best to you.
Masks and No Singing: Community-minded Worship in a Pandemic
by Dr. Ruth Draper
As we move toward reopening worship services, LPC staff and committee members have been thoroughly and thoughtfully considering how we can keep our church community safe. Any steps that are within our control are being taken, from changing how bulletins are distributed to eliminating coffee hour. Keeping spread of the virus low within our congregation, however, will also be determined by our individual ways of being together. This is why a community-oriented approach to attending worship is so important, and where together we can make our church low risk even in the midst of an ongoing pandemic.
There has been so much conflicting information about how to be safe and when to resume “normal” activities that if you feel confused, you are in good company! When thinking about attending church in person, it may be helpful to reduce the information clutter to two key points. First is the increased scientific understanding of the role that breathing in droplets in the air has in transmission. As Michael Osterholm, author of Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs described on NPR’s Fresh Air on June 17, “The single greatest risk factor we have for transmitting this virus is largely indoor air, where we’re in large crowds…any activity that increases [sharing air], such as loud voices, shouting, singing…can enhance the virus being aerosolized or basically put into the air.” This is why spacing people out in the Sanctuary, wearing masks, limiting inside social gatherings, and eliminating group singing are so important. By doing these things, we are sharing air with fewer people, limiting the creation of aerosols from singing and talking, and catching a lot of the potentially infectious droplets inside our masks.
The second point to keep in mind is the growing body of research suggesting many people are unknowingly contagious (a May 28 recent Healthline.com article estimates 25% to 80% of people never know they have the virus, or are pre-symptomatic). That means any one of us, without being aware of it, could be carrying a virus that could make the people we interact with seriously ill, especially in a church setting where many people are at higher risk. Dr. Raed Dweik, Chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Respiratory Institute, says on the Clinic’s website that even homemade masks “can play a pivotal role in helping block the spread of the virus, especially from asymptomatic carriers.” This is why mask-wearing is the most important individual action we can take when gathering again, and why we should encourage each other to practice it pre-emptively. Session can recommend mandatory mask-wearing during worship and spacing people in the pews, but it is up to each of us to enact a culture of keeping each other safe, where the community-minded way to be together is to shield others from our breath.
Community-minded church is contrary to our usual ways of being together in so many ways. Acting from an evidence-based understanding of respiratory droplets and asymptomatic transmission means hiding our smiles behind masks whenever we are around each other, not raising our voices in song with our neighbors, not gathering together for coffee hour after worship, and greeting visitors from a distance. Uncomfortable though these new ways of being together might feel at first, they are our new way to gather together while living out that second great commandment from Matthew 22:39, “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Summer Online Adult Faith Formation Series
“The Letter of James: A Bishop Tries to flatten a Curve”
LPC Pastor Jim Butler has prepared a four-part video series on the New Testament book, The Letter of James. The series will be available on the church website by 9 a.m. on four Sundays in July — 5, 12, 19 and 26. The videos will be approximately 25 minutes in length.
The letter has been the source of much controversy throughout Christian history, beginning with the identity of its author. The majority of Protestant scholars are open to the traditional position that it was written by Jesus’ brother, James, who was the first bishop (pastor) of Jerusalem. Roman Catholic scholars disagree because of their doctrine of the “perpetual virginity of Mary,” which argues that the siblings of Jesus mentioned in the Gospels were the offspring of Joseph from another marriage.
Controversy has centered on James’ theological statements that “true religion” is more about practice (caring for widows and orphans) than correct belief systems. James asks his readers, “What good is it, brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Faith, if it has no works, is dead.” Both Luther and Calvin championed Paul’s theology that “saving faith” (right belief?) justifies a person before God, and seriously questioned whether James’ letter, written before Paul’s ministry began, should have been included in the canon (authorized sacred library) of scripture.
The letter also includes strong moral and ethical teachings that all people are equal before God in that every person is made in God’s image. Christians should never be partial or show favoritism toward anyone but especially to the wealthy and the well-placed. James wanted to flatten the cultural curve of wealth and power that was present in the Jerusalem church. The Letter of James is timely and amazingly contemporary in that it can speak forcefully to the issues of racism, bigotry and wealth inequality in American culture.
Why Is Per Capita Important?
According to the Office of the General Assembly, per capita is a fundamental way in which all of the more than 9,000 congregations and mid councils of the PC(USA) connect, participate and share in the work of the wider church. Per capita is how Presbyterians “mutually and equitably share the costs of coming together to discern the Spirit’s leading for the future.”
The expenses of operating our Presbyterian denomination will cost every congregation in our Presbytery $32.41 per member. In 2020, the per capita amount is distributed as follows:
- Presbytery $20.21
- Synod $3.25
- General Assembly $8.95
Please consider paying your per capita apportionment on top of your pledge amount. Simply note “per capita” on the memo line of your check or pew envelope. Thank you for considering this request.