The May 21 letter from the Session regarding resuming in-person worship is below. To read the full original email, click here: May 21 Letter from the Session Regarding In-Person Worship. In the email, the letter is below the video and links.
May 21, 2020
To the CEPC Family,
We, the Session of CEPC, with important help from key staff members, have spent much time in prayer and discussion considering how and when our church family should begin to re-engage in gathered corporate worship services, and we have developed the description we are presenting here to inform you of the current state of our thinking.
As we all know, various levels of government have published guidelines for “re-opening” our economy. However, those guidelines are not entirely consistent, and they orient more to business considerations rather than to churches’ operations. That is significant, because we all know that among the many diverse segments of our society, the church is unique. We have a unique calling, a unique mission and a uniquely biblical source of truth. Your Session has submitted itself in its thinking on “re-opening” on our source of truth, the inerrant Word of God, the Scriptures. In that submission, we have noted especially the dual mandates of the two tablets of the Law: (1) how we relate to God (Ex. 20:2-11) and (2) how we relate to each other (Ex. 20:12-17). Within the first we have focused on how we worship, and within the second we have focused on how we care for each other – seeking in both the wisdom and discernment available only from above (Rom. 12:2). That has been the framework of our thinking.
We visualize embarking on an evolving 4 phase process, always subject to modification as we move into and through it with careful attention to what we learn as we go.
As we see it, we are currently in Phase 1 – worshipping through recorded services while separated physically from one another and suspending other of our ministry activities such as Sunday School and City Group gatherings. Phase 2 will involve moving to multiple worship services with limited attendance and with livestreaming of each service. Details of the health protective measures that will apply in Phase 2 are set out in the “Principles and Details” section below. The precise contours of the 3rd and 4th Phases will be defined as we learn our way through Phase 2 and see more clearly when and how to move into those next phases.
We anticipate moving into Phase 2 on Sunday, June 7, although, depending on how circumstances may change, that date could be deferred. We are planning to schedule worship services at 9:00 and 11:00 am and at 5:00 pm, and, depending on how well those three services accommodate those who wish to gather for worship, we may schedule a fourth service at an hour yet to be decided.
What will Worship in Phase 2 look like?
An online registration system will be developed by which we will ask congregants who are comfortable participating in gathered worship in Phase 2 to reserve a spot at one of the scheduled services. The process for this registration will be communicated in the coming weeks. There will be a maximum number of people in the building for each service. This maximum number will be relatively low at the outset and hopefully will increase throughout the summer if it can be done within safety recommendations.
Some things beyond social distancing in our entering and exiting and in seating arrangements will need to change for us to be able to worship in person (e.g. not celebrating Communion until one of the later phases, not passing offering plates, not conducting children’s ministry, etc.), but some things will not change (praying, preaching and singing in worship, etc.). Every effort will be made to cultivate a reverential atmosphere, but the adjustments being made may cause some to miss our more accustomed sense of familial gathering.
Who should come?
Only those who are healthy and are comfortable with attending in-person corporate worship should consider coming during Phase 2. To be clear, we intend to continue livestreaming at least until this season passes.
Please stay at home if you or a member of your household is symptomatic, has a fever, has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19, or has traveled internationally or to what they perceive was a domestic hot spot in the prior two weeks.
Our immunocompromised congregants and older individuals should consider worshipping from home. We would also ask families with small children to consider carefully whether they should attend with the social distancing guidelines in place.
In addition, we understand that some will not feel comfortable joining in-person corporate worship services at this time. That is understandable and we don't want to infringe on anyone’s conscience. These are unique times. It should be noted that some of the elders may not be attending these early phase services. This is not because they view worship as less important, but because in their estimation it will not be safest for them to attend. Freedom of conscience and extending grace towards others is especially important to uphold and pursue in our current circumstances.
What are the expectations for those in attendance?
We will expect those attending to cooperate with the measures detailed in the “Principles and Details” section set out below, which will include keeping a six foot distance between households, washing hands, and, for those who are able, being strongly encouraged to wear a mask or cloth face covering.
No Sunday school, childcare, or nursery will be provided during this time. We will also not have coffee, snacks, bulletins, offering plates, or Bibles and hymnals available. Boxes will be placed near the exits to receive tithes and offerings.
We will refrain for the time being from observing the Sacraments, the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, but we will plan to sing together.
Even while taking precautions, we recognize there is only so much control we will have or desire to exercise over individual behavior in the building. We are providing direction, and church officers and staff will strive to be examples of safe interactions within the building, but those who attend in-person services will need to be comfortable with possible uncertainties.
The life of the church
Corporate worship is central in the life of the church, and we are making it our priority. We treasure the other ministries of our church and remain hopeful that the summer months will bring more safety and clarity in terms of gathering in groups and reactivating other CEPC ministries.
Finally, we also strongly urge you to give the judgment of charity when it comes to all matters related to COVID-19 and “re-opening”. Let us think the best of our brothers and sisters, especially those who decide differently on when it is right to resume attending in-person worship. We all desire to give glory to Christ and love our neighbor, remembering the two tablets of the Law.
Furthermore, we are united by the same Lord, faith, and baptism (Ephesians 4:5). Let us keep loving each other well. As our Lord said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Let us continue to shine His light before the world.
With love and much prayer,
Richard Harris, Chip Mealy, Travis Graham, Aaron Greene, Tom Harrison, Mel Jodeit, Keith Pendergrass, Corbin Porter, Bob Price, Brian Rose, David Schwab, Jason Walker, Craig Whitlock, Ken Wynne