Looking back to March 2020, there were many days when we hopefully looked ahead to when we could “reopen” the church. We talked about the celebration that would be, the joy of reconvening after such a challenging season. We spoke of it being something of a “resurrection Sunday,” a day specially marked out with songs of praise and flowers and excitement at “getting through it.”
We all realize that it hasn’t gone that way. We’ve discovered that rolling out a reopening is more prudent. We’ve taken cautious, well-reasoned steps forward to ensure the safety and general comfort within our community. We’ve waited for vaccines and then waited for more people to become eligible and then waited for the science to bear forth good immunity results and lowered transmission rates.
Sometimes it feels like our church has gone too slow. We’ve seen local businesses begin to open up with mask-free services and “normal” offerings. Sometimes it feels like the church has moved too fast — many churches have remained exclusively online to this date, and their buildings remain shuttered.
This process has been a matter of diligent discernment and practical action. According to Washington guidelines, at this very moment, we could be worshipping unmasked in our sanctuary in greater numbers than we currently are. But the complicating factor is a state mandate to check vaccination cards, a move that would at once provide more freedom to be open and, at the same time, could present real challenges for us to be as welcoming and hospitable to all people as we desire to be. And so, we have continued to be patient.
Washington state’s plan to reopen will shift many things for us as we look ahead to the summer. As it currently stands, the state plans to reopen to pre-COVID standards by June 30, 2021, or once 70% of the eligible population (16 years and older) receives at least one dose of the vaccine. We are very close to this metric and, when reached, the state will release organizations from current restrictions and mandates to begin functioning in somewhat normal ways.
What does this mean for us? Well, quite a bit.
Based on recommendations from the St. James Reopening Task Force and with the affirmation of our church Session, our church plans to reopen worship to full capacity on July 4, the first Sunday following the June 30 deadline. Two essential pieces of guidance will remain in place at that point:
- To protect those who are immune-compromised or who are not yet eligible for vaccination, those who are NOT fully vaccinated for COVID-19 MUST wear a mask and maintain a safe distance from others who are not from their own household while in the church building.
- Teachers and volunteers who work with children are required to be vaccinated. If unwilling or unable, an N95 mask must be worn and the teacher/volunteer must maintain a safe distance from others not from their own household.
The next two Sundays, June 20 and 27, we will maintain the masking mandate and requirement of registration for in-person participants. Then, once the Washington state reopening takes place, we will end signups and open our worship space to full capacity, with masks required only for unvaccinated people. Your patience and cooperation as we reach that point will be so helpful in keeping us moving forward together, so thank you in advance.
We have learned many things during this pandemic. We will continue to keep our hybrid/online worship style in place, welcoming anyone who desires to worship from home to continue to do so. We will also utilize a building sign-in system as we advance, not for contact tracing, but rather to have confidence regarding who is in our building during the week, a beneficial safety and hospitality measure. We are installing a locked deposit box for in-person offerings and pledges and will also continue to encourage members to give through our online options. We have learned much and will use these learnings to help us grow and become who God calls us to be going forward.
In closing, I invite us all into prayer these next few weeks. Prayer for smooth transitions. Prayer for God’s continued care and safety. Prayer for healthy reintegration of our congregation and prayer for the opportunity to continue offering a place of refuge and home to all who seek Christ’s face in our city. Please pray for these things as we move ahead together.
Grace and peace,