OPENING OUR DOORS
Our two Worship Teams are planning are already planning for a meaningful Advent season. Reverend Parrish and Dr. Dockery are working on an Advent Series based on the scripture texts of The Messiah, including some of our favorite musical pieces and vocalists in our worship experiences. Our Visional Arts Coordinator, Mr. Sam Waldrep, is planning to put one of the Chrismon Trees up in our worship space and to use our Nativity Scene for the visual enhancement of our services. He hopes to invite you to purchase Poinsettias, though not as many, for use in our worship together. In addition, Reverend Parrish is committed to providing our worshiping community with a service or services on Christmas Eve. Currently, she is considering two services whether we are worshiping outside or inside or providing a combination of the two.
Please be assured that the RCT is monitoring the scientific data at a local level so that we can return to in person worship as soon as possible. Reverend Parrish anticipates that when it is safe to return to in person, indoor worship, that we will hold an 11:00 service until our numbers increase to 80% of our safe distancing capacity. Then we will add a second in person indoor service. Reverend Parrish joins me in offering a special thanks to the WSUMC Reopening Church Team for guiding these efforts: Charlotte Broome, Licia Jackson, Lynn Shirley, Ricky Rowe, Dwight Dockery, Robbie Douglas, and Reverend Alston Lippert.
Submitted by, Sam Waldrep, Chair
Since the interruption of WSUMC’s in-person services in March, your clergy and lay leaders have continued to work toward ways in which our membership can worship together as a church family. A Reopening Church Team (RCT) was formed in the spring to address issues related to when we might be able to safely resume worship and church activities. A congregational survey was conducted in May, and the responses helped the RCT develop safety protocols and plans so that, when we are able to have indoor services again, we are prepared. These procedures were approved by Church Council on May 18th along with a plan to resume in-person worship in July. A copy of these protocols can be found HERE.
With the spike in COVID cases as well as the “percent positive” numbers in early summer, these plans for in-person worship were delayed. Over the last 3 months, the RCT has been monitoring daily COVID numbers from DHEC and the scientific data. These numbers have not declined as we would hope. Our strong virtual offerings—devotions, children’s moments, weekly worship services, Sunday School lessons, and small group studies—continue to sustain our faith formation in these times.
Second Congregational Survey
A second survey of WS members was conducted in early September. There were 107 respondents, representing a total of 151 persons (spouses, family members, or significant others). The focus of the survey was on readiness for an outside service. A majority of the respondents indicated that they would be willing, or possibly willing, to attend an outside service, bring their own chair and register online in advance. Concerning the return to worship in our sanctuary, 42 persons indicated their willingness to attend a service or to attend with precautions; however, 65 respondents were more cautious in their readiness to resume inside worship.
Based on the results of this survey and a review of COVID-19 data in our area, the RCT presented recommendations to Church Council at its September 21st meeting. This report covered 3 areas: 1) recommendations for outside in-person worship; 2) the return to inside corporate worship; and 3) the return to small group in-person meeting at WSUMC.
Outdoor In-Person Worship
A series of four outside in-person worship services were announced to boost our return to safe, in-person gatherings. The first of these was held on October 4 in the church parking lot to celebrate World Communion Sunday. 77 persons gathered in the parking lot wearing masks and socially distanced to reunite as a body of worship for the first time in almost 7 months. The second service was held on October 18 and included the reception of members of our 2019-2020 confirmation class. Additional services have been announced for November 1 (commemoration of All Saints Sunday) and November 15 (celebration of Thanksgiving). These services will be held in the WSUMC parking lot from 4:00 to – 4:45 pm. Additional information about these upcoming services and the link to register online can be found HERE.
Return to Small Group In-Person Meetings
The RCT was empowered by the Church Council to develop an approval process for all requests for the return of internal small group meetings at WSUMC. Internal church meetings may include but are not limited to, UMW circles, youth groups, church committee meetings, Bible studies, and Sunday School gatherings. Specific criteria for these meetings have been developed and are available HERE.
Looking to the Future: Return to Worship in Our Sanctuary
As we live in this time of health crisis, we continue to look to the future with hope. While conditions are not radically improving, we have adapted well to the challenge of virtual worship and to outdoor, in-person worship. We are committed to providing worship in various settings as we strive to be the community in Christ that God has called us to be. Because so many of our members possess a high-risk factor, the virtual service will be a standard offering. We will continue to hold the outdoor, in-person worship services every other week on November 8 and November 15. On December 6, we will plan for an outdoor service (unless we are gathering in person in the sanctuary) and on December 20 we plan to host an outdoor carol sing and invite you to bring your hot chocolate and cookies from home.
Having made these plans does not lessen our desire or readiness to gather for in-person worship in the sanctuary. The Church Council empowered the RCT to make decisions regarding when to return to corporate worship in the sanctuary. The RCT is confident in the protocols that were established and approved by the Church council on May 18. The reluctance to gather for in-person worship inside is based on scientific data. The RCT is looking for a steady decline in new cases in the Richland and Lexington counties for a two-week period and for the percentage rate in our area to drop below 8% consistently. The RCT is committed to caring for you and for our community. We are convinced that delaying in person, indoor worship is the most loving thing to do right now.
That does not mean that our Worship Design and Worship Coordination Teams are not working hard to prepare for all our worship experiences. Reverend Patricia describes it as making three plans for worship:
- Plan A: Virtual Worship and In-Person Outdoor Worship
- Plan B: Virtual Worship and In-Person Indoor Worship and Outdoor Worship
- Plan C: A return to Virtual Worship only. This is the least desirable plan and would be the result of a spike in new cases that warrants no gatherings outside. PLEASE TAKE PRECAUTIONS FOR THIS VIRUS!