I want to share what Pioneer Memorial Church has done to safely reopen and hold in-person services. It’s nothing earth-shattering, but I know sometimes it’s helpful just to see what someone else is doing.
Before I jump into the principles, I should say that we transitioned into this. When the lockdown started we spent two weeks where we broadcast from the church to an empty sanctuary. We then moved completely online for the majority of the lockdown. Everything was recorded in our homes.
On June 20 we started hosting from the church again to an online audience. Then, on July 11th, we started hosting the service from the church for in-person services.
Here’s what we’ve been doing:
1—We are requiring masks
This one is a little controversial. Most of our local churches in the area are not requiring face masks. They are optional. But, Andrews University is requiring them for students, professors, and staff, and we wanted to support that. Even if they weren’t, most of our leaders were in agreement on this principle.
It’s true, not everyone is happy about it. I know some people who are attending the church up the road because they dislike wearing a mask. On the flip side, I know many who are specifically attending Pioneer because we’re requiring it. I have been told—“We feel safe here.”
Who wears masks?
All those attending church have to wear a mask in addition to the musicians. The only ones not wearing a mask are those that are leading in signing from the front and those preaching or doing announcements from the front. We remove them for the moment to lead from the front and then put them back on.
How is this facilitated?
We have greeters at the front who require each person to receive some hand sanitizer, and if they don’t have a mask, we give them one. Also, during the welcome time at the very beginning we thank people for wearing a face mask, all the way up, for the entirety of the worship service.
2—We are sitting every other row
Sitting every other row allows us to be physically distanced by 6 feet. We have little signs at the end of the pew with a blue symbol on them. During the welcome time, we remind people about the mask and about sitting in the pews marked with a blue symbol. We’re currently coming up with better signage that says “Please sit here,” because what we’ve been using was not clear enough.
3—Water fountains are turned off
This is to prevent exposure to the Legionella bacteria. When water has not been flowing for awhile, bacteria can thrive in the pipes and make people sick. You can read more about it here.
4—We have a contactless service
We are not passing out bulletins or connect cards or the offering plate. We are not shaking hands. Everything is done digitally. Also, we try to leave as many doors as possible in the open position.
5—Sabbath School classes are not being done right now
Some of them are in the process of starting to gather again. But, they’ll need to abide by the same principles as the church. They must wear a mask and be physically distanced 6 feet from each other.
The leaders of the children’s classes decided to wait until things move into Phase 5 of the pandemic reopening plan, which may be a while.
6—People are invited to hum and not sing
I confess this part is hard. Without actively singing, it feels like a part of the worship experience is missing. I don’t know how long this particular principle will stay in place.
7—Microphones are not shared
If someone is participating, they either get their own hand-held or face microphone for the entirety of the service. No switching out.
8—We give dismissal instructions at the end of the service
As soon as the service finishes, someone comes up to remind people about our dismissal process. We dismiss people by rows, old-school style. People in the front half of the church are dismissed towards the front exit of the church and those in the back half are dismissed towards the back entrance.
People are dismissed to prevent bottle necks and too many gathering closely.
Those are some of the main things that are being done. So far, so good.
What about in your church? Any questions or comments?
(image by Tim Mossholder)