TO THE CONGREGATIONS OF SEWARD AND MOOSE PASS UMC
This "online worship thing" has been quite a journey. We were thrust into it mid-March, right as Lent was happening. But, clearly, with an unknown virus approaching, it was the correct thing to do. We reached out to our local ecumenical partners at Resurrection Lutheran Church and St. Peter's Episcopal Church and found those relationships fruitful as we worked together. We have found a new audience online, with relatives and friends from around the US joining us for worship and some of them supporting our ministries with their financial gifts and their prayers. Even amidst the chaos and confusion there have been many blessings.
We know that online worship will be part of our churches going forward. In the summer, many have found great joy being able to join in worship at a different time than the usual Sunday morning time-slot. We have been blessed by some video portions that we've never been able to include before and participation from people across the miles and we'd love to continue with them. And we know that there are some who will not come to church for in-person worship until there is a vaccine to COVID-19.
But we want to make the first steps to gathering again. We know people are hungry for human contact, even if it has to be socially distant. We know that there is a power and energy (a "Spirit" we might say) when we are able to gather.
Earlier in the summer, the Greater Northwest Area of the United Methodist Church (which encompasses Alaska, Washington, Idaho, and Oregon) provided a document to help our churches reimagine what life will look like as we come together again. All of that information can be found HERE. The goal was to have each church produce a plan for their ministry setting for what ministry might look like going forward...really trying to "reimagine" what that might look like as we strive to keep our people and our communities safe and while still being able to gather.
Seward and Moose Pass United Methodist Churches have a plan for re-gathering that has been approved by our Superintendent. This plan was discussed among leadership at both of our churches and is presented for you HERE. The version that is approved is actually the 6th version of the plan and has involved a lot of back-and-forth emailing. (Sorry for the typo at the beginning. There is no caveat #4).
Please note that this does not mean we are jumping back into in-person worship the way that it was "BC" -- "BEFORE COVID." As of the beginning of July, we have been given permission to meet in groups of 15 or less with some specific guidelines:
Gatherings will be outside (to limit transmission of COVID).
No entrance into the church building (otherwise it will need to be cleaned after each person enters).
Bring your own chairs (or vehicles if in cars), masks, and sanitizer. Masks will be provided in case people forget theirs.
Masks are required. For those who don't want to wear a mask or cannot wear one because of medical reasons, we are continuing with online worship.
Attendance will be kept and reported to the church office for the sake of contact tracing if needed.
There will be no singing. This is non-negotiable. All the science so far shows that singing is bad for this virus' spread.
Because of social distancing, family groups need to keep 6 feet apart.
This is going to look and feel different. And when we're able to meet in person it is going to look and feel different.
One thing you may note is that we can re-imagine what worship might look like by moving our churches into our homes, among the "bubble" of families with whom we feel safe, and in an environment that we can control more closely. I would love us to think about what it might look like to have a Sunday worship at each of our churches but then have other gatherings during the week in homes, utilizing online components from worship, but keeping our numbers small. There is an opportunity to reach out to family and friends in a new way.
We are aware that other churches are doing things differently. We know that some are meeting with few restrictions and some not following guidelines of local health departments. And we know that some churches have planned to continue worshipping remotely through August or, in some places in the US, through the end of this calendar year. This plan is a first step. Before we start worshipping in the building (Phase 3 of the plan) we will need to have a better understanding of how we are going to clean our facilities. We are also going to need to know how we will treat our preschool at Seward UMC that has hopes of opening in the Fall (there are a lot of "unknowns" about "non-essential preschools" in Anchorage at this time). If you would like to assist with some of these plans, your church would love to have your help.
Please pay attention to emails from Pastor Jim as we work to gradually move into seeing each other again -- maybe for some worship, maybe for some fellowship, but all the while abiding by the guidelines of our own plan. Until then, we will continue to try to meet our pastoral needs in this new, online church world we are living in.
God bless you.
Pastor Jim Doepken