Hello members of Grace Lutheran. I hope this letter continues to find you and your families safe during these uncertain times. As we continue to deal with the disruptions to our normal routines, we have begun to see efforts by our government and public health officials to gradually reopen parts of our daily life. The natural question then becomes, when can we at Grace begin to resume our normal worship life together as a church body. Our church leaders at Grace have been closely monitoring the situation in our state and local community and are as anxious as most of you to resume services as quickly as possible. The challenge is that we want to do so in a way that both recognizes our desire and need for corporate worship, while also continuing to reasonably protect a congregation which consists of a large number of those considered most at risk from this illness. The Board of Elders, which is the group responsible for deciding when we should resume services, met this past Thursday night to discuss reopening plans and how we might most safely do so. I wanted to take a moment to share with everyone the results of those discussions and the reasoning behind our decisions.
First off, while we all see the increased traffic, the opening of more businesses and the increased number of people out in the community, there are still strict limits in place for those open businesses in terms of social distancing and people allowed per square feet of space. While churches have been exempted in South Carolina from gathering size restrictions, the state’s public health officials continue to recommend no gatherings larger than 10 people and that social distancing guidelines still be observed within those gatherings. With modifications to our worship seating, having a limit of even 40 people in our 2000 square feet of sanctuary space will still greatly exceed what is currently recommended by our public health officials.
There is also the additional concern that as some restrictions on our daily life are lifted, there could potentially be a significant increase in the number of cases in our local area. There is some additional concern that Charleston, being a tourist destination, could become a potential new hot spot as restrictions are lifted. The rule of thumb is that is takes about two weeks to begin to see the effects of changed policies and behaviors. Thus, the easing of restrictions taking place now could become more evident in about two weeks if there is to be a spike in cases and hospitalizations in our local community.
We on the Board of Elders do all recognize though that this pandemic will remain for a long time and that at whatever time we reopen, there will be the chance that things may worsen again in our community and we may need to change course yet again. As long as this pandemic continues, we can never wait long enough for there to be any certainty of which moment is the safest time. However, we also are not willing to simply allow state public health officials to dictate to us when it makes sense for us to gather again. We as a board are committed to worshipping on the timetable that we believe makes the most sense for the spiritual and physical well-being of both our congregation and our staff specifically here at Grace.
With that being said, we have decided that the schedule that makes the most sense for our congregation is to plan to resume live services the weekend of May 31st for the celebration of Pentecost. Currently our plan is to offer four services each weekend with a limit of about 40 people per service. In addition to our 8, 9:30 and 11 Sunday services, we will also begin offering a Friday morning service at 10 am limited to those over 65 or those with impaired-health issues. This new service will hopefully provide a safer alternative for those high-risk individuals who are continuing to take extra isolation precautions and wishing to remain distanced from those with more exposure to the wider community. In addition to these four services, we will continue to have our online service videos available and to offer the individual Confession/Absolution and Communion service on Friday afternoons from 1-3 for those who are not yet comfortable worshipping in a group setting.
In order to provide the greatest safety possible to our members, these four services will have some modifications from our normal services. We are working to finalize the details of those changes and everyone should be receiving a list of those within the next week or so. As I mentioned, each service will be operating with a limit of approximately 40 people. Our staff will be contacting each of you individually to determine if you plan to attend services and if so, which one. (See note below for guests and visitors). We strongly believe that in order to keep our members as safe as possible, we need to follow these service size limits. If we have large numbers of members show up for a service they have not signed up for, it will put us in the very uncomfortable position of turning away people wishing to worship at that service. Please let our staff know when they contact you which service you wish to attend. If it becomes necessary, we will consider adding a fifth service to accommodate all those wishing to attend services. In preparation for resuming services, we have also returned Pastor and Deaconess to full hours and full pay and have also brought our organist Patty back from furlough to resume full-time status and duties.
We recognize that this timetable may not meet the wishes of everyone in this congregation and that there may be other congregations in the area who decide to meet sooner than we will. But after a great deal of discussion, we believe as a group that this is the best course for our own individual congregation. We will continue to closely monitor what is going on in our local community, and if for any reason things worsen in a way that causes us to reconsider this timeline, we will let you know immediately. Thank you to everyone who continues to support the ministry here at Grace, both financially and with your prayers as well. We greatly appreciate your continued patience during this difficult time. I think most of us feel strongly that any adversity we face is made easier when we are able to gather and worship our almighty Father together. We look forward to being able to do so with you again soon. Continue to be safe and to continue your worship life, even as we await our gathering together.
Blessings to you all,
Note to visitors:
If you would like to visit Grace Lutheran Church as a guest, please contact the church office at 843-871-5444 to discuss signing up for an available service. We would be happy to plan for your visit!
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