We long to gather again in the sanctuary of Seventh Street Christian Church to share in worship and join in fellowship. However, as the past months have revealed, COVID-19 is a serious threat to the well-being of our church and its members. Because of the severity of this threat, the Board of Seventh Street Christian Church has decided that our worship services and education will be held online and not in person for the foreseeable future. We anticipate this will be our practice through the summer. We have several reasons for making this decision.
Governor Northam has announced the opening of some non-essential businesses when we see a 14-day decline in the number of COVID cases. While we have not seen a 14-day decline in cases (at least not in Richmond), Phase I of the “Forward Virginia” plan has begun in most of the Commonwealth. However, Mayor Stoney did receive a delay to reopen Richmond until May 29.
We understand that it is tempting to rush forward and gather as soon as it is legally possible. However, the spread of COVID-19 is a very fluid public health situation. Many experts predict that the opening of non-essential businesses and increased interactions among people may lead to an even wider spread of the virus in our community. This could trigger a second Stay-at-Home order.
Phase I of the “Forward Virginia” plan, includes some inconsistent recommendations. On one hand it says that gatherings should be no larger than ten people yet does allow for faith communities to worship together at 50% capacity. The plan does provide further guidelines for faith communities to gather. These guidelines are strict and complying with these restrictions make it impractical for our church to gather in worship at this time.
Regardless of any “official opening date,” churches should expect to resume in-person worship gradually, and to return to pre-COVID practices only in phases. The current consensus among faith communities informed by Public Health research is that the best practice is to initially limit gatherings to 50 people, and even then, there are a number of changes to take into consideration.
When we enter Phase One of the “Forward Virginia” plan as it is currently outlined, we will move forward in the following ways:
- All worship and education will continue to be offered online.
- All who enter the church for the reasons stated below will be required to wear a mask and utilize hand sanitizer placed at church entrances.
- We will continue offering Zoom services and work to incorporate recorded content from the sanctuary.
- Weddings and funerals will be limited to 10 people or less including clergy and musicians.
- Office functions will remain as limited as possible. Those in the office will wear masks and if more than one person is in the office at a time, all surfaces will be regularly sanitized.
- We will allow renters back into the building if they are able to observe gathering limits and distancing protocols and cover the cost of additional cleaning requirements. We reserve the right to ask them to leave immediately if they do not comply with these guidelines.
- High risk individuals (people over 60 and those with underlying conditions), whether staff or volunteers, should continue to shelter in place.
The state of Virginia has not provided additional guidelines beyond Phase I at this time. However, a consensus among experts leads us to put the following guidelines in place once we move beyond Phase I and ultimately return to worship together.
We will need to limit attendance to 50 people in the sanctuary at one time
and those people must:
- Practice physical distancing in their entering, seating, worship and interactions. Our sanctuary size allows for 32 individuals or family units (those who have been in quarantine together) to gather at one time while still maintaining safe social distancing requirements. We will not be able to exceed 50 people and 32 family units at any time in the sanctuary. We will designate spots on each pew where each family unit/individual will be seated during worship.
- Ask all individuals to sign-in upon entering the church and indicate where they sat during worship.
- Not sing as a part of worship as saliva droplets and air projected in singing spread the virus.
- Not join in communal readings or shared responses for the same reasons listed above.
- Not physically serve communion, collect offering or distribute bulletins.
- Wash hands before worship, wear masks during worship and use hand sanitizer before and after worship.
In addition, we will need to do the following:
- Extensively clean before and after each worship service.
- Screen people for illness (anything from instructing people who report feeling unwell to go home to actually taking temperatures of people as they enter).
- Persuade the most vulnerable members not to come (a difficult and sad task because this will likely include those who have the least access to online worship).
For those who rent our space, we will implement the following:
- Post signs indicating symptoms and urging people to stay home/seek medical attention if they have symptoms.
- Maintain a good stock of tissue, soap, hand sanitizer and disposable paper towels for drying hands.
- Clean the building regularly and between user groups, paying extra attention to high-touch surfaces. Groups may be asked to absorb the cost of this additional cleaning.
- Immediately ask a group to leave if they are not complying with all guidelines.
As Christians, we believe every person reflects the image of God. To be faithful in the time of COVID is to honor all guidelines and protect the lives and wellbeing of our neighbors. While we know it is tempting to gather as soon as possible, this does not honor the worth and dignity of our larger community. In order to model what it means to love God and one another during this difficult season, we will move cautiously and with great care and take each step in love and trust. Please know that we long to be together but we can only gather when it is faithful and right to do so.
Even though things look a bit different, we are still Seventh Street Christian Church, we are still community and we still love one another. We will get through this and we will get through it together.
The Board of Seventh Street Christian Church and Pastor Hollie