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The State of the Church: The Return to In-Person Services

Updated: Jan 16, 2022

Rev. Dr. Barry Johnson

What a year! In the span of 15 months our church chose not to meet in person or hold services in our sanctuary because of the Covid-19 restrictions and safety protocols. Although many churches navigated a different course, we did what we felt was best for our congregation and our membership which consists largely of a senior or “seasoned” demographic. Nonetheless, with a great deal of planning and pride, we returned on the 1st Sunday of June. We did not re-assemble without guidelines, as we held several planning meetings with the support staff as to how we would implement our return, the order of services, plus retaining any pandemic related precautions.

Initially, we required temperature checks, restricted social distanced seating, and a mask mandate as the foundational aspects of our precautions. Our intent was to provide time for any issues reported through the church or the Health Department to be addressed. Prayerfully, we have been in the clear, therefore, we dropped the temperature checks and the seating arrangements. We continue to have a mask mandate and will adjust this at an appropriate time.

During the period we did not meet in-person, we instituted a Drive-Thru Communion or Lord’s Supper, which the members came by on each 1st Sunday where they were served the elements in their cars. We switched from the separate wafers and cups of juice to the packages that have both elements enclosed which made serving easier and safer. After returning to in-person, we kept the type of communion elements and served them after the benediction as the members were leaving the sanctuary. We are feeling good about where we are and next month, we will serve the congregants these elements while we are seated in our traditional manner. Additionally, we had a baptism and had the convert receive the “right hand” of fellowship as the members were exiting the church. We will return to the tradition of in-person fellowship next month. We allowed the members to “walk” to give their offering versus passing the baskets, which worked well. We will continue this practice for the foreseeable future.

We learned some things during Covid which we will retain, such as streaming our services through Free Conference Call. We have been blessed to have both in-person participants, plus those who continue to utilize Conference Call to attend both Sunday School and our Worship Service. Many of this group live out of town and joined us while we were out of the church. We are pleased that they have continued to worship with us through this accessible form of technology.

We have been using our Male Chorus, congregational hymns, solos, and even the pastor playing his saxophone and synthesizer to contribute to the music of the service instead of the Mass Choir. Since the choir continues to be a concern for spreading airborne viruses, we are bringing back our Youth Choir shortly and are preparing a Praise Team, a smaller group to contribute to the worship prior to having the larger choir return. Since attempting to sing with masks is futile, all singers will be allowed to “drop” these facial coverings while singing, as those who are reading scripture, praying, and preaching have been allowed.

We are looking forward to the day when we are totally back in the clear and we can return to whatever this new normal will be. I have likened this Covid experience to a football or basketball game where we have a first and second half. In my metaphorical example, pre-Covid was the first half, where we did many good and wonderful things, however, we became complacent and settled in our efforts because we had almost “mastered” the routine. Covid became the halftime break where we had to go into the locker rooms and re-strategize our “game-plan” or approach. God has now brought us back out on the field or on the floor for the second half, which must resemble the adjustments or changes that we have made to become a better church and a better Christian who has not allowed the doldrums of not having in-person fellowship to dilute our relationship with Jesus. Unfortunately, we have lost some members, physically, through death, but also, we have lost members spiritually, who have fallen away during the pandemic because they refused to adjust to the streaming church, believing that this form of worship was somehow, illegitimate. We must now add to our mission to recover these lost souls and bring them into the second half of the mission of retaining the promise of eternal life and our valued relationship with the Lord.

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