A small group of COGS members including Pastor Sarah TevisTownes, Dr. Ruth Burstrom, Dr. Joanna Fair, Susan MacKenzie, and Pauline Calahan met on at the direction of COGS Council to discuss our plans for our church moving forward with COVID-19.
Our primary goals are to ensure the safety of our congregation, pastor, and staff while continuing to engage our church family and the wider community in worship, community, and service.
Even though New Mexico has been successful thus far in flattening the curve, COVID-19 remains present in New Mexico, and there is not yet ready availability of an effective treatment or vaccine. We remain under our governor’s stay-at-home order, and even when this is lifted, it may be some time before large-group gatherings are allowed and are safe. Even as state and national restrictions are relaxed, some COGS members may not be able to attend in-person worship safely due to health concerns.
Issues the committee considered included managing traffic in the entrance and hallway, how to safely distribute bulletins and other materials, fitting everyone into the sanctuary in a safely distanced way, and wearing of masks. The issue that presented a fairly insurmountable difficulty was cleaning and resetting the sanctuary between services. We considered having one Zoom service and one in-person service; however, we determined that for Pastor Sarah to develop two very different services each week was a heavy burden. There are many problems to solve along the way; we will find that as new information develops, some problems will be solved and others will emerge.
During this time, we will continue to emphasize making our on-line worship as dynamic and meaningful as possible, including whatever equipment and technology we need to enhance our worship experience and connect with each other. Our plan, if council approves, is to use the sanctuary to produce music and other elements for the Zoom services when the Governor and the Health Department allow the building to be more open than it is now. We would ensure that all who participate in these activities will do so in the safest manner possible. The initial step would be allowing musicians in the sanctuary solo to record (e.g., Dick could enter the building to use the organ).
Before we go back to large group worship, there will likely be some intermediate phases, which may include very well-spaced small group gatherings. We have no plans regarding the timing of return to full church worship services, and we expect it will take quite some time before this can be done safely. We will continue to monitor state, national, and church guidance in this regard.
Council members and church attendees who are interested in learning more about guidance for churches can read one example developed by the Wisconsin Council of Churches, available at https://www.wichurches.org/2020/04/23/returning-to-church/
Links from UCC
Also here are the links to Revs. Dorhauer, Blackmon, and Thompson's message:
The UCC's COVID-19 guidance:
Very helpful guidance from the Wisconsin Council of Churches, recommended by the UCC.