Dear First Presbyterian Church Family:
Thank you for your continued patience as we navigate these unprecedented and strange times. Session, the leadership council of the church, met last night to discuss reopening our building and restarting in-person worship. Since COVID-19 started in March, we have taken these decisions seriously and grounded our approach in prayer, care, compassion, and love for our church members and our community. I have been honored to moderate these meetings and believe that the decisions we have reached have been and are the most faithful approach for our particular church. Each church will take a different approach based on their building and their demographics, and your Session takes that into account in these conversations; our decisions are unique to our context.
I do want to share some good news with you. In the three months that we have suspended in-person worship, our church has continued to thrive. The trackable metrics like attendance and giving continue to be strong, you can see those here: https://bit.ly/FPCMetrics The intangible metrics like people feeling a sense of connection to the church and one another are also strong based on conversations I have had and stories I have heard. And we continue to serve our community in big and small ways through ministries like United Harvest and through individuals doing grocery runs and taking care of their family, friends, neighbors, and community members. Thank you for all you are doing to support the church and these efforts!
After our meeting in May, Session appointed a task force to study reopening and make recommendations. The COVID-19 Task Force met and considered a great deal of data. We listened to our members, the health department, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and other voices and perspectives. One of the most helpful documents that we studied for me was from the “Ecumenical Consultation on Protocols for Worship, Fellowship, and Sacraments” that was convened by Emory University and the Candler School of Theology. If you are interested in reading an in-depth document that balances the theology of worship with the available science, I commend this study to you which you can read here: https://bit.ly/worship5
The COVID-19 Task Force presented a plan for phased reopening which we discussed at length and voted in favor of unanimously. Starting this week, we will enter Phase 1 of the reopening which includes reopening our building for church groups like committee meetings and bible studies with some restrictions including:
- Masks will be required (unless there is a medically necessary reason not to wear them)
- No more than 15 people
- Meetings no longer than an hour
- If you are experiencing any symptoms, please stay home
- A digital alternative like Zoom or a conference call will be made available for those who don’t feel safe coming in
Following these guidelines, we will also allow a modified version of the Open Table meal packing that we normally do in July every Sunday after worship; it will likely be done in small groups on many days throughout the month, so stay tuned.
In Phase 1, we will not hold In-Person worship, instead we will continue our Stay-at-Home worship services on Sundays through the end of July, except for Worship in the Park which we will celebrate this Sunday, 6/21 and also on Sunday, 7/19.
We recognize that some of our members will be sad or disappointed that we are not restarting in-person worship this month. Other members may feel a sense of relief. I am personally feeling both of those things. As we sing every week, the church is not a building or a steeple, it is the people. But that doesn’t make the grief any less when we can’t gather together in our building, worship God together, and share fellowship with one another as a family of faith. However, Session takes the safety and care of the congregation seriously. Until we can restart in-person worship in a way that is safe for all of our members, we will continue with a cautious and compassionate approach.
Session will meet again on July 20 to make a decision about worship for August, and we will inform you after that meeting. In the meantime, please feel free to reach out to me or any of our Session members if you have questions or want to provide us input or feedback.
Thank you for your steadfast commitment and ongoing support to your church and the work we are doing to share the love and light of Christ to one another, our community, and the world. Please continue to hold our church staff and our members in your prayers; that we may continue to be the hands and feet of Christ in this time so that all may know that they are beloved children of God.
Your Servants in Christ,
Pastor Greg and the Session
Mary Seiler, Brian Johnson, Kay Georgiana, Mary Fisk, Pat Kern, Kris Horton, Bev Rader, Erik Nielsen, Harold Korb, Joe Black, Neil Riley, Scott Shardelow, Cheryl Lockwood