We are now into the month of June and I wanted to provide you with an update on where we are in regards to opening our church facilities for in-person worship on Sunday mornings. Most of you are aware that the Governor of Virginia is beginning to allow various businesses and organizations to open up more broadly. The United Methodist Church in Virginia does not only operate within the Governor’s guidelines, we also operate according to guidelines put out by our Bishop. Out of a concern for safety, some of the restrictions and requirements placed upon United Methodists churches are more robust and detailed than those being placed by other organizations and non-United Methodist Churches. Larger UM churches such as ours are at a disadvantage, and many of the larger churches are choosing to remain closed.
We have received permission to open for worship on June 21, but we will not be opening on that date because the requirements for opening are very significant and would diminish the worship experience to the point that I believe it would be detrimental rather than helpful. Let me explain what I mean: according to the guidelines and requirements placed on all United Methodist Churches in the Virginia Conference, opening on June 21 would require us to abide by these procedures and restrictions:
- Everyone who attends worship should register at least four days in advance and the fill out a “Health Advisory Form” prior to attending worship every Sunday they attend. That’s right, you don’t just fill out a health advisory form one time, you need to fill it out every time you come to church for worship as part of making your reservation each week. Failure to submit the form means you are not permitted entry for worship.
- No congregational singing, no choir, no praise bands, and no soloists are permitted.
Every other pew must be completely empty, and social distancing must be practiced at all times, including entering and exiting the building.
- Limited use of restrooms due to social distancing requirements.
- Hand sanitizer must be applied upon entering the sanctuary.
- Everyone must wear a mask at all times.
- No coffee or fellowship time permitted in between services.
- No handshakes or hugging.
- If there are multiple worship services on Sunday morning, the sanctuary and lobby area must be thoroughly cleaned between services, a very rigorous cleaning protocol is to be followed.
- No children under the age of 7 are permitted to attend.
- Elderly and vulnerable populations are encouraged not to attend.
- No Baptisms permitted.
- Holy Communion cannot be served, but take-home communion cups can be provided.
This is just a sampling of some of the requirements we would need to meet in order to be open for in-person worship.
Our church re-opening committee has reviewed these requirements and determined that they are not conducive to the inspiring and excellent worship experiences we are trying to create here at Virginia Beach UMC. These requirements are also not consistent with our view of what congregational worship should be like. Not only are these requirements burdensome to our members, volunteers, and staff, some of them are unwelcoming to first-time guests. If such requirements are deemed necessary in order to open for worship, we believe that it is better for our church to remain closed at this time. Other United Methodist churches with a different perspective may make a different choice. Until we are able to get to Phase 3, when most of these restrictions and requirements are lifted, we plan to continue offering the very best online worship experience we can. And once we resume in-person worship, we will continue to offer an online experience for those who are not ready or able to return.
I am hearing that some members of our church family are growing tired of waiting to return to worship. I totally understand, and share that same feeling. But I also care deeply about the kind of worship we experience when we do return. I do appreciate that the mandated requirements and restrictions provide a sanitary and safe environment for worship, but I do not believe that they create a warm and welcoming environment. Some of you may disagree with me, but my guess is that most of you do agree. I will continue to keep you informed about future developments. Thanks for your patience, your prayers, and your support.
- Pastor Mark