“Keep your shirts on; keep the lights on! Be like house servants waiting for their master to come back from his honeymoon, awake and ready to open the door when he arrives and knocks. Lucky the servants whom the master finds on watch! He’ll put on an apron, sit them at the table, and serve them a meal, sharing his wedding feast with them. It doesn’t matter what time of the night he arrives; they’re awake—and so blessed!
You know that if the house owner had known what night the burglar was coming, he wouldn’t have stayed out late and left the place unlocked. So don’t you be lazy and careless. Just when you don’t expect him, the Son of Man will show up.”
Peter said, “Master, are you telling this story just for us? Or is it for everybody?”
The Master said, “Let me ask you: Who is the dependable manager, full of common sense, that the master puts in charge of his staff to feed them well and on time? He is a blessed man if when the master shows up he’s doing his job. But if he says to himself, ‘The master is certainly taking his time,’ begins beating up on the servants and maids, throws parties for his friends, and gets drunk, the master will walk in when he least expects it, give him the thrashing of his life, and put him back in the kitchen peeling potatoes.
“The servant who knows what his master wants and ignores it, or insolently does whatever he pleases, will be thoroughly thrashed. But if he does a poor job through ignorance, he’ll get off with a slap on the hand. Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities!
Luke 12:35-48, The Message
If you would have told me last year when we shut down for COVID-19 in March of 2020 that our doors would be locked for over sixty-three Sundays, I would not have believed you. If you would have told me that due to a herculean effort, a vaccine against the coronavirus would be developed within that timeframe and distributed to millions around the world, to begin to fight the spread of the virus, I would not have believed you. And after all that, if you would have told me that we are finally—finally!—seeing possible safe ways for our church to begin to reopen, as long as proper protocols are in place and followed religiously, I probably wouldn’t have believed that either.
But it’s true! We are beginning to see a light at the end of this long, pandemic struggle. Maybe, if all goes according to plan and people follow the rules (which include getting vaccinated, wearing masks, and other safety measures,) that maybe will turn into a definitive yes. I sure hope so!
Here’s what has to happen first.
First, we’re United Methodists which means we never park our brains at the door. We understand the importance of following all the guidelines set forth by the CDC, our state, county and municipality. Plus, we are a connectional church. That means that according to our Cal-Nevada Conference guidelines, we have to also submit a detailed written plan to reopen in any form, which has to be approved in writing by my boss, the District Superintendent Samuel Hong.
You might not have realized it, but our Trustees and Staff Pastor Parish Relations Committee (SPPRC) have both been working for some time on different aspects of this application to re-open and its implications, with the Trustees focusing on the building and the SPPRC on our staff.
In addition to new, stringent cleaning protocols which have already been put in place, the Trustees have had our ventilation system (heaters) inspected by George Wilson Heating. The experts came into our facility and adjusted the heaters for more air flow as required, changed the filters into more stringent ones like the schools, and re-wired things so that we can turn on the “air” whenever a group is in the building. The outside of the building, which included problems of overgrown ivy and bushes, have been cut back and the grounds are being cleaned up as needed. Plus, we’re ordering chairs for the hall which can be easily cleaned after each use, and other necessary upgrades.
The SPPRC has worked hard to keep all our staff on the payroll and worked to help us establish new procedures, such as mandatory self-temperature checks when entering the building by staff, enhanced indoor cleaning including hand washing, increased ventilation by opening doors, and use of masks, whenever we have to be in the building to work. Remote work is also occurring whenever possible. We have procedures for preventing the spread of the virus including self-monitoring of our health and families, limiting exposure, and other groups have not yet been allowed in the building.
As you might expect, our first priority is keeping everyone safe and alive. Everyone means everyone.
When we issued our all-church survey last year, a majority said that they wouldn’t return to in-person worship until there was a safe and effective vaccine available to all. Now that the vaccine is available to those 16 and up, we’re almost there, with the caveat that people have to actually get the vaccine for it to be effective. We see that children and youth are beginning to return to some form of in-person instruction in the schools, and it looks like our COVID numbers are decreasing rapidly in Santa Cruz County. Things look good at this point.
But we’re not quite there yet here at church.
We have a number of next steps. Right now, we’re in the process of putting together a team of dedicated volunteers to help us enforce the new protocols that are mandated for us to even partially open. For instance, if I’m preaching outside at a lawn chair service, this team will have to ensure that everyone who attends follows the rules, just like they do at our local schools, businesses and other public spaces.
Are you available to help with our Relaunching Team? Please let us know and we’ll add you to the list.
With regard to worship, basically we ultimately hope to offer a variety of different options to meet different needs. First off, our worship team plans to continue working together to present our online gatherings, which are successfully reaching many more participants both at home and far away than we had in pre-pandemic times. Worshipping together from home has some real advantages, particularly for those with very young or very old family members, or for those who are vulnerable because of medical conditions or other reasons. Frankly, I love watching our Online Gathering which premieres every Sunday at 10:00 am on our church YouTube and Facebook social media accounts, while I’m sitting atop a stationary bicycle in our living room. There are more ways to worship than we’d ever imagined!
But we also are planning a hybrid version of worship where we live stream a live worship service right from our sanctuary. We’re in the process of getting bids for installing the necessary cameras and lighting which would allow this. Stay tuned for more information! An interim version of worship might occur by allowing vaccinated congregants to be screened to watch the service in our sanctuary on our TVs together. (Sorry, but no indoor singing yet allowed.) Outside, under current protocols, we may soon be able to offer a lawn chair service, where fully-masked and distanced participants sit outside and worship together that way.
What’s this mean for you?
We ask for your patience and understanding in this time of transition. This has been a hard, hard year for everyone, and it’s not over yet. Most importantly, we ask that you continue to pray for us and our church. Without God in the mix, none of this is going to happen. Jesus taught us to love one another and others as ourselves, so we’re just going to have to figure out how to do it in this new normal. As the Scripture says, great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities!
Are you up for the task?