May 25, 2020
My Dear Brothers and Sisters,
First, I want to plead with you to read all of this letter from the beginning and not skip ahead to our church procedures for re-opening the building. This letter was specifically crafted to preserve the unity and harmony of the church and as such, all of the information is important for you to know and understand.
I don’t have to tell you that our present situation is unprecedented in our lifetime. And while Church History has some wisdom to offer, we are different people with different technologies than the saints that lived through the Bubonic Plague of the 14th Century or the Spanish Flu of 1918. Therefore, we need to evaluate our current circumstances biblically and theologically as we navigate our way towards re-opening the church for public worship.
Theological Principles in Mind
First, let me be completely frank with you from the outset. There is no way possible for the staff of the church to remove all the dangers associated with COVID-19. This is a highly infectious virus. And we are still learning new things about its spread and treatment each day. So there is no way that we can offer you 100% safety on the church grounds. But that has never been the case when the church has gathered in the past. There have always been a host of inherent dangers in meeting from travel to the church (weather, car accident, equipment malfunction) to contact with others (illness, people with evil intent, structural failure of the building). In every scenario, we have done our best to minimize the possibility of danger as we will do for this virus. But I would remind you that God is sovereign over every situation. He has ruled in the past, and he is still on His throne today. Our lives have always been and always will be in His hands. (See Psalm 31:15, 90:12; Ephesians 1:15-23; Colossians 1:15-20). And if He can defeat our greatest enemy- which is sin- He can certainly defeat this virus.
Second, there are many people who have divergent views about how to best approach this virus. Some do not see it as a threat to their own safety. For others, cautions are greatly heightened because they have immune issues or they have loved ones who could be severely threatened by the virus, regardless of whether ‘the curve’ has been ‘flattened’ or not. It does not help that there has been much contradicting information and ‘fake news’ circulating in the media, nor that some have used the crisis for their own political gain which has created a sense of mistrust of government. But we are a people of the Book. We must decide to obey the Lord’s commands first and foremost above ‘the opinions’ of others and we listen to the best information available as a secondary consideration. This means ….
- The Bible must define our worship practices, not the government nor our fears. (Joshua 24:15; Psalm 119; John 14:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:14)
- But the Bible is clear that we should also submit to our governing authorities as God has ordained them for the common good. I want to emphasize this fact- Despite whatever orders the government issued, the elders of PBC made the decision to suspend public worship until we could ensure the safety of our members to a reasonable standing. That was an elder decision not a government decision. And even now, our state government is only suggesting recommended guidelines for re-opening. It is certainly wise to listen to their counsel as it affects a whole host of other issues such as public safety and insurance (see Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17).
- It benefits us to be a good witness to our neighbors. Sadly, because of poor decisions from a few other congregations, the church has been perceived as being reckless in her desire to meet against the prevailing wisdom to refrain from meeting. So as we re-open, we need to take into consideration our public witness, particularly for any visitors that might attend our services. (Matthew 5:14-16; Colossians 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12)
- Love must be the motivation for our response for people that have varying opinions on how to proceed forward. Anger and arguments do nothing for the witness of Christ nor the edification of His body. We must recognize that and embrace that it will be impossible to accommodate everyone’s desires. So extend grace if you are asked to do something you are uncomfortable with or when someone is refusing to extend a courtesy to you based upon their own conscience. (John 13:34-35; 1 Corinthians 13; 1 John 4:7-21)
- And lastly, on matters where the Bible is silent, we must adhere to our own individual conscience, and not violate it. For example, you should not feel guilty should you be led by your conscience to remain at home and continue worship via livestream because of safety or because you are unwilling to follow the procedures for re-opening the church. Both might be viable considerations based upon your conscience. When scripture is silent, you must follow your own conscience as a service to others and how you obey God. (Acts 24:16; Romans 14:10, 22-23; 1 Corinthians 8:12; Hebrews 13:18)
This is the biblical basis that has guided our thinking in how we re-open for public worship. Wisdom dictates that for our immediate re-opening we should be slow and cautious. We must wrap our minds around the fact that it might be some time until we can get back to our ‘normal’ practices. And we must also consider that God has us in this season to refine us as to what is truly important in our worship practices. It may be that He does not want us to go back to what we considered ‘normal’ but rather He wants to use this discomfort to open our eyes to something better and more lasting from an eternal perspective. None of the following procedures cause us to violate Biblical principles. We will start with strict regulations that as the Lord wills we will loosen in the near future.
Policies and Procedures
So with that being said let me tell you what we have been doing in preparation of our meeting together:
- We have organized a ‘sanitation team’ to work through procedures and practices to do our best in keeping the congregation safe while on the premises. They have worked prayerfully and considerately through the relevant information from the CDC guidelines, the Alabama State Guidelines and our Insurance company. You will note their efforts by seeing several signs throughout the building.
- Marty and Michelle Pavlik own a cleaning company. They were gracious to offer their cleaning services to disinfect the entire sanctuary (which was done recently). This includes all carpet and fabric in the pews.
- Our commercial cleaning service is using the strongest disinfectant available to kill the virus in all common areas of the building on a weekly basis.
- We have made sure that we are changing the filters of our air units in the building on a regular basis with the best filters available for our units.
- We will continue to offer hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes in the common areas of the church.
With those measures in place, you need to be aware of the following procedures for how we will re-open for public worship and gatherings.
- For the foreseeable future we will continue to offer the entire service over the livestream for those who need to worship at home. That will be an option for your family throughout the crisis. But please keep in mind that unlike when the church was closed, the services will be directed towards those in the building and not the livestream audience. We have been doing things slightly different to accommodate the broadcast, and it will now return to normal.
- For the time being, we will not be having Sunday School or nursery services on the premises. We hope to resume both in the near future, but as of this date we are unable to do so. Children are welcome and encouraged to attend services, but parents will need to be responsible that they can abide by the social distancing guidelines. More than any other group children have the potential of being asymptomatic. Therefore, parents, we need you to ensure that your kids can abide by the guidelines. We hope that in the near future, we can have a designated space for families with younger children in another area of the building. But presently, that is not an option. A room for nursing mothers and crying babies will be made available.
- Masks are a hot button issue within the church. Based upon the best advice we have received; we encourage you to wear a mask. But we are not going to mandate that you must. You need to be aware that some studies have demonstrated that it is a possibility that the virus can be spread in the air in the act of singing. But there are also studies that show while wearing a mask while singing can also have adverse effects as well from concentrated CO2 levels. Singing is a part of corporate worship (see the Psalms; Matthew 26:30; Ephesians 5:19-20; Colossians 3:16-17). It is a Biblical principle and should be observed. We may limit the number of songs we sing, but we will not be suspending the element of singing from worship. In making your decision to attend, you need to be aware of this. For the present, there will be no ‘special music’. But please note, following State guidelines and what our insurance company recommends, any of our staff or volunteers greeting the public must wear a mask. Please prepare your children to be greeted by someone wearing a mask.
- Some of our ladies have been manufacturing masks. They are happy to provide you with some. We do have disposable masks available. But we ask that you bring your own, to reserve these for any visitors.
- The new education wing and offices will continue to be off limits for now. At this time, we cannot follow our sanitizing procedures in the new building, particularly as construction crews are working in it every day but Sundays. If you would like to see the new building, then please contact a staff member and we will arrange a tour at our earliest convenience.
Please adhere to the following procedures when coming to public worship or prayer meetings.
- If you can answer ‘yes’ to any of the following questions, then please stay home for the time being: Have you been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19? Are you experiencing a cough, shortness of breath or sore throat? Have you had a fever in the past 48 hours? Have you experienced a new loss of taste or smell? Have you experienced vomiting or diarrhea in the last 24 hours?
- Please note, that all Bibles and hymnals have been removed from the pew rack. We ask that you bring your own (hymnals can still be checked out) and print out your own worship guides before coming to church. We will have some printed guides with all the hymn lyrics available, but you will pick them up at your own risk.
- You will enter through the front right sanctuary door and exit the building through the front left sanctuary door. The right-side handicap door will be open for those that need special assistance. Please feel free to pull your car up on the sidewalk if that side of the building is needed. The entrance by church offices will remain locked. There will be someone to greet you outside and assist with entering the building. In the event of rain, we will designate the door by the offices as the ‘official entrances’.
- As you enter the building please observe 6-foot social distancing guidelines. An usher will guide you to your seats. Please note, you will be seated according to when you enter the building and family units will be seated six feet apart. Most likely, you will be unable to sit in your ‘normal seat’. Please don’t ask to sit in a different location as it will disrupt our abilities to seat people in a safe manner.
- The bathrooms will be open, but we highly encourage you ‘to go’ before you leave home. It is inevitable that children will need to use the bathrooms. Parents we ask that you use the hallway restrooms and not those behind the baptistry which are reserved for our ‘at risk’ members. The public water fountain must be turned off. Should you require water, please ask an usher and they will provide you with a bottle. The rest of the building past the bathrooms will be closed off.
- We will not be passing offering plates during the service. There will be a collection plate at the rear of the building for you to deposit your offerings.
- Please arrive early to ensure everyone is properly seated. Our doors will be open at 9:45 AM. Please do not wait until ‘the last minute’ hoping that you will minimize contact. Our outlined procedures will accommodate that desire better than your late arrival.
- When the service concludes, please wait till you are outside to have your six-foot conversations. This will also ensure that everyone will be able to exit quickly. The pastors will not greet visitors as they exit, but hopefully have the opportunity to do so outside.
Do not think you must memorize all this information. Our volunteers will be available to assist you the first few Sundays. These same principles will be in place for our Wednesday night prayer meetings and business meetings.
One final but tremendously important issue: At this time, we only have the capacity to accommodate up to 50 families at one time. We have over 110 that regularly attend our services. You will be sent a separate survey via email asking if you are ready to return to public worship and the number of family members returning (please do not respond to this one). We do anticipate some visitors during this period. If we have more than 50 families, we will need to have a rotation for services for a period. Should this be the case, we will look into the possibility of having a few outdoor worship services where the congregation can gather as a whole with the ability of having the Lord’s Supper. If you choose not to attend as yet, please contact the church office before returning to worship.
It is our desire that the situation improves where we can remove all restrictions from our public gatherings. Hopefully, as new facts become available, that will happen, and you will hear what restrictions can be relaxed. But for the present time, the best way we can love one another and be a positive witness to our community is to follow the above procedures. If we can provide any additional information or services to you, please feel free to contact the church office.
Please watch your email, the church website, and the church’s Facebook page for any changes. As events occur, there is a possibility that our procedures could be altered. Please stay updated.
The Church Staff and the Sanitizing Team