May 13, 2021 Letter:
I am so grateful for your faith and patience throughout these past 14 months as COVID-19 has restructured our church life. I know that everyone misses worshiping in our sanctuary and seeing each other in person. I too feel that loss profoundly. It is also true that we have learned new ways of being the body of Christ during this time. I rejoice in the generosity of our congregation, the care exhibited for one another, and the creativity practiced.
The Session met on May 11th, and after hearing recommendations from the COVID-19 task force, has made some decisions regarding a gradual return to the building. Beginning June 1st, small groups (10 people and under) will be permitted to meet inside the church building, following safety protocols. We ask that all groups wear masks, social distance, and sign-in when they arrive at the building. All groups who want to meet must schedule through the church office to make sure we have available space.
For the summer, the Session has approved four dates for outdoor in-person worship services. These will provide an opportunity for us to gather in a safe manner. Those dates are May 23, June 20, July 18, and August 15. We also know that not everyone feels comfortable returning to in-person worship and so those outdoor worship services will be livestreamed to our YouTube page. Please wear a mask, bring a lawn chair, and join us on those Sundays at 10am. If the weather prevents us from meeting outside, I will inform you on Saturday that outside worship is cancelled and will invite you to worship with us virtually instead.
One of the questions that I get asked most often is when will we resume in-person worship in the sanctuary. When we meet the following Ingham County markers, the Session will set a date to return to in-person worship in the sanctuary:
- More than 50% are vaccinated (we are currently at 43.6% for 1+ dose)
- The 14-day average of new cases are 8 or less per 100,000 (currently 18.4) and
- The 14-day average positivity rate is less than 10% (currently 8.6%)
Please know that even as we make steps to resume in-person activities, we remain committed to keeping virtual options. We are excited about moving forward and also recognize that plans may change with fluctuating virus positivity rates. We will continue to send out multiple email messages each week that will keep you informed about in-person plans and online opportunities.
As we move into the summer and fall, together let us seek to discover the new things God is doing in our midst!
Grace and Peace,
May 2020 Letter:
Dear Eastminster Presbyterian Members and Friends,
It is hard to believe that it has been three months since we last gathered in person. We miss being together for worship, education, mission and fellowship. It has been difficult not to be able to gather for weddings and funerals. And yet, we have continued to be the church as we worship online, come together on Zoom, and stay in touch through e-mails, Facebook, and phone calls.
While we initially hoped for a quick return to in-person gatherings, we now recognize that returning to church will happen slowly and in phases. The way forward will not be a matter of following a timetable, but of faithfully discerning the progress of the pandemic, and responding accordingly.
Please understand: for at least the next year, we anticipate our lives to be shaped by the timeline set by COVID-19. We face difficult choices between conflicting needs and imperatives. If we don’t continue our efforts to contain the virus, a new wave of infections and deaths will cause further damage, and we will lose what we’ve gained from the measures we’ve already taken. And if we push the envelope too far by reopening our buildings and resuming gatherings prematurely, we put the health of our members at risk.
At the May Session Meeting, a COVID Task Force was appointed to make recommendations for how to gradually reopen the building, while keeping in mind the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of all of our members and friends. In June, the Session approved the document below. We will continue to communicate with you as changes take place in the life of the church.
We pray for a spirit of discernment, for wisdom, and patience. We pray for researchers and medical professionals; for the planners; for the ill and recovering; for those grieving and struggling with the weightiness of these times. In the midst of so many unknowns we affirm that nothing can separate us from the love of God in our Lord Jesus Christ.
COVID Task Force Members
Rev. Kristin Stroble
Neil Myer, Director of Christian Education
Elder Mary Harvey
Elder Estelle McGroarty
Dr. John Thornburg
How will we know when to return to Eastminster’s building?
We will continue to follow the guidance of the State of Michigan, the CDC, and the Presbytery of Lake Michigan. Our primary concern is the ongoing safety of our community. We will always err on the side of safety and caution when faced with multiple guidelines.
Churches are unique because being “open” for us is different than for a store or other businesses: we have large groups of people that come into the building, sit close together to talk, and spend 1-3 hours in a room at a time. Churches continue to be a place that is at high risk to spread the virus. Opening the building means being able to handle the volume of cleaning needed, following social distancing protocols, and providing masks and sanitizer for all who need it. We know this means reopening the building in multiple stages.
Here are some of the questions we are asking as we evaluate what each stage of reopening looks like:
- How will we maintain social distance while entering and exiting the building, using bathrooms, worshiping, and greeting one another?
- In early phases of reopening, how will we cap attendance at events so that members of the community can participate and so we don’t exceed guidelines?
- How many people can our worship space hold if we are worshiping in household units sitting 6 feet apart?
- How will we ensure sanitation and disinfection in regards to communal spaces? This includes: worship bulletins, hymnals, areas where small groups meet, nursery and church school classrooms, pews and chairs, doorknobs, bathrooms, kitchen, other areas that people touch. Is there ample access to purchase additional cleaning supplies?
- What safety precautions such as masks, sanitizer, and cleaning supplies do we need to provide? Who is responsible for maintaining the supply of these and how do we ensure their use is enforced?
- What safety precautions are specifically applicable for children? When might we be able to reopen the nursery?
- If someone contracts COVID-19 or tests positive for SARS-CoV-2, how will we communicate with our congregation and members who may have come into contact with that individual while maintaining privacy and pastoral care?
Worship & Christian Education
Even as the building slowly begins reopening, we will continue to worship online using Facebook and YouTube. We will do so until it is safe to have 100 people in one space together, with safety and social distancing precautions in place. We know that some of our most beloved worship practices (singing, communion, coffee fellowship) are not recommended even when small groups are initially able to gather. For that reason, we will continue to worship online for Sunday mornings. Even after we resume in-person worship we foresee that we will not be able to offer the nursery for our young children for some time.
After we are back in the building, small classes will be able to resume by practicing social distancing, limiting the class size, and wearing masks. We will encourage people to sign-up for classes ahead of time.
As the building slowly reopens Rev. Kristin Stroble, Neil Myer, Jadrian Tarver, Tamar Mikeladze, and Heather Myer will continue recording worship. We lament that our choirs will not be able to meet in person for quite a while but are heartened by the creativity of our staff and lay leadership to create our online worship.
It has become abundantly clear that having Eastminster’s worship services available online is a ministry of accessibility and outreach. We are committed to continuing to offer an online worship option in an ongoing manner. The Session has approved the purchase of the necessary equipment to be able to livestream in our sanctuary and therefore have online services accessible in perpetuity.
Weddings and Funerals
We will evaluate how we conduct weddings and funerals as the need arises depending on the safety recommendations of the moment. We will work with families to create a plan that honors their loved one, honors their grieving process, and keeps everyone safe. There will be a requirement for any services in the church building that everyone must wear masks. We have ideas and wisdom about how to have online memorial services or visitation should a family not wish to postpone their service.
Building Rentals and Support Groups
Right now, we have opened the church grounds for our support groups to begin meeting again. We are working with our cleaning company to see if they can come in additional times to sanitize. We would ask that the support groups cover the cost of the cleaning ($30 each meeting) if they wish to begin meeting again inside the building. We will ask them to follow social distancing and safety guidelines. Our Office Administrator will communicate with our outside groups about meeting requirements and timelines for reopening.
We will continue to be a polling place for East Lansing. We will contact the local election officials to ensure they are following the CDC guidelines for elections. We will ask that all poll workers and voters use the downstairs entrance and remain on the lower level. We will also have our cleaners sanitize the building after each election day.
In order to keep everyone safe, we have developed a list of “house rules” that we will require people to abide by when they are in the church building. We will ask folks that are not willing to abide by these guidelines to leave the building. The house rules are:
- Wearing masks at all times while in the building
- Maintain social distance between family units
- Sign-in and sign out of the church building on clipboards, wiping the pens off after using them
- Use hand sanitizer after entering the building
- If you are feeling ill, please do not enter the building
- Do not shake hands or have physical contact with anyone outside of your family unit
- Limit the amount of surfaces you touch
- No singing while in the building to avoid spread of the virus
- Avoid congregating at the doorways
- Only one person or one family unit in the elevator or the bathroom at a time
- Alert the church if you are exposed to COVID-19 or test positive for SARS-CoV-2
What will reopening look like?
Reopening will happen in several phases. The timeline will not be linear. There might be times when we return to earlier, stricter, phases, before opening back up for a second or third time. We have to be flexible in adapting to the guidelines, and we will continue to clearly communicate how to participate in church ministry every step of the way.
We are currently in Phase One.
Phase One will include:
- No public access to the church by members, the public or support groups.
- Limited access to church for key staff members who manage the day to day operations
- NOTE: All staff members will maintain social distancing, wear masks if others are around and disinfect surfaces per CDC guidelines.
- Groups are able to meet on the church grounds as long as they bring their own chairs and maintain social distancing. Groups must be 50 people or under. They are not permitted to enter the church building.
- The church garden is being utilized with social distancing.
The second phase start date will depend on continued guidance from the CDC, the State of Michigan, and the presbytery. The task force will be looking for data that supports a decline in case counts over a period of 4-6 weeks, documents widespread availability of testing, and notes improved contact tracing and no PPE shortages. When those data criteria are met the task force will request approval of Session to proceed to Phase Two.
Phase Two will include
- Worship and most programs remaining online
- No public access to the church except by key staff members who manage the day to day operations
- Small groups and small committees (10 people or less) can meet in person as long as they abide by the house rules (social distancing, masks and CDC guidelines, etc.).
- NOTE: online options will continue to be provided for all committees.
- Support Groups and Building Rentals (10 people or less) can meet in person as long as they abide by the house rules and cover the cost of the cleaning ($30 per meeting).
The third phase start date will depend on continued guidance from the aforementioned agencies. The task force will be noting data that supports a decline in case counts over a period of 2-3 months, the ability to have 100 people in the building at one time, widespread availability of testing, improved contact tracing and no PPE shortages. When those criteria are met the task force will request approval from session to proceed to Phase Three.
Phase Three will include:
- Worship will begin in person (with an ongoing online option)
- NOTE: To limit personal contact there will be changes in many of our worship practices.
- All Staff are allowed to return to the office with the option to work from home.
- All committees can meet in person (with an ongoing online option)
- Coffee fellowship will be evaluated with changes to meet CDC guidelines for sanitizing.
- All members should continue to practice safety measures including good hand sanitizing.
Looking Ahead Long Term
Although there is still a lot about the future we do not know, we believe we can anticipate these things:
- There will be some continued change that feels like a loss, and some that feels like an opportunity. Many of us will grieve the changes in our rituals and gatherings. It is also okay to look for the ways our creativity is drawing us into new, more accessible, farther reaching ministries. We are in this together, and there will surely be a wide range of feelings that we are all processing. We will continue to create space for us to share and process our experiences together.
- Our staff and church leadership are prepared and poised to take on these new challenges. They have been working together for the past four months to ensure the safety of our congregation and to bring Eastminster’s ministry to life in new ways. With the help of God, may our church continue to be a beloved community, a source of hope, love and compassion.