Updates on ministry and gathering amidst COVID-19
May 27, 2020
First Baptist Family:
This week’s email contains our usual reminders about schedule and the life of our church, found in the boxes below this note. But in the body of the email, I want to share with you a longer-than-usual message about some of our emerging plans for the approaching summer. Specific emails with plans for our children and youth will follow this email, but first some plans for the life of our whole congregation.
This summer, we’ve chosen a churchwide theme: “Precedents.” These days of crisis and challenge are often called “unprecedented.” Yet our faith is full of the memory of the faithfulness of God and the work of God’s people through times of challenge, crisis and uncertainty. Our faith gives us a sense of precedent that life alone can not. From June 14 through the end of the summer, we’re going to progress through scripture, each week exploring a core biblical theme like creation, covenant, justice, suffering, redemption and a host of others. These themes will shape the content of our worship, preaching, and teaching. Each week a different hymn will be highlighted, helping these themes to live in our hearts and in our bones. All of it will remind us of the guidance we find in our faith, and of the fact that the best evidence for God’s action in the present is our understanding of God’s work in the past.
As we worship and grow together as a church through the summer, we are imagining two primary forms of gathering, which we’re calling First Baptist Online and First Baptist Outdoors.
You will notice, of course, that neither of these two categories includes plans for indoor gathering for our congregation. Yesterday, May 26, our Deacons voted unanimously to approve a recommendation of our COVID-19 Task Force that we remain closed to indoor gathering until September 1, barring unexpected new information. Our Task Force and Deacons have been considering building closure on a month-to-month basis since mid-March, but ultimately wanted to set a longer horizon to enable our best possible planning and adaptation as a church.
We want the congregation to have as clear of an understanding as possible about what is guiding the thinking, prayer and discernment re: indoor gathering. Our church’s question has remained “When should we gather indoors?” rather than “When can we?” Our decisions have not been cued primarily by larger state restrictions, nor will our return to indoor gathering be only in reaction to the phases outlined by the state government. While the government can grant permission, it’s left to us to decide what is advisable and wise. We must discern such things in a way that is specific to First Baptist, and not necessarily in conjunction with broader concerns.
As we seek a plan specific to First Baptist Greensboro, these priorities are guiding us.
- First, our overarching concern has been the safety of our congregation. We know that indoor gatherings, with large groups of people sitting stationary for extended periods – even without singing, hugging, or passing offering plates – are among the most health-compromised situations in this time of pandemic. We will only return to indoor gatherings when we are well-situated to ensure the safety of each and every one of us institutionally, regardless of individual behavior. As we all understand, this is especially vital given vulnerable populations that we serve.
- Second, we strive to be inclusive in our plans. We do not want to subdivide our congregation into those able to experience our best efforts, and those not. We are striving in all that we do to be widely accessible regardless of age or ability to gather. We want to expend our fullest energy on those things that invite the broadest possible congregational participation.
- Third, we want our ministry to be as effective as possible. Even when safe, we grant that gathering indoors in a limited way with a limited number might not prove as effective and engaging as giving full energy to other forms of gathering, worship and the work of the church. Would sitting appropriately spaced in our sanctuary, for instance, feel encouraging or deflating? Will holding one another at a safe distance be an experience of community, or cause us to feel greater isolation? Will letting go of the virtual forms of ministry in order to give energy necessary for limited physical gathering engage our congregation as widely and enable our ministry as broadly? We want to ensure our ministry is as effective as it can possibly be.
- Finally, as we progress, we know we will do so in stages. Our Personnel Committee, for instance, is developing parameters for staff whose jobs are tied to the building to begin to return and work safely. As for our congregation, we’re imagining progressing through multiple stages, from safe forms of gathering outdoors to safe forms of gathering indoors, to ultimate return. This plan will likely be less a grand strategic scheme, and more an effort at multiple experiments to find what works, what we can learn from and build on, and what the Spirit might do as we give our best to the emerging needs and opportunities of the moment.
We are grateful to the leaders who are guiding these important conversations. A reminder that our Task Force is composed of 6 Deacons (Adam Barnes, Seth Hix, Debbie Huneycutt, Janice Newsom, Dave Worsley and Deacon Chair Brad Wall) and 3 members of our Pastoral Staff (Doug Vancil, Courtney Willis and me). The Task Force works with other standing committees as needed, and shares reports and recommendations with our wider group of Deacons, which approves important matters related to ministry and gathering. As questions of gathering continue before us, we will be adding members of the recently formed Strategic Planning Team, whose work has been tabled for now. I encourage you to reach out to Deacon Chair Brad Wall, to me, or to any other member of our COVID-19 Task Force if you have input, insight or questions. We welcome your voice and need the collective wisdom of our congregation. You may also contact us at-large through email@example.com.
Even as we are cautious in moving toward full return, we acknowledge that we are ready for forward motion and a sense of what’s next. As mentioned above, what’s next for us is a summer of First Baptist Online and First Baptist Outdoors.
Online, we will continue in some of the ways we have in these weeks of staying at home. We will worship virtually, including the widest range of our congregation. We will share in Bible Study, including some new options for interactive study midday. We will gather Midweek for an evening worship service, featuring prayer, music, reflection and a spiritual practice. We will work to build community and enjoy church family connection. We will continue to tell the stories of our church’s ministry. We will give generously and serve our community in every possible way.
Beyond this, we will begin to explore ways of gathering safely Outdoors. We know that the capacity for safety is far greater in wide open outdoor space, which we happen to have in acres! We are planning for small group experiences of worship and prayer and spiritual practices. We’re imagining music circles, with instruments played at a time when it is less safe to use the instruments of our voices. Volunteer and service opportunities will increase this summer, as we seek to love our neighbors in tangible ways. Safe fellowship activities will also emerge, including for our youth and children and even our wider community. As we consider all of this, we are also beginning to imagine ways of enhancing the tremendous resource of our outdoor campus and grounds, renewing spaces for greater use now and in the future, and considering how our beautiful campus can be of even greater use to our wider community.
I am inspired by the work of our church in this time, and so excited about the summer ahead. But please know that amidst my enthusiasm, I also hold grief for all that will not be and all that is not yet. I ask with you that persistent question, “When will we get back to church?” and I ask also the question behind it: “When will we return freely and uninhibitedly to things we love and miss and grieve?” We all long for return. For our church and for each of us as individuals, I fully believe such return will come more and more with compounding freedom and joy. It’s our hope that these plans can represent a step along that way for First Baptist Greensboro.
Most of all, I hope all that we do is a reminder that while the way seems unknown, uncharted and even “unprecedented,” we do not travel it alone. We walk it with one another, and with our God who has been this way before. God is here, walking among us all, and surely God will continue to guide us forward, holding us always together in love.
Wednesday, May 13
MARCH 16 UPDATE
- Weekly Schedule — While nothing can replace our physical gatherings, we are planning remote gatherings weekly on Sundays (10:30am) and Wednesdays (6:15pm). Yesterday’s worship service can be viewed at any time here, and we look forward to another creative approach to virtual worship on Sunday. Additionally, this Wednesday evening during our normal Midweek gathering time, we will host an interactive prayer meeting followed by Bible study. These services can be viewed live on Facebook, and you do not need an account to view. Simply go to our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/FirstBaptistChurchGreensboro. For instructions on how to utilize Facebook, watch a 60-sec video here.
- Pastoral Care — Your Pastoral Staff and Deacons are committed to ensuring that care for our congregation continues, even as hospitals and care facilities have limited visits. We will utilize phone calls and even FaceTime and video chat for counseling. We will also continue reaching out to our Homebound members. If crisis calls for physical presence, I will be ready to make thoughtful exceptions to provide the care needed. Remember also, you are a part of the care of our congregation, so check in on one another and please let us know if you know of needs. We also hope you’ll let us know if you have physical, emotional or spiritual needs yourself. We’re your church, and you should expect us to be here for you even at a distance.
- Office Hours — Our entire staff is maintaining regular remote office hours, and is accessible by phone. Call the church (336.274.3286) and dial the extension of the person you wish to reach, or dial “0” for the general mailbox. All messages will forward immediately and will be returned as soon as possible. While extensions can be searched via first name, as a reminder, extensions for staff are available here under the photos of each staff member. My extension is 101.
- Committee Meetings — The work of the church is much larger than the pastors and staff, so be assured that committees will continue to meet, utilizing online video conferencing.
- Sunday School — Additionally, we want to make the same platform available to Sunday School classes and small groups that wish to meet. If your class is interested in utilizing video conference or conference call to meet, let Courtney know (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we’ll work with you to find a time.
- COVID-19 Task Force — One of the committees meeting regularly is our newly formed Task Force of deacons and pastors, which will plan to meet twice weekly for the foreseeable future to guide decisions and shape our ministry in this critical time. For more information, or with questions for this group, contact our Deacon Chair, Brad Wall (email@example.com).
- Care Team — Many of you have gifts and capacity to serve our congregation and community at this time. We are actively assessing the needs with which our church can most readily assist, and welcome your participation. Please let us know if you’d like to be a part of a First Baptist Greensboro Care Team by filling out the form here.
- Generosity — Finally, thank you for your continued generosity to our church and its ministry at this time. We will continue to receive offerings mailed to the church and submitted online at fbcgso.org/give. Like many organizations, we will be seeking to sustain our ministry in a period of financial strain. Your gifts help us to maintain commitments to staff, offer support to our community and service partners, and continue to care for congregation and community.
MARCH 15 UPDATE
- This closure suspends all regular programs and applies to all building users.
- It also applies to small groups and other scheduled activities, including this week’s church directory photos, which will be rescheduled.
- It also affects office hours, as church pastors and staff will move to work remotely through this time.
MARCH 12 UPDATE First Baptist Family: We have made the decision to suspend our public worship gathering this Sunday. We invite you to join us for worship via our live feed on Facebook (facebook.com/FirstBaptistChurchGreensboro) Note: You do not need a Facebook account to join the live feed. If you need instructions on how to view our live stream, please see the video at the bottom of this post. Our church leadership is committed to care and preparedness in response to the coronavirus. As I shared earlier this week, we are considering our response to this health crisis on the three levels of congregational life, community service, and creative ministry in a time where physical distance is increasingly needed. With the increasing emphasis on social distance as a strategy to reduce the community spread of the virus, and Governor Roy Cooper’s admonition that we not gather in large groups and remain home when possible, we feel the suspension of worship is the best decision. This suspension will also include all regular Sunday activities such as Sunday school, practices and other meetings. We make this decision prayerfully and carefully, in part out of a love for our congregation, which includes people vulnerable to the virus. We also make it out of a love for neighbor and sense a public responsibility to join other institutions and listen to the reasonable advice to suspend public gathering for a time. Even as we need to reduce our gatherings, we simultaneously need one another and need our faith as much as ever. To this end, we are considering other ways of caring for one another, checking on one another, and worshipping together as a community. This Sunday, we hope all will make an effort to join us for worship online at 10:30. If you go to our church facebook page (facebook.com/FirstBaptistChurchGreensboro) you will find a live video that will begin at 10:30. This video will include a full worship service hosted by our pastoral staff, with musical reflections, readings, preaching, and prayer. This service will also include our regular invitation to give, and we encourage you to remember the financial needs of our ministry that remain throughout this time of physical distance and reduced offering. We are involved in multiple community ministries facing critical needs at this time. We are also committed to fulfilling our commitments to staff throughout a period of altered schedules. Any online gifts to support these and other needs may be made here. Please know we will continue to seek to be faithful in our discernment and decisions throughout this health crisis. We will update the congregation regularly as plans are made, including early next week as we share how our ministry will continue and adapt at this time. Amidst all the concern and change, I hope you can still hear the voice that says, “Be not afraid.” It’s the voice of God who gives us the capacity to reason and prepare; gives us one another in all the many ways we are connected; and gives us the enduring promise to go with us always.
Together in Love,
MARCH 11 UPDATE
We are grateful for the staff and lay leaders who are considering our preparedness amidst concerns over the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). See below a March 11 note from Pastor Alan Sherouse with some of our plans at this time.
“This is the body of Christ for you.” I’ve said this countless times, but only once while wearing a sanitary glove. Two Sundays ago, March 1, some of us experienced “sanitized communion,” as clean-handed deacons and pastors dipped the bread into the cup and placed it in the open hands of all of us receiving. While prompting a few more snickers in the sanctuary, we hope this practice and other modifications like it have sent the message that we at First Baptist Greensboro are taking seriously our responsibility to care for one another and our wider community amidst escalating concern over the novel coronavirus, which just yesterday led our governor to declare a state of emergency.
We are people of faith, but we are also people of reasoned preparation. To that end, our staff has been evaluating, following CDC recommendations, and setting plans in place before we might need them. Our preparation has focused on three primary levels:
(1) Congregational Health
We want to ensure the health of all who enter our building, following the recommendations of public health officials. Part of this is attention to cleanliness, even beyond our healthy norm, both in our congregational and FBC Preschool spaces. Railings, knobs and oft-used spaces are being given extra attention. Mounted hand sanitizers are being double checked. We hope you can smell the cleaner when you enter the building!
Beyond actively encouraging cleanliness, we are also asking that we give one another graceful permission to greet with a smile, a hand placed over the heart, or the bump of an elbow throughout these especially especially health conscious days.
We’re adjusting our practices of communion, as mentioned above, and being as thoughtfully adaptable about other areas of our ministry, too.
Further, the size of our sanctuary and balcony give us some room to space ourselves as needed in worship, and we hope you will feel free to do that as needed.
And above all, we hope those of you who are ill, or those who are in any way compromised in health, will stay at home. We’re reminding all employees of the church of this expectation, as well as the sick leave that makes it possible. We’re also encouraging members who are feeling sick or compromised to attend services via our livestream available at 10:30 every Sunday at: www.facebook.com/FirstBaptistChurchGreensboro
(2) Community Service
In addition to the health of our congregation, we are seeking to prepare to be a resource for our community in the event of continued spread and precautionary measures. We think especially of those most likely to feel the economic impacts, who are always vulnerable in crisis — people like hourly wage workers who depend on the dining, shopping, and other activities that seem likely to decrease for a time, as well as people who can not afford to miss work for their own sickness. We are part of community-wide conversation to attend to such needs. Our Christian Assistance Fund is the best resource we have in such cases, and we want to remind that donations to the CAF go directly to people with acute and immediate financial needs.
(3) Creative Ministry
Finally, as health officials continue to use language of “social distancing” and “avoidance of congregational activities” as means for containment, we are proactively considering how ministry might adapt amidst the possibility of physical distance. Isolation and loneliness are also health risks — in fact, a 2016 study found isolation to be as bad for a person’s health as regular smoking. For this reason, we don’t want to prematurely distance ourselves from one another, so we are continuing all our weekly ministries and programs as normal, hoping that all who are able and healthy will join us at the church building. However, in the event that any community spread becomes a concern and a period of distancing is advised, we will find ways of attending to our spiritual lives, our pastoral care for one another, and the many connections between us, even as we follow precautions for our physical health.
Our faith urges us not to fear. But it doesn’t teach us to avoid. Part of being non-anxious amidst heightened concern is also being prepared to attend to our responsibilities to our congregation, and especially those most vulnerable. We want to be a church that is prepared to do this in all times, including in this time of awareness.
Together in Love,