Greetings St Matthew!
So much has changed in our world since COVID-19 came to town with all of the closures, social distancing, and fear that has touched nearly all aspects of our lives. But while we may experience a whole range of feelings about the many changes of the past few months, as Christians, we know the One who is unchanging and steadfast in His love for us! Jesus is the One who is with us even when we haven’t been able to be with each other.
Now that things are beginning to open up, we’re excited to share our next steps as we begin to re-gather for worship.
Before the details though, please know that the leadership of St Matthew has been praying for you and that we have been prayerfully considering all of the different steps and options before us. We know that no solution will be perfect in everyone’s eyes. This initial plan that follows may not seem perfect or ideal to everyone. Please extend grace knowing that we are all navigating a situation that none of us have been in before. As we begin to gather together again, we’ll learn from each week as we seek to provide both a safe and worshipful experience for all who join us.
We also ask that you extend grace to one another. While some are ready to come back to church, others will continue to be cautious and may not be comfortable gathering yet. That’s okay. Each family and individual must decide what is the right step for them and give grace to others who may choose differently. For those who are not yet comfortable gathering in person, we will continue to broadcast the two worship services as we have been these past months even after we begin to gather together. It would be easy to let something like COVID-19 and how it impacts our returning together to be a source for division. Instead, let’s do all that we can to maintain the unity that we share in Jesus. In all things, let’s remember: Love does not insist on its own way, but seeks the good of others (1 Corinthians 13:5, Galatians 5:13-14).
Jesus’ command to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34) has been foremost in our discussions. We believe that command is central in the following plan and we hope you see the love for you and all of St Matthew as you read through what follows.
Keeping One Another Safe
Part of loving our neighbor and looking out for our neighbor’s safety and loving them like Jesus loves us means loving in a self-sacrificial way. To help keep our fellow worshippers safe, we are implementing the following when we gather for worship:
- If you are sick or are at great risk, please stay home. Worship services will continue to be broadcast online as they have been. We want to love our neighbors well by not attending worship if we are sick.
- Masks: We will require everyone to wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth when inside the building. Per CDC guidelines, individuals 2 years old and older should wear a face covering in situations when social distancing is difficult. More than protecting ourselves, masks are meant to protect our neighbors from COVID-19 germs we may unknowingly be carrying.
- Sanitize: Hand sanitizer stations are available throughout the building. Please make frequent use of them as needed.
- Seating: In the sanctuary, every other pew will be available to sit in, keeping people spread out. In the Family Life Center, chairs will be spread out with lots of space between rows. Families can sit together, but please leave appropriate space between household groups.
- Education wing closed: there will be no nursery or education classes so the education wing will be closed. To access the restrooms, please use the entrances from the Commons and make use of the electronic door openers.
- Removing shared items: To help reduce the spread of germs on items that could be shared, we’ve removed hymnals, Bibles, pens, etc. from the pew racks. Instead of passing an offering basket, we will have baskets at the door to place your offering in. Fellowship snacks and coffee will also be not be served while we first begin to gather. Bulletins will not be printed, but electronic versions will be available to easily access on your phone if you prefer.
- Communion: Communion servers will wear gloves and masks while serving and we will only use individual cups for the wine. The communion flow will also be adjusted so that we don’t form close lines.
- Increased sanitization: Cleanliness is always a priority for St Matthew’s facilities, but we will be increasing the frequency of cleaning when we gather, frequently wiping down commonly touched surfaces.
Each week we will evaluate these actions and adjust as necessary. It is impossible to anticipate everything, but out of love for you and one another these steps are where we will start.
Worship Services: Retuning to the Father’s House
At this time, we are able to gather in groups of 100 for worship and we will begin gathering in the Father’s House on Father’s Day, Sunday, June 21. As we begin to start gathering again, we will start with a brief 30-minute devotional communion service. These services will include scripture, a brief devotion, prayer, and communion. The full worship services that we have been streaming on Sundays will continue online even after we begin to gather in these devotional communion services.
- We will begin on June 21 with two identical services at 8:30 AM and 10 AM. Because we want to have space for you and we want to follow the direction of government and health officials, we will require everyone to register for a service to ensure a seat.
- To register, you can visit the website, use the Church Center App, or call the church office (616-942-9091). You’ll be able to register for a Sunday service starting at 10 AM the Monday prior. As the first couple of weeks go by, we may adjust the worship times and add more services to accommodate all those who wish to gather for worship. Again, please extend grace and patience as we strive to serve everyone while keeping them safe.
- By registering for a service, we hope to not have to turn anyone away because we’re over capacity or put those who do come at greater risk by exceeding the recommended capacity.
- Please continue to practice good social distancing when we gather. We know you’re excited to see your fellow worshippers again – we are too! But we need to continue to love our neighbors and look out for one another’s health. At the end of each service, ushers will dismiss by rows so that we’re not all crowding out the door at the same time. We encourage you to catch up and visit with your fellow worshippers after the service in the parking lot where there’s lots of room to spread out.
If you are not yet ready to return to worship together, please know that that is okay. We know everyone is at a different comfort level and we know that many may want to wait a while before returning. Know that you will remain in our prayers and that we are still here for you! Both of the full worship services will continue to be broadcast on Facebook (facebook.com/stmatthewgr/live) and our website (stmatthewgr.com) and if you desire to receive communion but are not comfortable attending a service yet, you can call the church office and schedule a time to receive communion individually or with your small group.
We know that this next step feels strange compared to what we’re used to. As much as we may want to go right back to the way things were, out of love for each other we will endure some strange practices for a time. We will strive to sacrifice our own comforts and look out for those who may be at greater risk or who may have greater fear than we do. After all, that’s often what following Jesus looks like: putting the needs of others before our own for the greater good of the Body of Christ.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the church office at 616-942-9091.
Peace in Christ,
Pastor Rob Appold & Pastor Matthew Starner