Permission vs Prudence: Eastminster to remain closed for the time being
Here we are some 13 weeks into the lockdown and I hope that you are all doing well. With the Quinte Region about to enter Stage 2 of opening on Friday, we will find much more to do. Stores are opening. The Quinte Mall is opening. We can all finally get professional haircuts, and up to ten people will be allowed to gather while continuing to social distance.
Many United Church clergy were astonished at Monday’s announcement to allow churches to open at 30% capacity. After three months of being told not to visit even our loved ones, suddenly we (at Eastminster) are faced with the possibility that we could gather with 100 or so Christian friends in the same place (with social distancing). Many feel that the government’s directive was out of line with what we have learned over the past few months. One minister noted, “If it is not safe to gather in the open air with more than ten people, why is it safe for more than ten to gather indoors in a church sanctuary?” While we have been given permission to hold services, our clergy friends are asking if it is indeed prudent.
The Eastminster Council met by Zoom on Tuesday, June 9 and discussed the issue of opening. It was a frank discussion with a variety of views expressed. Most urged caution and note was made of the age-demographic of our congregation. Council also recognised that the guidelines for churches that the Provincial government has promised are not yet available and that the United Church governing bodies have yet to provide a recommendation. Council, thus, determined to wait and not open the church immediately. The Management Team (Brian MacLellan, Carol-Lynn Burnett-Michaud, Kathy Reid, Ralph Porter, Jim Woolnough, Nicola Lupton, and the clergy) will continue to monitor the situation and I have instructed our property manager to prepare the building to open at some point (in a way not unlike we see in grocery stores with lines for social distancing etc.).
What to expect in the future:
When we do open the building, we all should realise that the virus is still out there. I doubt that we will be able to go back to full services in this calendar year. I do, however, expect that we will have small services in the not too distant future. While that may be a cause for optimism and will allow us to come to our beloved place of worship and fellowship, the guidelines we are hearing about are extensive.
Some of you will, of course, decide not to come to church due to the continued risk of exposure. As your Pastor, I honour that thought and, since I will continue to counsel my own mother not to go out, I would ask everyone over 60 years of age to give serious thought to the risks. This would be particularly so for individuals over 70 and those with pre-existing health conditions. These things have to be balanced with the incidence of the virus in our region, which, as I write, is low. For those who choose not to join us, when the time comes, we will endeavour to continue online services.
In Worship itself, current guidelines require the following:
- Masks must be worn by all who attend.
- Congregants should enter the building through the main door and exit through other doors.
- All should observe social distancing guidelines entering the building, in the sanctuary, and while exiting.
- Eastminster will probably limit the size of the congregation to 50 or so people and we will have to figure out a way to do that, perhaps inviting those with surnames beginning with the letters A-M one week, and N-Z another week.
- We will not be able to have multiple small services on a Sunday due to the need for cleaning and disinfecting between them.
- Scientists are telling us that the virus is spread more easily with singing and, thus, there will be no congregational singing initially (humming along will be permitted :)). Unfortunately this also means that there will be no choir, we will have to work with small music teams.
- There will be no coffee/fellowship time after service although chatting in the parking lot with appropriate distancing will be encouraged.
- The building will be disinfected after each week’s service.
It is all going to be very interesting and, as you can probably tell, our worship services may not have that warm, friendly feel that we have become so accustomed to at Eastminster. I am sure that we can make it work, however, and be as warm with each other as conditions allow. We will get back to normality in time but for the present, let us continue to pray for a vaccine or an effective treatment for the symptoms of this virus. And, please pray not only for our church but for all churches as we try to find ways to worship our Lord in these strange days.
Dr. David McMaster