LETTER TO FRIENDS
September 4, 2020
 

Dear Friend of Shepherd of the Hills,

This letter will apprise you of modifications to our plan for re-opening our church, which can be found on our website as “Revised Plan for Reopening.”

The plan has been shaped by input and requirements from our annual conference and a task force of 18 persons from all across the church (Trustees, SPRC, Lay Leader, Council, Missions, Care Ministries, UMW, staff and clergy) who have been meeting virtually since this crisis began. This group has read many articles about COVID-19 transmission and how to make gathering spaces safer in this time of global pandemic. They created a plan for re-opening that was initially approved by our conference; and has now been revised and approved, based on changing requirements of the pandemic, including recommendations from local, state, and national governments, the conference, and the CDC. 

While cases have been declining in our county and state recently, this is occurring in the aftermath of an enormous spike in June and July 2020.  Some of the criteria for “Phase 1” of our plans is closer to being met, but our Bishop asks that we wait a little longer before moving ahead with those plans.  He, with the COVID task force, is granting some exceptions in areas where the virus is better controlled. 

As of September 1, we have been granted an exception for careful, strict gatherings of 10 or less persons for memorial services, prayer, sandwich making, classes, and other purposes.  We hope to increase the number of sandwich makers, open the library very part time with strict rules, allow the Men’s prayer group to resume, and perhaps begin showing the recorded service in the Fellowship Hall to gatherings of 10 or less, for those who are most technology challenged.  Watch for information that will be coming to you.

One of our discoveries as a task force was how dangerous the environment of worship is as a “super spreader” of COVID-19. Because so many people gather in an enclosed space for a significant period of time, sitting in close proximity, singing and speaking, all it takes is a single asymptomatic carrier (people often do not know they have it in the time they are most contagious) to cause amazing numbers of infections. This has been shown in many outbreaks of the disease resulting from church gatherings, including funerals and choir practices.

As a community of vulnerable people (over 65), with many health challenges, we must be extraordinarily careful.

Another document we have recently revised is our Covenant With and Between members and friends of Shepherd of the Hills UMC. This document is also required by our conference, and can be found on our website as Revised Covenant. (If you are in our database you received a paper copy of this document recently.) It is a statement of our individual and collective willingness to put aside personal preference for the greater good of our church and the community around us.

Please read it carefully, as it outlines our expectations of those who participate in any “in person” gatherings at SHUMC, including worship.  It now includes a waiver of liability, as we have realized that no matter how careful we are, we cannot prevent possible contact with asymptomatic carriers of COVID19.  If you plan to come to any gathering at the church, or to enter any of our buildings in this time when there is no vaccine and no cure for COVID19, we ask that you sign and date this covenant and return it to the church office.

You may find yourself rebelling against parts of the plan or covenant. Please be assured that it is as “permissive” as we believe it can be. It is not easy. All of us miss our gatherings and our church family and long for things to be as they once were. But things have shifted fundamentally, at least for this season, and we must find a way to adjust.

Another “new” document on our website is a Health Assessment Form, which you can use when you are considering coming to the church (this was also mailed to all on our database).  We hope it will be helpful in your decision making process.

Know that you are in my, and our, hearts and prayers as we move forward in a difficult moment.
 

Blessings,

Pastor Deborah