Phases of Reopening for Oak Grove Mennonite Church
Dear Family in Christ,
Even though we have not been meeting in person as a congregation for the last several months, we have not stopped meeting together, and in doing so we have continued to worship and honor God. Our mission to share the love of Christ in our community and around the world has not changed. And we believe we have been demonstrating our love for our neighbors in our willingness to temporarily do worship and fellowship online for the sake of community safety.
As we begin to roll out our progressive phases for meeting together again in person, there are a couple of important explanatory points to make as to why we have chosen to proceed in this way.
First, we acknowledge that we are primarily under God’s rule and authority and secondarily under the rule of our government. No government can stop us from worshipping our God, and yet at the same time we are called to submit to authorities as long as their authority is not going against God’s law. In this case, we believe that Ohio’s recommendation to limit contact and therefore close large group worship services has been the best path forward for the safety of the church and its ability to witness to the community around it. And it has certainly not stopped us from worshipping in a different, but meaningful way.
Second, although there aren’t that many cases of COVID-19 in Champaign and Logan Counties and so the risk of contraction remains lower than it does in urban centers, we also recognize that we are not just restricted to staying in our counties. So any travel to the rest of the state or nation increases the amount of exposure that any one of us has and brings into the church environment. We also believe that one of the reasons that the numbers of cases has been so low in our area is because safety measures have been properly taken, and so we celebrate that we are not one of the counties deeply affected the by the virus in Ohio or the United States.
Third, it is with a great deal of sadness that we recognize that this situation has become highly politicized, and that we have people in our congregation that stand at various places on that political spectrum. We want to emphasize very clearly that Oak Grove is committed to remaining apolitical. We are not interested in the politics of the pandemic. Rather, we are interested in the safety of our people as we discern how to best gather in worship. We do currently defer to the Ohio governor, medical and scientific professionals, and most of all our local medical professionals when making decisions. But we aren’t doing any of this as a political statement or a sign that the church is bowing to the government. Instead, we are being cautious about meeting together in person because believe strongly in God’s call to care for one another. “Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10).”
Finally, with recommendations from Oak Grove medical professionals, we have decided to approach returning to worship together with the utmost caution. Even if it turns out that all of these safety measures were overblown, we would rather have erred on the side of love for our neighbors than personal comfort. For right now it is still recommended that the best preventions to spreading the virus is proper distancing, wearing masks, and good hand hygiene. We will be using all of these safety measures and ask that if you plan on attending worship or small group gatherings with us that you would follow them.
As we begin meeting together, there will be a variety of comfort levels regarding closeness and social distancing. Please respect social distancing regardless of how you may personally feel about it. We do not want people to feel unsafe attending church. Social distancing does not mean that we do not love or care for one another, even if we don’t want to stand close to you, shake your hand, or hug you right now.
Ultimately, the relationships that we have with one another will outlast the presence of Covid-19 and these guidelines. So let’s do everything in our power to honor those relationships and keep them safe.
Below, you will find a proposal from leadership for 4 phases for returning to gathering together in worship and small group meeting, as well as some final notes on flexibility:
Phase 1–Continued Online Gathering: We will continue to conduct online worship, online Sunday Schools, online Youth Group, online Missional Discipleship Group Meetings, and online Church Meetings.
***NOTE: As we move into different phases of meeting in person, we will continue to offer worship videos online for people who are uncomfortable with large gatherings, and we will work to offer online Sunday school gatherings and/or ways for members to participate online via Zoom with groups that are gathering in person.
Phase 2a-Drive-In Service: Beginning on June 21st, we will have a drive-in service at the church. If weather permits, we will invite families to bring their chairs and sit outside for our worship (people may also feel free to remain in their cars with the windows rolled down). For this phase to happen, we need to commit to proper social distancing (six feet in between household groups). Parking lot ushers will direct cars to park in such a way that there will be adequate space for social distancing for anyone wishing to sit outside of their cars. We also invite people to park on the west side of the church and carry their chairs/blankets around the building to sit in the marked out areas in the grass. Bathrooms will be available for emergency only. Service will be shortened to accommodate for families with little children and for any bathroom needs.
Phase 2b-Sunday School/Small Group/MDG’s in Church: Beginning the week of June 21st, Sunday School Classes, Small Groups, and MDGs will be invited to meet in person at church (fellowship hall ONLY) or at the Grove. Groups that wish to meet at either building space need to clear scheduling with Leadership. We would ask that groups take several safety guidelines when meeting together.
-Maintain six foot social distancing between persons of different households.
-Clean/Disinfect tables/chairs BEFORE and AFTER your meeting. Cleaning supplies will be provided.
-Wearing of Masks is HEAVILY SUGGESTED unless you have a medical issue (anxiety, difficulty breathing, etc.) that would otherwise prevent it.
-Personal food/drink is permitted but not to be shared with people outside of your household.
-Clean/Disinfect bathrooms and ‘high touch’ areas after the meeting (doorknobs, light switches, etc.)
Phase 3-Meeting in the Church with Safety Guidelines: If the cases of Covid-19 in Logan/Champaign Counties and Ohio continue to improve, we will begin the process of transitioning back to worship within our facility, hopefully beginning in August. To start, this will likely involve (but not be limited to) the following:
- Multiple services to avoid larger gatherings and make physical distancing in our sanctuary possible.
- There will no congregational singing, as scientists and medical professionals explain that the act of singing aerosolizes the water droplets and spreads them further than sneezing or coughing.
- There will be no nursery or children’s church.
- There will be no greeting time
- Wearing masks will be HEAVILY SUGGESTED inside of the building, unless you have a medical issue that would otherwise prevent it
- Hand sanitizer stations will be widely available.
- Numbers in the bathrooms will be limited.
- Doors will be propped open so as to avoid anyone needing to touch handles.
- Households will be encouraged to stagger entering and exiting the sanctuary so that there are not too many people crowded into any one place at once.
- Persons wishing to converse following the service are asked to do so outside, not in the narthex, and to maintain proper social distancing. We aren’t discouraging fellowship; we are just asking that you do it safely.
- Before, during, and after worship, the only places people are to be in the church are in the sanctuary, the narthex, or the bathrooms.
Phase 4-Meeting in the Church with Lessened Safety Guidelines: It is impossible to predict what the situation will dictate this far out, but our hope is in time we will be able to loosen some of the precautions listed above, especially singing. Again, this could change if the situation does not improve.
***A Final Note:
Some of these safety guidelines may seem overly cautious, and you might wonder if this is really church if we cannot do these things, or if it’s even worth all of the trouble. We have and will continue to say that church is the people, not the service, and worship can happen in many different ways. This is a time for us to be creative and to be flexible when it comes to worship. And it is important for us to remember that this will not last forever.
The key word as we move through these phases is flexibility. Flexibility is the name of the game. We may move into some of the phases very quickly, while it may take longer to move into others. As the situation shifts in our community, with cases increasing or decreasing, we may be forced to move back a phase for a period of time. Please be patient and be flexible. We are trying to do the best we can at providing opportunities for the people of God to worship together while also remember that God holds all life to be sacred. We should not be doing anything for the sake of public worship that could endanger the life of one of our congregation.
Grace and Peace,
Oak Grove Mennonite Church Council of Elders
(*We are indebted to the work of West Clinton Mennonite Church and Pastor Ryan Harker, whose own plan provided a blueprint for laying out appropriate phases for Oak Grove returning to worship.)