Dear Members and Friends of Catonsville UMC,
Grace and peace to you. Thank you for your understanding as we’ve been working to navigate the health crisis of this past year. The patience you have displayed is not something that we, the church’s leadership, take for granted. We are also very thankful for those who took the time to participate in our survey several weeks ago regarding COVID and Re-Entry. The survey was beneficial to us in understanding how various people in our diverse congregation see our present situation. You will probably not be surprised to know that, as a large church, we have diverse opinions and ideas for what church life should look like in these next months.
With your survey feedback and suggestions, your Re-Entry Task Force has been at work to balance several additional commitments to chart a course forward through this pandemic:
- We are committed to pursuing a full expression of church life together through worship, fellowship, mission, discipleship, and ministries with families and children.
- We want to do whatever is necessary and reasonable to protect our most vulnerable, particularly children who cannot be vaccinated.
- We must operate under the authority of the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church (“the BWC”).
With these commitments in mind, we will be relaxing our COVID-related restrictions by increasing the capacity at our worship services, removing registration requirements, welcoming live soloists and ensembles, and welcoming adult groups back into the building. To take advantage of the cooler summer morning, we will move our outdoor service to 8:30 a.m.. Outdoor worship participants will also be able to take their masks off while seated. To allow volunteers and staff time to transition from outdoors, we will be shifting our indoor service to 10:00 a.m. There are also new plans for youth ministry and for a “VBS lite” as well. These protocols will take effect at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, June 11. Please read on for more details of these changes and see the end of the letter for a summary. The Re-Entry Taskforce will meet on June 22 to assess our situation and work to take our next faithful steps from there.
Our plan for worship for the Sundays of June is as follows:
First, our outdoor service will move from 11:02 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. In the event of rain, the 8:30 service will move to the sanctuary. The primary reason for this move is likely quite obvious: the summer temperature at 8:30 a.m. is much more comfortable than later in the morning. Additionally, there are a number of families who only attend outdoor worship. We thought that it was important to continue to offer an option for these persons. Outdoors, masks may be removed while seated. This service will continue to feature congregational singing, and we are also planning to include special music on occasion. When the service moves indoors due to weather, it will operate under the same guidelines as the indoor service.
Secondly, our indoor service, currently held at 9:32 a.m., will move to 10:00 a.m. We operate with a limited number of volunteers and staff to do setup and teardown for the outdoor service. Those responsible for the teardown of the outdoor service are also needed in various roles for the indoor service. At this time, we felt that the turn-around from an 8:30 a.m. outdoor service to a 9:30 a.m. indoor service was impractical. If our live streaming system is installed soon, the 10:00 a.m. time may also have the benefit of allowing us to “go live” on YouTube at the same time as our current YouTube “premiere.” This was not a primary consideration; however, it may be a welcome amount of stability to those who have become connected to our church during the pandemic through our internet presence.
Regarding COVID restrictions, we continue to require that all indoor worship participants be masked, regardless of vaccination status. For the sake of clarity in speaking and understanding, worship leaders may remove their masks while speaking, provided that we have confirmed that they have been vaccinated. In addition, we will be changing our seating to include only one pew of space instead of two between occupied rows. Fully vaccinated groups may sit together. Because some persons may need or wish to stay distanced, we encourage you to ask if you find yourself looking to sit within six feet of another group. “Are you comfortable with us sitting here?” would be one way you might do this. A few example responses might be, “Yes, you’re welcome to sit there,” or “Thanks for asking. Actually, we’re trying to keep distance.”
Because of these changes to our seating arrangements, we can remove our registration/RSVP requirements for worship. However, we will continue to ask you to check in to facilitate contact tracing, as requested by the BWC.
Our decision to require all persons to remain masked may seem confusing given that the CDC has removed masking requirements for vaccinated persons. Several of our Re-Entry Taskforce members are acquainted with vaccinated persons who have contracted and potentially spread COVID-19. This is a reality that informs our decision-making. We believe that vaccination is an important step to ending this pandemic, and we encourage everyone to get vaccinated if they can do so. Vaccination significantly lowers the risk of contracting and transmitting the virus, but it is not 100% effective. We believe that remaining masked while removing social distancing requirements for vaccinated persons provides a reasonable balance of safety and worship accessibility at this time. We are not back to “normal,” but we can still seek to take measured, faithful steps, given our guiding principles and values.
Furthermore, the CDC and BWC now permit vaccinated persons to sing in groups. Therefore, we will be making our worship services more vibrant by welcoming masked soloists and small ensembles to sing during worship, provided that we have verified that they are vaccinated. Due to the mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals likely to attend worship, singing hymns and songs of worship as a congregation is strongly discouraged by the BWC. Therefore, at this time, we will continue only to have congregational singing at our outdoor service.
Moving forward, any adult group that has appropriately reserved space through our church office is welcome to meet on church property. This means that the building will be open to adult bible studies, women’s circles, and prayer groups, for example. Community organizations with adult members are also welcome to re-enter our building. At such meetings, masking is not required for people who are vaccinated. Those who are not vaccinated will need to remain masked and keep 6 feet of distance. We invite group leaders to work with their vaccinated members to decide if they would prefer to keep masking as a group. Group leaders should communicate the group’s decision about masks to its members so that each person can make an informed decision about attending. Some groups may be comfortable gathering without masks, while others may lean toward being as safe as possible while meeting in person. Given the diversity of our congregation, we thought it best to leave that decision to each group. As they are making requests for space, leaders should consider the need for unvaccinated members to keep 6 feet of distance.
Finally, allow me to share information about some other church ministries. Our Youth group, which has been meeting outside and in the social hall, will now be able to use the “Soul Cafe” youth room. They also may begin to travel offsite for fun and for missions. Loriann Hughes, our Director of Youth Ministries, will share details with those families for whom the information is relevant. They are always welcoming new young people, grades 6 to 12. If you have questions, reach out to us, and we will get you connected. Additionally, I’m thrilled that a number of dedicated and passionate volunteers are working hard to put together a sort of “VBS Lite” program in the evenings of July 26-30 for our church members’ children with their parents (or grandparents). More information about this is forthcoming.
We believe that these are faithful first steps out of our pandemic plight. As I mentioned above, our Re-Entry Taskforce plans to meet on June 22 to assess our progress and make any needed adjustments. If you have questions or would like to give feedback, we invite you to connect with a member of our Taskforce via firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally, you are welcome to reach out to me directly or to our Administrative Council and Re-Entry Task Force chair Fred Bartlett.
Thank you for reading this important but lengthy update. May the peace of Christ be with you.
Yours in Christ’s Service,
A Summary of COVID-Related Updates (Effective June 11 at 5:00 p.m.)
- Unvaccinated persons must continue to be masked and keep 6 feet of distance indoors.
- Adult groups may schedule with the office to begin meeting at church. Masks are optional for vaccinated people, if in line with the group’s wishes.
- No reservations are necessary for worship
- 8:30 a.m. outdoor service. Masks may be removed while seated. Singing and special music. Communion. Service will move to the sanctuary in the event of inclement weather.
- 10:00 a.m. indoor service. Masks required. Spacing every other pew. Communion. Special music.
- 7:00 p.m. evening worship. On Zoom for now.
- Youth: Updates to be sent to the Youth Group.
- “VBS lite” in the evening with parents/grandparents from July 26-30. More information forthcoming.