How Does DHEFC Navigate COVID 19 From Here Out and Move Forward?
Some Good News!
We are extremely happy to report that although our normal calendar of events has been disrupted, our church is not only surviving, in many ways it is thriving:
- Sunday Service streaming indicates more people are watching online than were attending before the virus hit.
- Wednesday Prayer Meeting attendance is up dramatically.
- The Youth Group has had great attendance (and lots of fun) at “online hangouts.”
- Overall giving has not seen a significant drop off. Online giving has tripled!
- The Pastoral Search Committee has continued to move forward and make progress.
- Small groups continue to meet virtually.
- Our 5X5 initiative has been enthusiastically embraced by many.
- The Deacons/Deaconesses have been calling and praying with people regularly and helping people put food on the table more than in the past.
- We have continued to participate in outside ministry opportunities, including cooking over 1,500 pounds of food for “Drive Thru Meal” distribution to the hungry in Huntington Station in the past 2 weeks.
That isn’t to say there aren’t those hurting because we can’t meet as a group. We all are to varying degrees. But we are not in danger of withering as a church by any means. The Lord has clearly been blessing the ministry of the church.
Beginning to Plan for the Future
After approximately two months of quarantine, the scary COVID 19 statistics are trending in the right direction and it is natural for everyone to want to know where things are headed, how quickly life will resume, and what exactly that will look like. To this end, the leadership of the church has begun meeting to prayerfully provide some direction.
The Need for Flexibility
The one thing that is certain is that things will not go precisely how we expect them to. The idea is to get a tentative plan in place so that we can make smart, Spirit-led adjustments as the picture in our region changes and the information / directives from New York State (NYS) are released. Modifications to announced plans are 100% expected.
New York’s Data Based Regional Reopenings
New York has been divided into 10 regions that can begin a phased reopening once certain criteria are met. The criteria are explained here: https://forward.ny.gov/metrics-guide-reopening-new-york. As of this writing (May 27) the Long Island has entered Phase One of the reopening process. Those details can be found here: https://forward.ny.gov/regional-monitoring-dashboard. The Long Island region is comprised of Nassau and Suffolk counties.
The reopening process has been divided into four phases by NYS government. Briefly:
- Phase 1: Construction, manufacturing, and wholesale supply chain businesses can open. Retailers can open for curbside pickup. Retailers that cannot offer curbside pickup (like stores in malls) cannot open. After two weeks state and regional leaders will evaluate and determine whether the region is ready to move on to the next phase.
- Phase 2: Storefront retailers, professional services, finance, insurance, and real estate and rental / leasing businesses can open.
- Phase 3: Restaurants and other food service businesses can open for dine-in business. It seems like spas and gyms can reopen too.
- Phase 4: Schools, entertainment, and recreation can open, including theatres and movie theatres, museums, etc.
Requirements for Businesses That Are Reopening that May Be Relevant to Churches
- Strict cleaning and sanitation standards must be met.
- Social-distancing protocols must be in place and workplace hours and shifts must be designed so as to reduce the density of people working at the business.
- Mandatory face masks for all employees and customers in situations where there is frequent person-to-person contact.
- Nonessential travel must be restricted for employees.
Incomplete Guidance for Churches in New York
Governor Cuomo has not included any leaders from any faith community in his 116-person New York Reopening Advisory Board, and houses of worship are not mentioned in the guidelines the state has issued. However, he did recently convene a new interfaith advisory council to help advise on reopening houses of worship. On the one hand we are glad the state has not tried to micromanage churches so far, on the other hand churches have been left to try and figure it out for ourselves when it’s clear we are not completely free to do as we please. As a church, our challenge is to figure out the incremental steps between where we are now and full “back to normal” operations. We expect there will be more guidance provided in the future, but there hasn’t been very much to date.
Federal Guidelines for “Opening Up America Again”
On April 17 the federal government issued its own phased plan for opening up again. A more robust version of these guidelines was issued yesterday. It will be helpful because it gives ideas on what is appropriate each step of the way. However it is only useful as a resource because the state guidelines trump the federal guidelines (which are really just suggestions to the states). In addition, the federal plan has three phases and the state plan has four, meaning it is not possible to line up the federal phases with the state phases with any precision.
Desire to Honor Authority
We find ourselves in a strange time where we are forced to reconcile honoring those in authority (Romans 13) with carrying on with all the things a church should be doing. The Evangelical Free denominational leadership has set the tone by pointing out that by meeting online we are not “forsaking the assembling of ourselves.” It just looks different. We have determined as a church our default will be to honor our governmental authorities, even when we disagree with them, unless it causes us to clearly violate Scriptural admonitions personally or as a body.
We have considered the question of civil disobedience and noted the example of the Apostles, who were content to go to jail for preaching the Gospel, and even remained in jail when they could have walked away. Yet when they were told to stop talking about Jesus, they calmly rejected the command. We have also noted the example of the Chinese church, who have met underground for decades against the command of their government. Our feeling is that now is the time to be patient, and that our primary concern as a body should not be fighting for our rights. It should being advancing the Gospel and maintaining a good testimony.
We are also in touch with other Free churches on Long Island and intend to keep an open dialogue on how we can and should progress wisely with the Lord’s blessing.
Where This Leaves Us
Our interpretation of the NYS guidelines is that entering Phase One will not change a lot for churches. Mass gatherings are still prohibited for the time being. So we will try to build on the good things outlined above, exercise patience, carefully monitor the situation, and listen for opportunities to do more. It has been announced that religious meetings of up to 10 people can be held, and that drive-in services are now allowed. We’ll take a look at if and how to leverage these opportunities in the weeks ahead. NYS Phase 2 may bring additional face-to-face opportunities, hopefully including the meeting of small groups. The soonest Long Island could enter Phase Two would be in two weeks. There is also a possibility the governor could declare certain things okay on a statewide level on short notice.
Some Changes to Consider
Greeters – They’ll be more important than ever, but physical touching is probably out for a while, and opening doors and handing out masks may be in.
Entry and Exit – As the church building opens for public use, some doors will be open for exit and entry and others will be temporarily marked as “For Emergency Use Only.”
Offering – The CDC recommends “in place collection boxes”, not passing plates.
Communion – We are considering how we can do it safely.
Greeting Time in Services – We will likely take a break from it for a little while.
Social Distancing and Masks – Attendees at indoor gatherings will be expected to wear masks out of consideration for others, and to maintain social distancing protocols. The CDC recommends masks for ages 3 and older, but we understand it may be challenging to keep a mask on a small child. Please make a “best effort” and if it’s not possible, that is understandable.
Cleaning Team – We are planning to assemble a volunteer cleaning team to clean surfaces after gatherings. Please contact the church office () if you would be willing to help.
Some Final Thoughts
We believe that in this time of limited corporate gatherings, small groups are more important than ever. They really help us to “be the church” when restrictions on larger groups are in place. If you are not in a small group and would be interested in getting into one, please contact the church office at .
These are tricky times for churches to navigate. We understand that within our church there will be a spectrum of views on how to respond to government restrictions, CDC recommendations, and the virus itself. We respect that. As we prayerfully make decisions on how to move forward, our motivations are to honor God, honor governmental authorities to the extent our consciences will allow, and to protect the vulnerable among us and maintain a good testimony in keeping with a missionary mindset towards our community. If you have specific concerns as we move forward, we ask that you bring them directly to the Elders and not to others or a public forum.
In closing, please pray that God will help DHEFC to move forward in wisdom and unity. God is in the business of taking hard, painful things and turning them into something beautiful. It’s our desire to see that happen this year.