Update on In-person Services

Dear Church Families:

We pray that you are all doing well. We wanted to take a minute and update everyone on the progress of moving toward possible in-person church services. As we outlined in the last letter, Bishop Taylor has approved all Holston Conference churches to hold Outdoor In-person Services.

We held a called joint Church Council meeting with the leadership of all 3 churches on Wednesday, September 2nd via Zoom to discuss moving forward with Outdoor services. We are excited to announce that we will move forward with offering an Outdoor In-person worship service beginning Sunday, September 13th at 11:30 AM at Savannah United Methodist Church. The location of the service was chosen based on the ability to provide appropriate social distancing. This service would be in addition to, not a replacement of, our Sunday morning Livestream service at Out of the Box. We are going to move the Livestream service at Out of the Box to 9:30 AM so we will have enough time to drive to Savannah for the live Outdoor Service.

This plan was developed using the guidelines mandated by the Holston Conference for providing Outdoor In-person services. Based on these guidelines, a plan was developed and submitted to our District Superintendent and was approved. Here is the structure of the plan for these services:

Access for the Outdoor Service will be provided in the following ways:

  • Drive In- a FM Transmitter will be used to broadcast the service to automobile radios for those who would like to attend but aren’t comfortable getting out of their vehicles. People will be required to remain in the vehicle that they arrived in at all times.
  • Outdoor Service- PA speakers will be set up outside for those who are comfortable with getting out of their vehicles. Use of lawn chairs or blankets on the ground during the service will be allowed as long as masks are worn, and social distancing is followed.  
  • Livestreaming- the service will be Livestreamed on all 3 of the churches Facebook pages and websites for folks who aren’t comfortable attending in person.

The lawn and all parking areas at Savannah United Methodist Church will be used to accommodate the Outdoor Worship Services. The Worship Service will be carried out at the front door of the church. In the case of mild inclement weather, the service will be moved under the outdoor pavilion, and everyone will be asked to tune into the service over their vehicle radio. In the case of severe inclement weather, the service will be canceled. The church will not be accessible to those attending, including restrooms.

Whether staying in the vehicle or sitting outside, every other parking space will be utilized to ensure proper social distancing. Members of the Parking Team will be present to help guide attenders where to park and where to sit, if they choose to get out of their vehicles. There will be designated areas on the lawn, a minimum of 6 feet apart to ensure appropriate social distancing, where folks may sit outside during the service. Only folks from the same household or who arrive in the same vehicle will be allowed to sit outside together in these designated areas. Attendance for each worship service will be documented by the Parking Team on an Attendance Record Form (Attachment 3) that will be attached to each week’s Worship Checklist Form (Attachment 2). These records will be stored at Savannah United Methodist Church.

Everyone over the age of 2 who attends the outdoor worship service and opts to stay in their vehicle with the windows down, or who opts to sit outside will be required to wear a mask. Anyone who doesn’t have a mask will be given one by a member of the Parking Team. Anyone who refuses to put a mask on will be asked to return to their vehicle and listen to the service on their radio.

Persons who are sick (fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, sore throat, headache, recent loss of taste or smell, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting); have tested positive for Covid-19, who are awaiting Covid-19 test results, or who are vulnerable or live with a vulnerable person will be instructed to stay at home. Persons exhibiting any signs of illness will not participate in any way in the outdoor worship service.   

There will be no choirs, congregational singing, or time of fellowship during the worship service. For those leading worship, including pastors; masks will be worn before and during the service. The masks will be removed when leading a segment of the service but will immediately be put back on when finished. A minimum distance of 6 feet will be maintained at all times between those leading worship to ensure appropriate social distancing. A minimum distance of 6 feet will also be maintained between the worship team and congregation during the service. The minimum number of people needed to carry out the worship service will be utilized to maximize safety. Special music will be utilized, and each person will use a different microphone to ensure safety.

Gloves and masks will be worn when setting up, tearing down, and disinfecting equipment. All surfaces and equipment that are touched or used will be disinfected utilizing an Environmental Protection Agency approved Sanitizer found on List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19)[1] on the EPA website; per manufacturer’s instructions.

All 3 churches have 3 touchless ways to receive offerings:

  • Mail
  • Website
  • Tithely

Congregants will be encouraged to utilize one of these 3 options to give their tithes and offerings. In the case of someone who may bring their tithes and offerings with them; 3 touchless offering boxes, 1 for each church, will be available. The folks who retrieve and count any tithes and offerings that are given in person will wear gloves and masks.

Communication Plan:

Communication of service times and guidelines to the 3 congregations will be carried out utilizing the One Call Now system, emails, text messages, posts on all 3 church Facebook pages, posts on all 3 church websites, and phone calls. These communications will be sent by the Pastors, church secretaries, or anyone else designated to do so. Follow-up will be conducted to ensure that everyone in the 3 congregations have been notified.

Communication will occur with the Grayson County Sherriff’s Department, making them aware of the outdoor worship services, before the first service. We will also check with the church’s insurance carrier to ensure they don’t have any further restrictions or guidelines that need to be followed. Finally, we will communicate with our neighbors around the church to ensure they are aware that we will be holding these services. We will be respectful and diligent in keeping the sound levels to a minimum. We will encourage them to let us know if they have any concerns and we will work with them to find mutually agreeable solutions, should they arise.

The final piece of the Communication Plan concerns notification of positive Covid-19 testing of a worship service attender. In the event that someone who attended a worship service tests positive for Covid-19, the Pastor will be immediately notified. The Pastor will notify the applicable Local Health Department and the District Superintendent. The Pastor will be responsible for ensuring that all pertinent communication and follow-up is completed. Congregational, pastoral, local health department, and district superintendent notification and all necessary follow-up will be documented on the Notification Report Form and stored at Savannah United Methodist Church.  

Teams:

In order to provide all essential function for Outdoor In-person services, several teams of people are necessary:

  • Team Coordinator- in charge of scheduling volunteers for each team for every service
  • Setup/Teardown Team- help setup and takedown all essential equipment
  • Parking Lot Team- direct people on where to park/sit; provide masks to folks who don’t have them; and record attendance for each service
  • Media Team- run audio and Livestreaming
  • Cleaning Team- Disinfect all surfaces and equipment that are touched or used will be disinfected utilizing an Environmental Protection Agency approved Sanitizer found on List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) on the EPA website; per manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Resource Team- in charge of monitoring and maintaining essential supply stock and reordering them when supply levels get low
    • Disinfectant Wipes/Spray
    • Masks
    • Hand Sanitizer
    • Soap
    • Toilet Paper & Paper Towels
    • Tissues

The need for additional teams will be evaluated continually and reordered as necessary.

As you can see, this is a very comprehensive plan that is designed to allow us to gather again as a church while keeping everyone safe. You can also see that it will take a lot of resources and people to make it happen. If you would like to serve on one of our teams, please let us know.

Based on the Harvard Global Health Institute[2] data for our areas, our churches remain closed for Indoor In-person services. However, we have proactively submitted our plan for Indoor services to our District Superintendent and that plan has been approved. This will allow us to move forward with Indoor Services, per the Holston Conference Covid-19 Task Force requirements, as soon as churches in our areas are reopened and the necessary teams are in place.  

We are so excited to finally be at this point. We love and miss you guys, we pray for you all daily, and we can’t wait to see you Outdoors on September 13th.

Blessings,

Pastor David and Pastor Ronnie


[1] https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2-covid-19

[2] https://globalepidemics.org/key-metrics-for-covid-suppression/