An update on the COVID-19 emergency and Grace United Church
To the Pastoral Charge of Grace United Church Dunnville:
On June 8 the province of Ontario announced that as part of its phased reopening from a state of emergency, on June 12 it was permitting places of worship to reopen their buildings for in-person gatherings, allowing attendance of up to 30 per cent of capacity at one time.
This came as a surprise, for myself as well as the members of the official board. While we had already established a subcommittee to discuss what is needed to prepare for an eventual reopening, we did not anticipate an announcement this early. There remain a great many concerns. Due to the number of cases remaining in this region the province has maintained Haldimand-Norfolk as an area still in the first phase of the provincial reopening plans. It is still crucial to maintain physical distancing precautions.
The subcommittee met by Zoom on June 10 to discuss what we as a congregation should do in light of this recent announcement. The decision was made to wait until at least September before reopening the building and to continue with online worship. I will explain our reasoning below.
Working with guidance provided by the national office of the United Church of Canada and the Horseshoe Falls Regional Council, we recognize that it is necessary to provide a significant “deep cleaning’ of the church before it is reopened. Furthermore, it is important to ensure we have a significant supply of industrial cleaning supplies to guard against further shortages.
Also following the guidelines set out by the national church the vast majority of congregants would be encouraged to continue worshipping from home. This group includes those over 60, and those with health conditions that leave them particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus.
It is also important to keep in mind that in-person worship at this time would look very little like the worship we long for. Following the advice of scientists and medical experts, communal singing is not permitted. There would be no physical contact and no gathering in fellowship following the worship. People would need to enter minding distancing guidelines and depart in a similar fashion.
Finally, we are concerned about excluding people from worship. We are very concerned about the message of telling people they cannot join us for worship. Even if it is to protect others.
This is not an easy decision to make. We yearn to gather together in worship again. But we see it as necessary to move cautiously and with love for all of you. The committee will continue to meet over the coming weeks and months to prepare for an eventual reopening.
I can also assure you that we are not alone in this decision. The Anglican Church in Ontario has elected to keep its buildings closed until at least September. While I cannot speak for every United Church community of faith in the region I know a significant number have also made the decision to wait until September.
I will keep you updated on the work of the committee as well as the official board as we proceed. While we may not be able to gather physically in one place as the church, please remember that we continue to be church, as we pray together and work for the healing and the care of this whole community.
I would like to close this letter by asking you to share your stories with me. What do you miss about our in-person worship? What are you looking forward to? Also, as you look at our online worship of the last few months, what have you appreciated about it and what is missing? I hope for your feedback as we go forward. Please contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling me at 289-377-8931.
With blessings and in love
Rev. Warner Bloomfield