Never in a million years could I have imagined that on September 1 we’d continue to be watching the case numbers of COVID-19 in our community. Yet here we are: in DeKalb County (the church facility AND many of us who are participants in the life of this church) still in the midst of a pandemic which has worn away at us until we are “wore slap out” to quote an auto mechanic I once knew. He was talking about a muffler; I am referring to the state of our souls. We are weary, tired, and at our wits end. There is no consistent message in the world about how to feel or what to think. The confluence of at least three things has threatened our collective soul: a global pandemic, a surge of deaths that beg us to notice racial injustice in our country, and a general election that is so mean-spirited that I am worried just thinking about the next 2 months of political ads, debates, and rhetoric. And with fires and earthquakes and hurricanes afoot, is there any good news?
Well, of course, there is: I AM WHO I AM, the creator of everything that exists, has promised that we are not alone no matter what happens. No matter what. In our soul-crushing political climate, in an uncertain global health climate, in a watershed moment along the timeline of the fight for racial justice, we are not alone. Each of us has been called by name and claimed by God as a beloved child. There is no place to go, no experience we can have that separates us from God. Though God may not show up the way I predict or you expect, God is here.
I write this from the church property. It’s a beautiful, albeit hot afternoon. The sun is flanked by some dark grey clouds, but the light is not diminished. Being here makes me think of you, and the brightness of your faces, your smiles, and your souls. How I miss joining my voice with yours to, “Sing praise to God, who reigns above, the God of all creation.” And as I sit in the shade of the education wing portico, I imagine you sitting here with me, sharing what life has been like for the last five and a half months.
That dream may become a reality soon. As we have watched our community’s COVID-19 case numbers decline over the last 2 weeks of reporting, we are now in Phase 1 of re-gathering in person as a church community. You’ll remember that our published Phase 1 guidelines are as follows:
Re-gathering/Re-opening Phase 1
virtual/online worship continues
outdoor, church-related gatherings in small groups. Every person will be asked to record their attendance so that we can practice responsible contact tracing should anyone in the group(s) test positive for COVID-19.
participants are required to practice social distancing (at least 6 feet between themselves and anyone else not living in their household)
participants are encouraged to bring and use their own hand sanitizer
masks are required at all times for people aged 5 years and older; children 3-5 years old are strongly encouraged to wear masks when it is feasible
anyone experiencing one or more of the following should stay home:
believes they may have been exposed to COVID-19,
is having any symptoms similar to COVID-19 symptoms, or
is waiting for a COVID-19 test result
So, we are now ready to use a reservation system to make outdoor spaces available for small groups related to Embry Hills UMC to meet outdoors at our facility. At this time, we are not ready to open the property to community groups not directly related to the ministry of the church. That will be part of Phase 2 of re-gathering/re-opening. Most spaces will comfortably hold about 8 socially distanced folks. Larger groups can set up (your own) chairs in portions of the parking lot. Please note that all spaces, including parking areas, MUST be reserved with Laura Briscoe (Church & Building Admin.) in advance and that chairs from inside the facility will not be available.
Here is the process to plan a gathering:
- call or email Laura to reserve one of the following spaces: sanctuary-side portico, education wing portico, small bench area in “pine grove” near front parking lot, front parking lot, back parking lot.
- space reservations must be made 3 business days before the planned gathering (if your event is on Sunday, the reservation will need to be made the Wednesday before)
- have your group sign up using the tool Laura will provide (this is required for contact tracing if needed)
- bring your own chair (unless your very small group of 5 or fewer is meeting at the benches in the “pine grove”—please note: this area requires walking mobility)
- inform all in your group that the building (including restrooms) will not be available during your gathering
If you are comfortable attending an outdoor, small group gathering, maybe this is your chance to start or join a new group. If you are more comfortable waiting until our numbers have decreased more and/or for a longer period of time, then know we will continue to have online worship weekly, and some of the groups who’ve been meeting remotely will continue to do so. Never feel pressured to do what you are not ready to do.
There is good news: God is with us! God is still calling us into relationship with God in Christ and with each other. God has not left us alone. Together, we are designing new ways to be the church.