On May 10, Risen Savior plans to re-open for in-person worship. Based on a) Governor Abbott’s executive order GA-18, b) the third revised edition of “Guidance for Houses of Worship During the COVID-19 Crisis” from the state attorney general’s office, c) the lieutenant governor’s Zoom meeting with pastors on April 28, and d) the state attorney general’s Zoom meeting with pastors on May 7, here are the guidelines we will be observing for in-person worship in the coming weeks:
- We cannot and will not prevent anyone from attending our services (unless they come with the intent to disrupt our services), but the at-risk population—defined as “those who are 65 and older, especially those with chronic lung disease; moderate to severe asthma; chronic heart disease; severe obesity; diabetes; chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis; liver disease; or weakened immune system”—is encouraged to stay home and participate remotely. (We will continue to have remote services available. We are also in the process of setting up equipment to live-stream our services; this service should be available soon.)
- Anyone who feels ill, is in questionable health, or has recently tested positive for COVID-19 should please stay home.
- Only every other pew will be available.
- Family members may sit next to each other, but families are encouraged to sit at least six feet apart from other individuals and other families in the available pews. We should be familiar with this distance by now from tape lines on the floors of stores, etc. Two individuals who are not members of the same household but who are attending together—e.g. good friends—may also sit next to each other if mutually agreed upon.
- I as the pastor will wash or sanitize my hands upon arriving at church, and will also do so regularly as I am able throughout the morning. I will not shake hands with anyone for at least the next couple weeks.
- Attendees are encouraged, but not required, to wear cloth face coverings or non-medical grade face masks. (A limited number are available at church.)
- No offering plates will be passed around. Instead offering plates will be stationed near the entrance to the sanctuary and offerings can be deposited there.
- We are discouraging the use of hymnals. (They will in fact be removed from the hymnal racks.) The entire service will be printed in the service folder.
- We will not have our usual fellowship snacks after worship.
- Any regularly touched surfaces—such as doorknobs, tables, chairs, the backs of the pews, and restrooms—will be cleaned and disinfected after worship.
- Those bringing guests along to church are earnestly asked to make those guests aware of these guidelines.
We thank all attendees in advance for reviewing and observing these guidelines.
Some might wonder why we would even consider resuming in-person services while COVID-19 still poses a threat. The short answer is that we agree with Governor Abbott that our services do truly provide an “essential service” to our members and anyone else who attends.
Humans are not just a collection of physical matter like cells, atoms, and chemicals. We also have a spiritual component, a soul, that is just as critical to our health as our physical constitution. Viruses certainly pose a threat to our health, but so do worry, stress, and fear. One of the chief purposes of our services is to address and alleviate worry, stress, and fear—by pointing to the firm promises of Jesus and the rock-solid comfort and hope he gives us through the good news of his life, death, resurrection, and rule on our behalf. We can certainly share this good news remotely (and have been over the past several weeks), but God also intends for us, and lovingly commands us, to do this by gathering with each other in person (Third Commandment; Matthew 28:19; Hebrews 10:25; and anywhere the word “church” is used to describe followers of Christ, since that term in the Scriptures intrinsically contains the concept of physical assembly). In line with the resources mentioned and linked-to above, the leadership of Risen Savior Lutheran Church currently feels that the threat posed by COVID-19 no longer warrants the suspension of this activity and the blessings that come with it.
Other churches in Texas that belong to our church body are reaching different decisions at this time, and we respect those decisions. A number of factors play a role in this decision for each church (e.g. location, membership size, facility, feedback from council members and laypeople, etc.), not to mention that we are dealing with a situation that is unprecedented in our lifetimes.
Serving in Jesus’s name and to his glory,
Pastor Nathan Biebert