June 3, 2020
Dear Members of Shepherd of the Hills,
Grace and peace to you, in Jesus Christ our Lord!
Based on attendance at last weekend’s services, I guesstimate that at least 75% of our normal attendees are now comfortable returning to church to receive God’s holy promises offered in Word and Sacraments. And it appears that each week the numbers get higher. For this reason, I am confident that having services, with application of the norms of social distancing, is the right way to go.
However, I want all of you to understand that there is a very broad spectrum of opinions and ideas among our members about the COVID19 crisis. Some of you have expressed concerns that others come to church without masks, while others feel that masks create more problems than originally thought and that sustaining distance with others is more effective than mask-wearing. It is frustrating, to be sure, that there is so much disagreement about masks and other things pertaining to the pandemic from pundits and medical experts who have large platforms in the media. All of this is just to say that the elders and I are working very hard to chart the right course and make the right decisions for Shepherd of the Hills. IT HAS NOT BEEN EASY MAKING THE DECISIONS WE ARE MAKING, but proceeding with an abundance of caution and staying as informed as possible, we pray earnestly for God’s guidance, recognizing every step of the way that the Church must attend to the needs of her members and the community. Sitting on our hands and just waiting for a vaccine to come along has never been an option for us.
Phase One, which began on May 3rd, has been tremendously successful. I am astonished at how strong our attendance has been. As you know, the number of services was doubled for the sake of spacing, but they have been much shorter in length.
For Phase Two, which will begin on June 14th, the services will be as follows:
- 4PM SATURDAY: a half hour service, just as we have been doing.
- 8AM SUNDAY: a full, non-abbreviated service, almost identical to what we were doing before social distancing. Every other week, this service will be led by Pastor Beabout.
- 9:30AM SUNDAY: a half hour service, just as we have been doing. PLEASE NOTE THAT IT WILL BEGIN AT 9:30-NOT 9:15!!
- 10:30AM SUNDAY: a full, non-abbreviated service, almost identical to what we were doing before social distancing. Every other week, this service will be led by Pastor Beabout.
- 10:00AM WEDNESDAY: a simple service with Confession & Absolution, God’s Holy Word, the Lord’s Prayer & Holy Communion.
- Pastor John Beabout holds a Bible Study on the “Gospel of John” following the Wednesday service.
The following precautions will continue as before:
- Doors will be propped open so that handles need not be touched.
- The Record of Fellowship will not be in the pews.
- The collection plates will not be passed around.
- The Common Cup will NOT be used.
- Distribution of Holy Communion will continue in the same manner as it has been in Phase One, with no speaking from the pastor or elders (who will be wearing masks) and still no use of the Altar Rail.
- Worship programs will not be re-used or turned back in.
- If attendees choose to visit with each other after the services, there should be a safe distance between them, and handshakes and hugs are discouraged.
- Anyone is welcome to sit in the choir loft if they prefer.
Another very exciting part of Phase Two will be a new Wednesday morning Bible Study (TBD), led by Pastor Beabout. The topic will be the Gospel of John. He will be combining his lessons with the 10AM Communion service so that those who come to the study will be given an opportunity to receive the Sacrament! This new arrangement will begin on June 17.
We can’t know yet how long Phase Two will last, but there is hope that in August we will have a very special Sunday, where, in just one service, we will accomplish a multitude of things that had to be put off this Spring. Perhaps by then we could even have a potluck to help us celebrate all the ways in which we are being blessed at Shepherd of the Hills with new baptizees, new communicants, new confirmands, new members and a new assistant pastor.
Please know that the elders and I are very sensitive to any concerns you may have during this strange period. We are paying close attention to everything that you are saying to us in your emails, phone calls or in passing. While it is true that many churches in our community still are not hosting services, you should not think that we are being cavalier about this health crisis. On the contrary, we take it very seriously and continue to brainstorm on ways to keep our worship experiences safe and meaningful for all. We are even expanding our seating capacity by adding appropriately spaced chairs in the back of the church and will also have hand sanitizer dispensers set up for you, though it would be good for you to bring your own as well.
As always, none of our members should feel obligated to attend services or feel guilty for not attending services. EVERYONE IS STRONGLY ENCOURAGED TO MAKE THE DECISION THAT IS RIGHT FOR THEM AND AVOID SECOND GUESSING THEMSELVES. If you are desiring Holy Communion, but don’t feel comfortable returning to church yet, please give us a call. Either Pastor Beabout or I will be very happy to provide the Sacrament in a private setting.
God bless you!!