April 29th, 2020
To The Jesus Church family,
We pray that you have survived this strange April and we know that you are anxious to get back to church. I know that I miss seeing everyone and worshiping in person. I’m grateful that we have been able to worship via technology these past six weeks and appreciate the tremendous amount of effort that people have put into making those online services happening! I believe that much good has been accomplished in getting the gospel of Jesus Christ outside of the four walls of our church buildings during this time. We also know that distant streaming and video services can never truly replace the assembling of ourselves together as the scripture commands.
We are blessed to live in the state of Texas where Governor Abbott has given churches support and also clear direction moving forward. Bro. David Bernard, my General Superintendent, has been in contact with both Governor Abbot and officials in federal levels to clarify the steps that we need to take to cooperate with the effort to reopen Texas. After reviewing all of this information, we have agreed on a plan going forward for our local church body as outlined below. Note: our plan is about a week behind (slower than) Governor Abbott’s timeline and that gives us a buffer to react should the plan be adjusted within the month on the governmental level.
We are currently in Phase 0 in the state which means that for this week things remain the same until May 1st when Phase 1 goes into effect which has some businesses reopening under certain guidelines. After two weeks, Phase 2 begins which eases those guidelines and parameters substantially. Then another 2 to 4 weeks brings Phase 3 which would be life as normal. The goal is for the entire process of opening Texas to take six to eight weeks overall. Obviously situations locally could warrant a slowing down of these phase transitions or even a speeding up of a return to normal and Governor Abbott will advise accordingly. To be clear, our church building and facility is outside the city limits of Castroville and is only legally under the jurisdiction of Medina County. This means, for example, that at the moment face masks are not legally required to be worn in the county.
We have prayerfully decided to implement the recommended phases locally as follows:
For the month of May, all Wednesday, mid-week services will remain online only. Tuesday night Bible Study and Thursday music practices are canceled for the month of May. Youth group activities and services will be via Zoom video conferencing unless otherwise announced for the month of May.
Our Sunday am service for May 3rd will be online only and recorded on Friday, May 1st with a small audience as we have been doing. Technically, May 1st means more could come, but we feel led to go a week behind Governor Abbott’s timeline for reasons stated in this letter. This is still Phase 0.
Beginning with Sunday, May 10th and continuing for Sundays, May 17th and May 24th, we will change our approach to Phase 1 which will be having both Sunday am and pm services on those days with social distancing measures as outlined below. In Phase 1 Sunday services, we will ask church members to choose one service on Sunday to attend and to let us know which service that you will be in attendance. Sis. Alex will create a form that you can sign up for either the am or the pm service for those days and we will send that out accordingly via email and our Breeze management system. The goal is to have only around 100 people in the building at any one time. This number is still far below our guidelines recommendations based upon the square footage of the building.
Phase 1 services will be conducted with the following parameters in place:
Greeters and Ushers will wear masks
Only Greeters and Ushers will touch the exterior door and sanctuary door handles.
Family units will sit together and there will be no Sunday School classes.
Safe Social distancing in the audience will be maintained by the following adjustments:
No “meet and greet time.”
No handshaking or hugs, but only waves during this time.
If someone is sitting in a chair in the row in front of you, you must shift so that the chairs directly behind them are empty. This will stagger people across the sanctuary. On each row, there should be two seats kept empty between family units.
Altar call and worship will be conducted at your seats and the area exactly in front of it.
The sanctuary and facility will be sanitized and cleaned between services.
Services will be video recorded for those unable or unwilling to come to actual services.
Face masks for attendees are permitted but are optional (not required).
Obviously, if someone is feeling sick, they should stay home and not attend service in person.
Some clarifications and observations about the above parameters:
The numbers according to our square footage give us some wiggle room so that, if we go slightly above one hundred for a particular service, we will still be in compliance. This means that if, say, we have guests in a particular Phase 1 service, we should be able to accommodate them as long as the church members stick to their selected service.
The two Sunday services will not be identical and will be conducted with different worship sets and a different sermon for each. One of the reasons that we are recording the services and making both available is so that members can hear the sermon from the other service that they did not attend on that Sunday. We are unable to live stream, so these service videos will be available at the first part of the week following the Sunday. Online service videos will be disseminated in the same manner as we have been making them available to you: via FB links, Breeze email, or by going to the front page of the website: www.theJesuschurch.cc.
The reason that the Wednesdays are online only is to give us time to adequately prepare and stage the Sunday services with proper cleaning and planning and it keeps us from using up precious cleaning supplies on an additional cleaning during these crucial weeks. The reason that Sunday School classes are suspended for Phase 1 (and likely for Phase 2) involves multiple reasons: Governor Abbott’s recommendations, the fact that it eliminates the need for us to have to sanitize the entire building after Sunday morning, and eliminates us having to juggle potential teacher unavailability for this time. It also helps us keep our overall number in the building down as it removes the need for a Sunday School teacher to return to the evening service in order to be able to be in church, personally.
Pentecost Sunday, May 31st, would be our target date to changing from Phase 1 to Phase 2, which would mean that everyone would be invited to the services on that date and onward. Wednesday night services would also resume during this Phase 2 time. We will reassess the situation and follow Governor Abbott’s directives in determining how long Phase 2 will last. In Phase 2, if we provide any online services for viewing, it would be only one video a week (likely the Sunday am service).
To summarize all of the information above:
All Wednesday services in May are online only.
Sunday, May 3rd is online only.
Sundays, May 10th, May 17th, and May 24th are Phase 1 which means that church members choose one of the two services (am or pm) to attend with social distancing as outlined above.
Sunday, May 31st and June onward is Phase 2 which means everyone is welcome and invited to all services and then Wednesday, midweek services resume in the sanctuary on June 3rd.
We will wait further in the month to decide when to go to Phase 3 (normal operations) which would include reopening Sunday School and Kid’s Church events.
This time has been an unprecedented time in church and social management and we appreciate everyone’s support and prayers during what has been a tough time to pastor and lead a local congregation. As we work through these phases, you can continue to help by respectfully abiding by the various parameters and cooperating with the plan. There will undoubtedly be those who feel that the state and church is reopening too soon and there are those that feel that we have gone overboard in our measures, response, and compliance. The facts are that this is a serious pandemic and yet the mortality numbers have been less than what it would have been had most people not cooperated with the social distancing measures for these past weeks. That said, we must move forward with faith and not fear. We will continue to abide by these parameters as outlined by the authorities above us and yet we will actively resume our focus on building the kingdom of God in this community. As children of God, let us avoid being affected by or driven by the current culture of caustic criticism that is so common in our country at the moment. Let us also continue to pray for those in our country and families who have endured tragedy and hardship during this time. Let us continue to pray for God to work out each work and economic challenge facing His people in the coming months.
I pray that even as things gradually return to normal that we are forever changed by all of this in a good way. I pray that we never neglect nor take for granted the opportunity to gather together in local assembly and that a wonderful, unprecedented harvest springs from this unique time. In the end, let everything be done decently and in order, and may the Apostolic church and Biblical truth thrive!
In Jesus’ Name,
Pastor Jeremiah Sibley