WEEK OF MAY 17TH - FULL REOPENING ANNOUNCEMENT
Calvary Chapel Stone Mountain Family,
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, on March 15, Calvary CSM flipped the off-switch on our in-person services and were online-only for the next six weeks. On May 3, we reopened using a dimmer switch. We closed abruptly, while opening slowly and incrementally.
Calvary CSM was streaming its services online prior to this crisis, and we will continue to provide a great livestream indefinitely. We also plan to continue our online Sunday School each week, as well as online ministry to High School and Middle School. Online ministry has its place in church life and is a great tool especially for a community that is sheltering-in-place. But online streaming is not a permanent substitute to in-person fellowship and worship for adults or children.
Looking people eye to eye – feeding off the sincerity and enthusiasm of each other’s faith – face to face exchanges such as sharing testimonies, unloading burdens, spontaneously-prompted prayers – the laying on of hands and prayers for the sick – just the act of physically making my presence count for Christ by coming to the church building – all these benefits only take place in-person. Computer to computer is not the same as heart to heart. There is a healthy accountability that comes with a weekly reunion of a spiritual family, and to be without it for long is bound to have unhealthy consequences. As a pastor entrusted by our Lord with the care of His church, I am responsible not only to protect our physical health, but to promote our spiritual health as well.
There will always be risks involved in coming to church, and there is no way for us to eliminate the risk of contracting the coronavirus now or eight weeks from now. We are treating this matter seriously and are taking deliberate steps to provide a safe environment – we have reduced our capacity and rearranged our chairs to practice recommended social distancing, we’ve set up hand sanitizing stations, we’ve increased the regularity of disinfecting surfaces and restrooms, we’ve required key volunteers to wear face masks, we’ve replaced handshakes and hugs with waves and elbow bumps, we’ve limited the number of people in the restroom at any one time, and we are providing face masks and gloves for all who want to wear them – but can we eliminate any chance of you coming down with Covid-19? The answer is no!
The question becomes at what point does the benefit of attending church make it worth the risk? A drive through our community would suggest that for many people a trip to the big box store, or taking their kids to the park is an acceptable risk. Why then isn’t in-person church worth that same risk? What message do we send if non-essential shopping and recreational play is worth the risk, but not church?
For a month-and-a-half, I agreed that the possibility of contracting coronavirus wasn’t a risk worth taking to attend in-person church services. But over the past two weeks, I have concluded that the risk of the negative spiritual consequences for some folks not meeting in-person is greater than the physical health risk of the coronavirus. This is why we are reopening our church.
And although we closed with a flip of the switch, we’re reopening with a dimmer, slowly and incrementally. On May 3, we opened the doors to the least vulnerable adults including our High Schoolers. This constituted about a third of our congregation. But everyone is valued and has a place at Calvary CSM. We want all our members back, so here’s our plan to fully open our doors…
On Sunday, May 17, we’re inviting back Middle Schoolers to our 9:30 service. They will sit with their family and be dismissed to the Brook after the music. Pastor Matt will share a lesson. The seating will be arranged to observe social distancing, and all the adults working with the kids will be required to wear a face mask. We realize many of our Middle Schoolers have younger siblings. We encourage parents to leave the younger children at home with another parent or trusted caregiver. Both the service and Sunday School will still be provided online. The younger children will be welcomed back later. As with everyone who attends, you’ll need to go to the calvarycsm.com website and reserve a seat for you and your Middle Schooler. Click on the green “Welcome Back” button for instructions. We consider Middle School a critical age in the development of our children, and we want to bring them back to church first. And parents, this includes any graduated fifth graders, ready or not they are now Middle Schoolers.
Then on May 31 we’ll be adding to our 9:30 service an 11:15 service, and inviting back our Grade School children (grades 1-5). We’re planning a Vacation Bible School style program outside under the pavilion. The children will be organized in small groups and physically distanced from other small groups, but they are children and it will be more difficult to keep them physically separated from one another. Being outside will provide extra ventilation, and all the adults working with the children will be required to wear a mask. In the beginning, we plan to offer ministry to our Grade School children during the 11:15 service only. Again, you’ll need to reserve a seat for you, and a place for your children in Sunday School. Go to our calvarycsm.com website, click the green “Welcome Back” button and follow instructions.
Finally, if the spread of the coronavirus in our county continues to decline, on June 14, we’ll provide nursery and pre-school childcare, as well as encourage our senior members to rejoin our in-person worship. At that point, we’ll evaluate how many services are needed and what times they will be held. Reserving a seat will be necessary as long as we are social distancing and our sanctuary seating is at a reduced capacity. This is for your convenience, and the only way we can insure ample seating for everyone who attends.
As for small groups such as The After, Free Indeed, Time Out, Men’s Prayer Meeting, OFC, and Ladies Bible Study, meetings will resume at the church beginning in June. The church building provides the best social distancing set-up, and sanitizing procedures are being followed daily. These groups will begin to meet at the church, and transition back into people’s homes when it is appropriate. If you attend any of these groups you’ll be contacted by your group leader with details soon.
Despite our church’s plan, we know that when you and your family return to in-person worship it will be a personal decision based on your own assessment of the risk. I have resisted pointing to statistics, since statistics have been used for both closing and opening our society. When the time comes, you’ll need to use what data you trust and make as wise a decision as possible. Every family’s situation is different, and everyone must do what they think is best. I can assure you, your pastor will respect your decision, and hopefully, you will respect the decisions we make. We all are trying to navigate difficult and unfamiliar circumstances.
One goal is certain, at some point, we all need to return to church. When the time comes, we want to be safe, but we need to return. We might be using a dimmer switch to get there, but eventually we want to be back to full brightness.
Hope to see you soon,
If you live in Gwinnett County and need to be tested for the virus here’s where you can go… https://www.gnrhealth.com/covid-19-info/
If you are sick or running a fever or have been around anyone who has had the coronavirus, please stay home and worship with us online.
A SPECIAL REMINDER
WEEK OF APRIL 26TH
This past week Governor Kemp gave churches the green light to host in-person worship services. At Calvary Chapel we think the best way to insure a safe reopening is to do it in stages. At the moment it is too uncertain for our older or high risk members to return. It’s also too early to insure a safe operation for our nursery and children’s ministry. We trust our families and older members will continue to enjoy our services on our three online platforms: Livestream, Facebook Live, and You Tube.
We can though, manage a responsible environment for a limited number of adults (High Schoolers and above). We’ve reconfigured the chairs in our sanctuary to comply with the proper six feet social distancing. This means we now have a quarter of our normal seating, so if you want to attend the recording of our 9:30 Sunday morning service you can reserve a seat. Go to our website, calvarycsm.com, click on the “Welcome Back” button, and follow the instructions. Rather than record our worship in an empty sanctuary, a limited number of our church family will be able to join us. This opportunity will start Sunday, May 3rd, at the 9:30 service.
Of course, please remember the lessons we’ve learned in this quarantine. If you’re sick or have a fever please stay home. We won’t be hugging or handshaking, a simple wave will do. Feel free to wear a face mask. Sheep look good in masks. And we’ll have hand sanitizing stations scattered around the sanctuary.
Just to be sure you understand, we’re not yet prepared to host a safe environment for children. For now, if children are with you, your family will need to join us online.
Thank you so much for the support you’ve given us during the quarantine. Your notes and comments from week to week are encouraging, and your financial support has been a blessing.
We need two more things from you now… your prayers and patience. First, we need your prayers that God will give us wisdom. No one has navigated these waters before. We need God’s help. Second, we need your patience. I believe God will make it clear when the time is right to fully open. We won’t regret waiting a week or two later than we could have, but we would deeply regret opening too early and someone get sick.
We will continue to take it week by week. Thanks for your prayers and patience. If you want to join us for the Sunday recording, we will see you at 9:30 AM on May 3rd. Make sure you reserve a seat in advance.