The Bulletin for
- Sunday, June 14th, can be found HERE
- Sunday, June 21st, can be found HERE
- Sunday, June 28th, can be found HERE
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
As I wrote last week, the elders, congregational president Philip Wuthrich, and I met to review current trends in COVID-19 cases and continue plans for congregational worship to take place in person. This email is going to be information-heavy, and I request your patience and understanding as I attempt to convey relevant information to you.
While our target date to meet in person is June 21st, (10 days away at the time of this writing), this is heavily dependent on guidelines given by the Federal Government and what is termed a ‘gating criteria’ – a condition that has to be met before anything else happens. The part of the gating criteria that concerns us is that one of two things needs to happen.
- There needs to be a downward trajectory of documented cases of COVID-19 within the last 14 days OR
- There needs to be a downward trajectory of positive tests as a percentage of total tests within the last 14 days.
There has been a small spike in new cases in the last week,
On June 2nd, there were 58 total cases in Wharton county, with 21 people (estimated) still sick and not yet recovered.
On June 10th, there were 86 total cases in Wharton county, with 31 people (estimated) still sick and not yet recovered.
The percentage of positive tests out of all testing is a little harder to calculate, as no testing information is available for June 4-7th, which badly skews the numbers.
What does this mean for us?
Right now, it means that we will continue to daily look at new testing and case numbers. If the gating criteria can be met, then we continue to plan to gather in person. There is always the chance that numbers will change, which may mean that we will not meet on our target date of June 21. I pray that will not be the case, and ask that you join with me in those prayers.
Let’s assume for this email that we will be gathering in person. What will that look like?
First, I would like to let you know about the guidance offered by the State of Texas. Texas Department of State Health Services has put out a 66-page document with guidelines for opening the State of Texas back up. This document is continually updated. I have pulled the relevant guidelines for us and put them into one file of 8 pages. You can download and read that file by clicking HERE.
At the beginning of every version of the guidelines are the following. I included them in my letter last week, and I include them here again.
The following are the minimum recommended health protocols for all individuals attending churches, congregations, and places of worship in Texas. These minimum health protocols are not a limit on the health protocols that individuals may adopt. Individuals are encouraged to adopt additional protocols consistent with their specific needs and circumstances to help protect the health and safety of all Texans.
The virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to others by infected persons who have few or no symptoms. Even if an infected person is only mildly ill, the people they spread it to may become seriously ill or even die, especially if that person is 65 or older with pre-existing health conditions that place them at higher risk. Because of the hidden nature of this threat, everyone should rigorously follow the practices specified in these protocols, all of which facilitate a safe and measured reopening of Texas. The virus that causes COVID-19 is still circulating in our communities. We should continue to observe practices that protect everyone, including those who are most vulnerable.
Who should attend?
As we continue to read through the guidelines, the two most important are as follows:
- Strongly encourage the at-risk population to watch or participate in the service remotely. (At risk population are those who are 65 or older, especially those with chronic lung disease; moderate to severe asthma; chronic hearth disease; severe obesity; diabetes; chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis; liver disease; or weakened immune system.)
Please read the above point again, and honestly assess if you are described in the above. While we reopen, the elders and I encourage in the strongest possible language for at risk individuals as described above to continue to participate in the service over the radio.
The second major guideline is:
- Ensure proper spacing between attendees (at least 6 feet separation between parties/family groups attending together, with six feet separation empty on either side.)
Because our pews are so close together, we will have two out of three pews marked so they remain empty. We will have to balance how many family groups are attending, and how many are in each group. If you have signed up for our e-newsletters, a copy of this message will include a button to register for attendance on June 21st. If you are not signed up, I encourage you do to so here: Otherwise, please feel free to email me at the address ‘pastor’ [at] stjohns-wharton[dot]org. This will let us know if you plan to attend so we can best arrange the available seating.
General Health Protocols
At this time we will only have one weekly service. Our current understanding is that the virus does not last on any surface longer than 3 days (and sometimes much less). Because of this we will not disinfect seats/hymnals/etc, between services but keep the church sanctuary closed during the week to allow any virus time to break down. If we need to add more services to maintain social distancing, we will update this protocol.
You are encouraged to bring your own hand sanitizer, and we will have several large pump bottles of hand sanitizer available at each entrance.
We discourage the use of the common drinking fountains at this time.
We will have sanitizing wipes available in the bathrooms for faucet handles, door knobs, and the like.
We want to reduce sharing objects among ourselves. You are encouraged to bring your own hymnal if you have one. We will provide printed out copies of the service (a paper copy of what is put online) for those who would prefer that. You can also follow along on any personal electronic device.
We will have an offering basket at the back of the church, and continue to encourage members to use the on-line giving available at https://stjohns-wharton.org/giving
Entrance / Dismissal
We will allow family groups to come in and seat themselves. We encourage you to start your seating towards the front and fill in towards the back. At Dismissal, we will dismiss by family group from the back of the sanctuary. While Pastor loves you very much, he will not be shaking hands at this time!
Communion will not be offered during the service at this time. It will be available at least monthly as ‘drive through’ (and I know I need to set it up for this month!) In the future we may incorporate it back into the service, or even at the end of service after we are off the air. As we anticipate the majority of our members to continue to participate by radio, we will have to take that into account for the limited time we have to be on air each week.
Face Masks / Singing
We will have disposable face masks available for those who do not have one. I am aware that this may be an unpopular option, but we strongly urge and request that everyone wear a face mask for the entire time you are in the building.
The primary reason for this is to help stop the spread of the corona virus. While the mask does not seem to help overmuch in preventing the wearer from contracting COVID-19, it DOES help stop the spread of it from an infected person – even if that person is showing few symptoms and does not know that they are sick. I would ask that you go back and re-read that paragraph above that is in red. Wearing a mask is not for your health – it is for the health of your neighbor and fellow Christian.
This may sound odd, but there is another risk that will be nearly unique to us as a church. Due to the deeper inhaling and exhaling involved in singing, singing in a closed building is considered a higher risk activity, as it more effectively generates aerosols from the mouth/throat/lungs. This information comes from multiple doctors, including virologists, ear/nose/throat specialists, and current studies being done on how the corona virus spreads.
And finally, there are some of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who dearly would like to return to the in-person worship they are most familiar with, but are not comfortable attending when we are not all following the same health protocols.
Some of you may think this is silly and are convinced this is an overreaction. Some may be frustrated that everyone has a different opinion on what to do.
The Apostle Paul wrote of a similar situation in Romans. He wrote to a diverse church, where some members ate meat, others only vegetables. Some followed special holy days, others treated each day the same. He encouraged the congregation to follow their conscience to the glory of the Lord. He writes:
“Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.”
I know that Paul was speaking of eating and drinking, and not health protocols. Yet he discouraged anything that caused ‘a stumbling block or hindrance in the way’ of a fellow believer. I ask you as your Pastor to not add any unnecessary hindrance or discouragement to our fellow brothers and sisters in receiving the comfort available in gathering together in receiving God’s Word.
A final thought:
As we have entered into the season of Pentecost, we recall Jesus’ words to His disciples before He was lifted up into heaven:
“It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:7–8)
We’re not in the business of figuring everything out, but we are positioned by our Father in heaven to trust Him and to bear witness to the risen Son. “You WILL BE my witnesses,” Jesus said. It’s a fact that is true for all times and seasons—even for this season. The gracious truth from our Savior for all seasons of history and for our very lives is: God’s got this!
May Jesus continue to bless you as you serve God’s precious people, connect with your communities, and bear witness to Him locally and to the ends of the earth!
If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me via phone, text, or email.
Please let us know if you plan to attend on June 21 by emailing me at ‘pastor’ [at] stjohns-wharton [dot] org
Thankful to serve with you,
Pastor R.W. Lutjens