From March to Sept 2020, St. John’s Lutheran Church in Wharton did not offer in-person worship for its members or community. We broadcast our services with a local radio station as we have done for years, and had special recordings on our website.
As of September 2020, we began to gather for in person worship again, with some changes to reduce the spread of the Corona Virus. This page outlines the hygiene protocols we have put in place, and on the following page we share the broad outlines of how we make the decision to meet in person or not.
Let’s assume for this post that we are meeting in person. What does 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 multiple documents with guidelines for opening the State of Texas. These documents are 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 is the following notice:
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 heart 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.
In the New Year, COVID-19 vaccine distribution has been picking up. Several of our members have gotten at least one of the two shots needed for their protection. As members complete vaccine regimens we also welcome them back to worshiping in person, but continue to require masks and social distancing. We simply do not yet have enough information to know if getting a COVID-19 vaccine will prevent someone from spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 to other people, even if the vaccinated person doesn’t get sick themselves. In addition, there is no current vaccine available for minors under the age of 16 years old, who may either get sick OR spread the virus to others.
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 have two out of three pews marked so they remain empty. Please do keep distance between household groups as you sit.
General Health Protocols
We have services each Sunday morning at 10:00am. Our current understanding is that there is a very low risk of transmission of the Corona virus from contact with surfaces, but there is increasing evidence that COVID-19 is airborne in certain situations. With this information in mind we do not disinfect seats/hymnals/etc, between services but do keep the church sanctuary closed during the week to allow any virus time to settle from the air and break down.
You are encouraged to bring your own hand sanitizer, and we 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 want to reduce sharing objects among ourselves. You are encouraged to bring your own hymnal if you have one. We 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 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. We are not passing offering plates at this time.
Entrance / Dismissal
We 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 is offered on the first and third Sunday of the month after the radio broadcast service is off the air. As family groups approach the altar, disposable plates with bread and wine for each member are assembled and given to the family for distribution. The plate and cups are then disposed of as members step to the side of the sanctuary and walk back to their seats.
As we anticipate the majority of our members to continue to participate by radio, we take that into account for the limited time we have to be on air each week.
A ‘Drive Through’ Communion is offered the following day for those who could not attend the service, with signups available via email and online.
Face Masks / Singing
We have disposable face masks available for those who do not have one. 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 some studies indicate that a mask does help in preventing the wearer from contracting COVID-19, it definitely 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 primarily 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.