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COVID 19 UPDATE

COVID-19 Update:
Check here for updates and important information

January 20

Dear Friends,


I have not shared an update since we went back to having no in person events at the church in November, 2020. Since that time the first phase of vaccines have become available, but our numbers in Sedgwick County are still in the double digits. Many of our members have been personally affected by this terrible virus, having been sick themselves or family members have become ill and we can count among our family and friends the deaths included in the 400,000 lives that have been lost so far.


The rollout of the vaccine is very good news. Although we are not yet in phase two and as of this morning Sedgwick County noted there was a shortage of vaccines currently available. The uncertainty as to how much will be available and how soon hinders our plans for the date when we will begin to open for small groups. The re-opening task force will continue to follow the protocol we set last summer and the health measures set by Sedgwick County and the CDC. If the numbers fall below 10% for a seven day average we will once again open for small groups to begin meeting at the church.
The task force set a 4% average to return to in person worship. It is my sincere belief that once the numbers are down below 5% we will be well on our way to bring larger groups back to the church. Like we did in October, we will have the pews in the Sanctuary roped off to keep six feet distant and masks will be required. We will continue to do so as long as necessary. The task force believes masks will be required and encouraged for a long time. As vaccinations become more readily available, in accordance with CDC and Sedgwick County health guidelines, we will gradually relax some of those protocols.


I know many of us, myself included, are anxious to be together again. I KNOW the day is coming, I just don’t know when. I will continue to keep you updated as we receive more information and as the task force continues to work through the new medical information that comes out. Please keep us in your prayers. Please keep our medical personnel in your prayers, particularly those who are working long hours at the hospitals and on the front lines of distributing the vaccines. Keep those who have not been able to visit their loved ones in long term care centers in your prayers as well as those who have not been able to be visited. God is at work in the midst of all of this and together we will continue to lean into the hope and healing offered us in Christ. Know I praying for you.

Pastor Cindy


November 18

Dear Friends,
As you know we have returned to remote/online/televised worship only as of November 8. If you have been keeping up with Sedgwick Countynumbers, you know that as of this weekend we have hit a 24% positivity rate. Our ICU beds are full. I believe we will continue being remote for the foreseeable future. 


The re-opening task force is encouraging us to once again close our building for meetings and small groups. This will not be difficult as often during the holiday season we do not have meetings and many small groups take a break until after the first of the year. 


Beginning this week, the building will open only for our normal business hours and for work we must do in order to continue to offer worship and other ministry related functions and essential services. We will continue to find new and innovative ways to reach out, to worship and to celebrate the season of Advent and Christmas.


As Christians, with the commandment of Jesus to love one another and our neighbors as ourselves, I believe we need to do what we can do to help slow the spread of this terrible disease. While I am aware that some have very mild cases, others do not. We don’t get to choose who gets the mild cases and who does not. The task force and I believe anything we can do to be part of healing and hope is vital to our witness to our Christ’s love and grace.


Please continue to pray for our congregation, for the health care workers who are weary and overwhelmed, for our teachers working hard to teach and care for their students, for parents, grandparents and guardians who try to navigate the educational choices for their children, for long term providers, for the families of those who are isolated in long term care facilities and for those isolated in those facilities. Pray for our leaders, for those working on treatments and vaccines. We will get through this. God is STILL God and we are STILL God’s beloved children.

Graced to Serve,

Cindy


October 28

Dear Friends,
When we re-opened for in-person worship on October 18 it was with high hopes that we would remain open to in-person worship. It has been so good to see people “face to face” again even with masks. Those who came were touched and moved to be in the Sanctuary again. However, as you know from our e-mails, we have metrics in place for the possibility that our Covid 19 numbers would go up and we would need to return to online/televised worship only.

If you have been following the news, you already know that the positivity rate is rising quickly in Sedgwick County. Even with less testing done in the last couple of days it is quickly getting out of control. As of October 1, the rolling average 14 day positivity rate for Sedgwick County was 5.4%. This is when we began to plan for returning to in-person worship, setting October 18 as our first Sunday, as October 11 was the Prairie Fire Marathon and we knew getting to worship could be difficult.


Since then, it has increased every day and as of October 27 it is at 13.3%. This is within 1.5% of the highest positive rate since the county started tracking. Hospitalizations for COVID are at the highest they have ever been in Wichita with 90 patients as of October 27 and 39 patients in ICU. On October 19, there were approximately 31 ICU beds available, and yesterday, there were 13. Today, the hospital status assessment on the Sedgwick County dashboard has moved from moderate to critical. One of the hospital systems in our area has no more beds and the other system is close to having none as well. The Re-Opening Task Force was disappointed to review these numbers and to give guidance as to what comes next. I am both disappointed and sad. I am also praying for those working in our hospitals and care facilities as they will bear the brunt of the continued spread of this coronavirus.


The plan is to have in-person worship THIS Sunday, November 1. It is All Saints Sunday and we do have some family members who have not been back to in-person worship who plan to attend. During that service, we will announce a return to virtual/online/televised worship only, beginning on November 8. We will follow our own criteria for when to re-open to in-person worship, which is determined by metrics we have already set. You can find those on our website under our Covid updates. Basically, we will look for the positivity rate to decline to 4-5%. We anticipate the decline to take several weeks.

Several United Methodist Churches have postponed their re-opening with these numbers and churches of other denominations are making the same decision to suspend their in-person worship for the time being. This is of course disappointing, but with more than one church having Covid 19 in their congregation and one local pastor dying this past week, we are looking to keep our congregation, visitors and staff as safe as we can.


At this point, small groups will still be allowed to meet in the building. That could change if numbers rise dramatically and if our health authorities recommend we discontinue small group gatherings.


The leadership and staff of this congregation is committed to best practices and the health and safety of us all. While I am disappointed, I am not without hope. God is STILL God in the midst of all that is happening. God is gracious and offers steadfast love and mercy to us all. The staff has been hard at work creating an Advent and Christmas season that will be meaningful and joyful. This will not change as we continue to reach out to you and to others with our various ministries. I ask for your prayers, for myself, for our staff, for our congregation and for all those who continue to work on the front lines offering hope and healing in the midst of Covid 19. I continue to pray for each one of you.

Graced to Serve,

Cindy


(October 7)

Dear Friends,

In consultation with the Church Council and the re-opening task force, we have made the decision to re-open for in person worship in phases. We have the set the first date as Sunday, October 18 to begin with the Downtown Alive worship service only, with the hope of adding our other services soon thereafter, dates to be determined. Beginning with just one worship service allows us to be sure we have all the volunteers we need and all the protocols can be followed.

We know that not everyone will be comfortable with coming back to in person worship. We will still be broadcasting through KAKE TV, through our online streaming and through Facebook Live. We will still be worshipping together as we have done for 44 years through television and now with the addition of our online streaming and Facebook. The Spirit makes us one body through prayer and praise in this most unusual time.

Please continue to be in prayer as we begin the slow process of re-opening with the safety and care of our congregation in mind.

Please review the information below regarding expectations for those choosing to worship in person. Contact the church if you have any questions or concerns.

Reopen Protocols


Worship Only-Limited Building Access

When we gather for our first Sunday back for in-person worship, there will be no other events happening on Sunday other worship. As we move forward we plan to add Heritage and the Gathering in the evening. Only the AB entrance and the Broadway doors into the Sanctuary will be open. On Sunday mornings, only the Sanctuary building will be open with the rest of the building roped off, in order to keep track of where people have been, as we begin to have a greater amount of people in the building. Later, as we become comfortable with the process, additional services, Sunday School classes and small groups will also be able to meet in person on Sundays. 


Worship Might Look a Little Different!

Since we last worshipped in person in March, there will be some changes to how we are meeting. Downtown Alive services will be in the Sanctuary at their usual times with the custodial staff insuring the worship spaces and restrooms are sanitized properly. When the Heritage service is added back, it will also meet in the Sanctuary at its usual time (8:15 a.m.) While many of us love the Chapel, creating social distancing in that space is not just difficult, it means we have to severely limit how many people can attend. The Heritage service will maintain its liturgy with the exception of the sung responses to retain its unique style of worship.


Arriving for Worship

When you enter through either the AB entrance or the Broadway doors you will be welcomed by a greeter who will be wearing a mask and you will be invited to sanitize your hands or wash them in the restroom. You will need to let us know every person who is attending with you and contact information, prior to the service. This is for the purpose of contact tracing should there be an outbreak of COVID 19 at the church. We will also ask you to register your attendance either through the church app or on your bulletin. You can return those attendance slips in the plates at the back of the Sanctuary following worship. The registration serves the function of signing-up for new ministries or prayer concerns or information you would like the church to have. 
The men’s and women’s restroom outside doors will be propped open. There is a privacy wall, but that way there will be no touching of the door handles going in and out of the restroom. They will be sanitized frequently. Noah Naughton, our Facilities Manager is also working to install touch-less water faucets and toilets. 

Seating Plan

Once you are ready to enter the Sanctuary, an usher will seat you and your family group. Family groups must sit together. There will be no nursery, so children will sit with their families. The process will be similar to a wedding or funeral, where people are ushered in and out. You will not be able to choose which pew you will sit in. Seating will proceed from the front to the back, so we do not have people crossing each other’s paths.  Limited seating will be available with 44 spaces on the ground level of the Sanctuary that allows for six foot distancing between members of the congregation. The Sanctuary is large enough that each “space” can hold one or two people or a family unit. At this time, the balcony is off limits. At the end of the service, the congregation will be dismissed from the back to the front. If you really would like to talk to someone, we invite you to do so outside where the open space makes it safer and less likely to pass the corona virus. 

Limited Congregational Singing

There will be no or limited congregational singing. While there are some new studies available, currently the guidelines from the Great Plains Conference and other denominational information notes that singing is more risky than other activities. We will be invited to “hum” any hymns we might have and quietly whisper any liturgy. Any soloists or small groups will be singing from the choir loft or will be pre-recorded.


Worship Materials

All hymnals, Bibles, and envelopes have been removed from the pews. There will be bulletins placed in the pew in front of each open pew. There will also be a pen available to fill out your registration tab. Once the Heritage service is also meeting, pens will be picked up and sanitized in between the services. Everything will be on the screen for liturgy. This maintains a cleaner and more sanitary environment.


Communion

Communion will be served in the pews with the bread pre-cut and served to each individual who has cupped their hands. The masked and gloved server will place the bread in their hands. When all have received, we will lift our masks and take the bread together. Likewise we will serve individual disposable cups and a masked and gloved server will place the cup in the hands of each individual.

When to Worship from Home

We know not everyone will be comfortable returning and we encourage you to worship from home if you do not feel well, if you are running a temperature, coughing or sneezing, or if you are uncomfortable or unwilling to wear a mask. Masks will be required of everyone who enters the building.


I know all of this seems overwhelming, but the staff and re-opening task force are wanting to take no unnecessary risks with our members and guests. As more information is available, we may be able to reduce some of our precautions. Until then, we will continue to find ways to connect as a community of faith.

Protocols for Returning to Remote Worship

If after reopening there is a Covid positive rate of 10% in Sedgwick County or more following a steady increase in the rolling seven day COVID average, or if there is cluster of 5 or more positive cases within the church, the church will shut down. We will comply with any executive orders issued from the State of Kansas, Sedgwick County or City of Wichita limiting the attendance in a gathering. We will also track the trend around USD 259 and CDC red line. We will continue to communicate any updates through our website, firstwichita.org, the First Church app, and Facebook page. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the church. The safety of our congregation and staff continues to be our upmost concern.

Covenant of Care

We, the community of faith at First United Methodist Church of Wichita have for 150 years worked to be a place where we “change lives and transform communities.” Our welcoming statement says in part that we “will live out the love of Jesus Christ by including everyone, accepting others for who they are, treating others the way we would want to be treated, respecting all, loving all.”

As a part of loving our community, not just our members, but our guests and visitors, we hereby covenant one with another to continue the fight against coronavirus-19 even as we open our buildings for public worship, learning, and use.

  • We covenant not to attend any activities in our church building if we are sick or believe we have been exposed to someone who is sick.
  • We covenant to wash/disinfect our hands immediately upon entering our building, using the soap/disinfectant for the time it takes to pray the Lord’s Prayer.
  • We covenant not to hug or shake hands when we are with others on church campus.
  • We covenant to remain at least 6 feet apart from people with whom we are not sheltered-at-home.
  • We covenant to wear face coverings to protect others in case we are sick but not showing symptoms.

What that means “practically” is that we will wear face coverings upon entering the building and in the hallways. If we are alone in an office or classroom a face covering is not required. If in a meeting or small group, six feet of distance is required, and face coverings are preferred for extended periods of time.

All members, visitors and guests will be required to “sign-in” by telling the receptionist your name. Face masks are available at the receptionist’s desk.

No food may be shared at this time. You may bring your own lunch if you are in the building for an extended period of time. Gatherings will not be allowed to serve any food or drink until such time that the guidelines are changed.

As we continue to phase in to occupying our buildings, guidelines will be updated as we care for one another.

 


(July 15)

Dear Friends,


There is not much to update in terms of our next steps. We are having wonderful success with doing old things “new.” Virtual Vacation Bible School is having a good response, not only from those families who connect with our church, but a wider reach through our television/ online/Facebook live congregation. On Wednesday we are beginning a recorded devotion which will be sent out to the phone numbers of our members and friends. On Sunday, we will have our first Zoom fellowship time. Each week a different staff member will lead this time together.


Our Sunday School classes are still going strong through Zoom with good connection, community and conversation. The internet and social media CAN be a blessing in a time of pandemic. Our Diaper Drive was very successful and our Toilet Paper Drive is going well.


For all this good news, unfortunately the positive numbers for Covid-19 in Sedgwick County continue to rise. Since my last e-mail, the City of Wichita is requiring masks in all businesses until at least August 11 and the Sedgwick County Health Officer wrote an executive order requiring masks in all of Sedgwick County and limiting groups to 45 or less through at least August 9. Churches are of course exempt, but we see no reason to not follow the county’s recommendations.


In our conversations, the task force has set a metric as to what level of risk we think is appropriate for in person worship to resume. We do not anticipate zero percent positive cases in Sedgwick County any time soon. So, the task force has set a 7 day rolling average of positive cases in Sedgwick County at 4%. We think that is a reasonable number of cases and one that we can live with when the time comes, to having in person worship. The 14 day rolling average changes each day, but as I write this our rolling average is 11%.


I know that is not a perfect solution, but we feel that this will work for our congregation. Beginning Wednesday, the church will be sending out a recorded devotion that will come to your phone. It will be less than two minutes and a different staff member will be sharing each week. Our Virtual Vacation Bible School begins on Sunday and we are having a good response. Also on Sunday, July 19 we will have hosting a Zoom Fellowship Hour at 2:00 p.m. again hosted by a staff member, this week it will be Pastor Rebecca. 


In preparation for when we do re-open to in-person worship, our Hospitality Committee has scheduled two training sessions to update how we accommodate physical distancing and safety practices. Save the dates and watch for more information. July 29 at 3 p.m. and July 30 at 7 p.m. 


The staff continues to be creative as we participate in ministry in new ways. Please continue to pray for the church, for our health care workers and scientists as we live in this time of uncertainty. Please know I am praying for you.

Graced to Serve,

Pastor Cindy


(July 1)

Dear Friends,


I do not have much of an update since I wrote two weeks ago. While the re-opening task force had hoped to offer a date for having in person worship in early to mid July, the increase in numbers of positive cases of Covid-19 in Sedgwick County made us pause. We are choosing to meet weekly in order to monitor the numbers and to look ahead for a possible date to resume in person worship. The numbers is Sedgwick County are growing rapidly. Each day there are double digit increases in positive cases as well as a higher percentage overall. We want to do our best to be in ministry in this time and to keep you safe. As you are already aware, Governor Kelly is requiring masks beginning July 3. That does not change anything for us as we are already requiring masks in our building.


Some changes have been made increasing our building hours. Beginning Monday, July 6, our building hours will be Monday through Thursday, 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and Fridays, 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., closed on Saturday and Sunday (except for the livestream and live on KAKE TV worship.) We continue to ask that you call and make an appointment before you come to the church and we are requiring masks in the building. Please check in with our receptionist so we know who is in the building and where you will be. This enables our custodial staff to stay on top of the sanitizing each day.


We have our first in person event on Wednesday, July 1 from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. This event sponsored by our Family Ministries Team and our Religious Nurture Center will be outside of the Wilke Family Life Center. Outside we will keep to six feet social distancing and we encourage people to bring lawn chairs and masks are HIGHLY encouraged. There will be patriotic music, bingo (with sanitized cards) and a small fireworks display. Bottled water will be provided by volunteers in masks and gloves as well as pre-packed ice cream. The D building will be open for restrooms and in case someone needs to cool off. 


July 1, we will also continue our Wednesday drive thru donation collections. For the month of July, we will collect toilet paper for Open Door. Volunteers with masks and gloves will be available to receive your donations from 1:30-3:30 p.m. each Wednesday of July at the AB entrance. 


We are taking baby steps in order to find ways for us to connect in person as well as continuing to connect through our social media, Zoom and other online opportunities. When you receive the July First Light you will notice some new class opportunities and we will continue to offer new ways for us to be in ministry and mission together.


I invite you to continue to pray for the re-opening task force, for government officials, for our health care providers and scientists as we face the uncertainty of the path ahead. Each evening I am praying at 7:30 and I invite you to continue to do so with the prayer our pray team has written for us.


Dear God our Father,We, your children, do not understand the dilemmas of life during these challenging days and months. We ask for your clarity. Lord, show us the Way. Longing to do your Will and be the Church in this time, we seek your direction. Lord, show us the Way. There are so many needs and concerns to consider as we strive to re-connect with each other. Equip us with everything good for doing your will. Lord, show us the Way. Open our hearts and minds to listen for your plan to renew our fellowship and keep us ALL safe. Lord, show us the Way. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.


Graced to Serve,

Pastor Cindy


(June 16)

Dear Friends,
The re-opening task force is working on a date for First Church to resume in person worship. The first worship experience will be a prayer vigil on Tuesday, June 23. Details are included below. I can not thank you enough for filling out the surveys which have helped us make the decisions necessary to go forward. Included below is a snapshot of the responses, 144 persons participated.

  • Do you consider yourself or someone in your home to be in one of the high-risk categories for COVID-19? 
  • Yes- 73%No- 27%
  • How strictly have you complied with the “Stay at Home” orders? 

Strictly (leaving only when absolutely essential)- 43%

Most of the time- 51%

Some of the time- 5%

Not at all (traveling freely)- 1%

  • What safety precautions would make you feel safe in returning to First Church? 

Restricting people who are sick or have known COVID-19 exposure

from entering the building – 74%

6 feet social distancing – 70%

Sanitizer stations- 72%

Everyone wearing face masks- 65%

Events held outside – 22%

Nothing. I don’t feel safe returning at this time -15%

  • What are you priorities about which activities we offer in-person first? (Rank with 1 being your first priority.) (Top 3 selections)

1. Downtown Alive 

2. Learning & support (small groups, Sunday school) 

3. Fellowship opportunities

  • When we resume in-person worship services, how important will the following measures be for you to have a sufficient comfort level? (Reported are the top 6 selected as important/very important)
  1. Sanitizer available at entrances/exits
  2. Greeters not shaking hands
  3. Surfaces wiped down between services
  4. Prop doors open to avoid touching handles
  5. No “stand and greet” during service
  6. Masks required for all attendees

When we resume in person worship, the task force wanted to share with you how the service will be different from when we last had worship in March. First: both the Heritage and the Downtown Alive service will be in the Sanctuary at their usual times. While many of us love the Chapel, creating social distancing in that space is very difficult. Second: there will be limited seating at each service. The balcony will be closed for the time being. We have 56 spaces on the ground level of the Sanctuary. Those spaces allow for six foot distancing between members of the congregation. The space in the Sanctuary is large enough that each “space” can hold one or two people or a family unit. 


We are creating a reservation system so that we know how many we have coming into the space prior to each worship service. That system will be shared in the coming weeks but will include online registrations and calling the church to reserve a space. You will need to let us know every person who will be attending with you. Family groups must sit together. For the time being there will be no Sunday School or nursery.When we come back to worship, we are requiring all people to wear masks. The worship leaders will be wearing masks until it is time for them to lead worship. 


There will be no congregational singing. While there are some new studies available, currently the guidelines from the Great Plains Conference and other denominational information, notes that singing can be more risky than other activities. We will be invited to “hum” any hymns we might have, and quietly whisper any liturgy. Any soloists or small groups will be singing from the choir loft or will be pre-recorded.


The Heritage service will maintain its liturgy with the exception of the sung responses. All hymnals, Bibles, pens and envelopes have been removed from the pews. Everything will be on the screen for liturgy. This maintains a cleaner and more sanitary environment.


Communion will be served in the pews with the bread pre-cut and served to each individual who has cupped their hands. The masked and gloved server will place the bread their hands. When all have received we will lift our masks and take the bread together. Likewise we will serve individual disposable cups and a masked and gloved server will place the cup in the hands of each individual.


There will no common seating at the Heritage or the Downtown Alive services. Different pews will be roped off and used for each service. The custodial staff will sanitize the Sanctuary and restrooms between services. We have not finished all the details, but we are in the planning stages of how we will be bringing people in the Sanctuary and how they will be exiting to provide for social distancing.


I know all of this seems overwhelming, but the staff and re-opening task force to be sure no unnecessary risks are taken with our members and guests. As more information is available, we may be able to reduce some of our pre-cautions. Until then, we will continue to find ways to connect as a community of faith. 


We will still be offering Downtown Alive through KAKE-TV, through our online streaming and through Facebook Live. These avenues have provided us with a broader reach than ever before.


On Tuesday, June 23, there will be a prayer vigil in the Sanctuary from 11:30-1:30. The vigil will have limited spaces and you can find the information on our website. If you would like to come into the Sanctuary to pray, please call the church, 316-267-6244, to reserve a space. Our prayer team has also invited the congregation to be in prayer every evening at 7:30 using the prayer below, developed as we begin the process of re-opening. I thank for your prayers as we continue to find new ways to be in ministry to all.


Dear God our Father,We, your children, do not understand the dilemmas of life during these challenging days and months. We ask for your clarity. Lord, show us the Way. Longing to do your Will and be the Church in this time, we seek your direction. Lord, show us the Way. There are so many needs and concerns to consider as we strive to re-connect with each other. Equip us with everything good for doing your will. Lord, show us the Way. Open our hearts and minds to listen for your plan to renew our fellowship and keep us ALL safe. Lord, show us the Way. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.


Graced to Serve,

Pastor Cindy


(June 8)

Dear Friends, 

Beginning Monday, June 8, the church will be open for small groups of people, 20 or less, during building hours. The building hours are now Monday through Thursday, 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. We are still keeping the building closed on Fridays and Saturdays and no in person services or classes on Sundays. The re-opening task force begins this re-opening with leadership from Building Supervisor, Noah Naughton. He wanted an opportunity to work with his staff with smaller groups as they begin to implement the new policies and procedures he has created to keep our building disinfected.


We continue to require face coverings or masks upon entering the building and walking through the hallways. Some of our classrooms have been measured so we can know how many people each can hold, maintaining a six foot distance between each person. With that distance, people may take off their masks when speaking so all can hear and virus spread is minimized.


We encourage groups already meeting by Zoom to continue to do so for the time being. The task force meets again on Wednesday and we will see what the new recommendations from the County Commission are for group sizes. You may know that the County Health Officer is recommending staying in phase two through July 3. https://www.kake.com/story/42216528/health-officer-recommends-sedgwick-co-remain-in-phase-2-of-covid-recovery
That would mean groups of 20 or less and then increasing to groups of 45 or less. We continue to study the implications of worshipping together and perhaps changing worship to no congregational singing. As we make decisions, we will continue to update you through the e-news and posting on our Facebook page and our website.


If you have not yet taken our survey, there is still time. We would like to have all surveys completed by Tuesday, June 9 at the end of the business day. If you have taken the survey thank you. We are looking closely at your responses as we continue our process of opening as safely as possible with no unnecessary risk.


Finally, you will find the beginnings of our covenant of care. This document will guide us as we begin to phase into being together in person. It is not yet finished but this portion shares the expectations for those coming to the building for meetings or small groups.


I continue to pray for you and for all the front line workers and the scientists and health officials working for a treatment plan and vaccine.

Graced to Serve,

Pastor Cindy

COVENANT OF CARE

We, the community of faith at First United Methodist Church of Wichita have for 150 years worked to be a place where we “change lives and transform communities.” Our welcoming statement says in part that we “will live out the love of Jesus Christ by including everyone, accepting others for who they are, treating others the way we would want to be treated, respecting all, loving all.”
As a part of loving our community, not just our members, but our guests and visitors, we hereby covenant one with another to continue the fight against coronavirus-19 even as we open our buildings for public worship, learning, and use.

  • We covenant not to attend any activities in our church building if we are sick or believe we have been exposed to someone who is sick.
  • We covenant to wash/disinfect our hands immediately upon entering our building, using the soap/disinfectant for the time it takes to pray the Lord’s Prayer.
  • We covenant not to hug or shake hands when we are with others on church campus.
  • We covenant to remain at least 6 feet apart from people with whom we are not sheltered-at-home.
  • We covenant to wear face coverings to protect others in case we are sick but not showing symptoms.

What that means “practically” is that we will wear face coverings upon entering the building and in the hallways. If we are alone in an office or classroom a face covering is not required. If in a meeting or small group, six feet of distance is required, and face coverings are preferred for extended periods of time.
All members, visitors and guests will be required to “sign-in” by telling the receptionist your name. Face masks are available at the receptionist’s desk.
No food may be shared at this time. You may bring your own lunch if you are in the building for an extended period of time. Gatherings will not be allowed to serve any food or drink until such time that the guidelines are changed.
As we continue to phase in to occupying our buildings, guidelines will be updated as we care for one another.


(May 26)

Dear Friends, 

Our re-opening task force continues to meet and have approved a survey that will be distributed through our e-news, website, and our Facebook page. Paper copies will be mailed along with the tv bulletin this week and to any one who requests a paper copy. This survey will give us a better understanding as to where we are as a congregation. Please complete the survey by June 8.

The CDC has created a document for churches in terms of re-opening their building. It includes recommendations for social distancing, face masks, hand washing/sanitizing stations as well as recommendations on singing, communion, etc. You can find that information at this link. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/index.html 

The Task Force has read and continues to read all the updated information from our state and local government as well as our annual conference. The bottom line is that we continue to want to do what is best for our congregation, our visitors, our guests and our staff. Over the weekend there were news articles about a church in Germany that practiced social distancing and still spread COVID-19. We will continue to monitor how to be in ministry with all of you and with all those we are reaching, in a way that is hopeful, helpful and deeply spiritual. With that in mind, the task force has encouraged us to begin requiring face masks for those who come to the building. Beginning Tuesday, May 26, all persons entering the building will be required to wear a face covering or mask. The task force felt this action is non-negotiable at this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state continues to phase in re-opening and while not every business is requiring face masks, many are. As you know, a good portion of our congregation is in the high risk and vulnerable population, including some of our staff. When you enter the building, if you do not have a face mask, disposal masks will be available for use at the receptionist desk. If you are unwilling to wear one, then you will be asked to leave the building. This is not out of meanness or stubbornness on the part of the task force, but out of great care for each one of our staff, our members and any visitors. 

John Wesley gave us three general rules and the first one is to do “no harm.” One of the easiest ways to do so, is to wear a mask. This protects others from us if we are asymptomatic and it models the care we have for one another in Christ. “Love on another,” Jesus commanded us and during this time that act of love includes wearing a mask. Like many of you, I miss being together. I miss the singing, the praying, the hugging and hand shaking and sharing meals and sacraments. I know we will be able to share those things again sometime in the future. Until then, I continue to pray for all those scientists and health professionals on the front lines offering what they can to alleviate the symptoms of this illness and to work for a vaccine or treatment.

I pray for you as we navigate this new way of being the church. Please take the time to answer our survey. The task force will meet again on June 3 and you will have until June 8 to complete the survey. May God continue to bless you and surround you with love and grace. 

Pastor Cindy 


(May 19)

Dear Friends,


The staff and leadership of First United Methodist Church continue to monitor all the information around COVID 19 and Governor Kelly’s phased re-opening plan. On May 4, the Church Council met via Zoom to begin to discuss how we will implement a re-opening plan for First Church. A task force was formed which includes: Steve Rogers, Church Council Chair; Jolynn Campbell, Trustees Chair; Linda Hopper, Senior Saints; Donna Fisher, Hospitality; Mary Herrin, Hospitality; Joseph Schumock, Family Ministries; Diane Elder, Staff Pastor Parish; Noah Naughton, Facility Manager, Chy Billings III, Director of Music, Brad Remington, Director of Family Ministries and myself. We met for the first time last Wednesday after reviewing several guidelines for re-opening from the Great Plains Annual Conference, other conferences and churches, as well as the State of Kansas guidelines. Earlier that day, some task force members were also able to attend a webinar on re-opening United Methodist churches. The discussion was thoughtful and measured and hopeful even though the restrictions that will be necessary once we do re-open to small groups and worship can be overwhelming. 


The task force will meet again this week and begin working on more specific recommendations. The group did however, come up with two preliminary items that will affect us through June.


The first recommendation: To continue what we have been doing with NO in person worship through the month of June.

Our Church Council Chair, Steve Rogers wrote the following:

“The task force felt this journey & each decision on how and when we will walk the halls of First Church together again face-to-face, should be slow and full of care for one another. That we should extend and frame this process with a spiritual sense of allowing each other a “Grace to Wait”, as supported by John Wesley’s general rule to “Do no harm”.We will continue to be the church, open and alive downtown, doing what we do well: our ministry of offering to the community and our members our weekly DTA TV worship service on Sunday mornings and also the Gathering as an online worship community. Each has become a vital life-line and ministry to our community as many churches curtailed their in-person Sunday worship.” 


We know, through our tracking, that our online presence has significantly grown as well as our television viewership. We celebrate that we are worshipping together, even though we are in separate places, we are together in the Holy Spirit. I have been received dozens of letters, e-mails and messages each week with an appreciation for how we are connecting through Downtown Alive, from people across this state, nation and world. 
The church has never been “closed,” only the building is being restricted in terms of usage. Several of our Sunday School classes, committees and small groups as well as our children and youth ministries are using Zoom successfully to stay connected.


Next week, an online survey will be posted for everyone to share their comfort level for returning to the building for worship and small groups. The link will be shared through an e-news, our website and Facebook and the June “First Light”. There will also be paper copies available for those who want to use that medium to share their insights.


The responses to the survey will assist the task force in designing unique worship and/or small group experiences tied to our building use, while practicing the latest safety recommendations by the CDC and social distancing with masks, disinfectants and hand-sanitizers as our staple ingredients. Your input is essential in helping us put together a plan where we keep our members, guests and staff as safe as possible, without unnecessary risk.


The second recommendation from the task force is not allowing large outside groups in the building. As we continue to work through the protocols for the resuming of our own activities, it made no sense to allow other groups to be in our building without the protocols in place.


Thank you, for your prayers, your understandings and your faithfulness to the reign of God as experienced through the ministry and mission of First United Methodist Church.

Graced to serve,
Cindy


(May 4 Update)

The last few weeks have been difficult for all of us as we live into a time of self isolation, social distancing and stay at home orders. While some businesses and other organizations will move toward re-opening, Bishop Saenz is encouraging churches to continue only online worship and meetings for the time being. Particularly for churches that worship over 50, we will need to have in place some strict protocols in order for everyone to stay healthy and safe. Here is how Bishop Saenz put it:

Social-gathering sizes guidelines, which include church gatherings, will gradually increase in phases over several months beginning May 4 for Kansas. Gathering-size restrictions, safe-distancing guidelines, and sanitation recommendations will impact our larger congregations more than our smaller ones. For now, churches with an average worship attendance of more than 50 should continue to hold online worship services and record from home or the sanctuary with a small group of people. If a church chooses to have multiple services, several preparations must be made. There must be a plan for managing the number of people per service and a plan to safeguard contact behaviors and rituals (seating, communion, baptism, passing offering plates, singing, fellowship, passing the peace, after-church receiving lines, handing out bulletins, etc.). Churches that choose to gather must provide personal protection equipment such as gloves, masks and hand sanitizer, and disinfect surfaces between services. A plan should carefully consider the safety of children in nursery care, and there should be a plan for informing the congregation about the scheduling of different worship times, restrictions, and expectations. 

You can find the full document here. There are other documents outlining practical ways for churches to meet but many require no one over the age of 60 or with underlying health issues in the building, including staff. They recommend every greeter and usher be gloved and masked and people to be escorted in and out of the sanctuary. The Great Plains website has that information out lined for us. https://www.greatplainsumc.org/coronavirus

I am deeply committed to the health and well-being of our congregation. While I applaud the extra precaution, some of the precautions feel unwieldy and unwelcoming for most people. Church Council and other committees will be having in depth conversations about how we begin and continue to offer our ministry within the walls of the church as well as continue our ministry outside our walls. When we do meet again in person, we will need to have in place extra precautions to honor and protect our most vulnerable. The bishop states it like this:

There will come a time when all gathering-size restrictions are lifted. However, we must anticipate that our lives and timelines will be shaped for at least the next year by the behavior of COVID-19. If at any time within a recovery stage COVID-19 cases significantly rise, a reversal to the previous step may be necessary. When we do meet, we will practice public safety recommendations for safe distancing, disinfecting spaces, and for other contact behaviors particular to the church-gathering experience. The directed health measures we take are meant to ensure the safety of our congregations, especially our older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions who might be at higher risk. I do not want to increase fear, but gathering in closed quarters, singing, our contact rituals, and decreased ventilation in our gathering spaces creates a ripe environment for viral transmission. I strongly urge you to err on the side of caution. To gather in person or not for worship at this time is not a matter of faith vs. faithlessness, or about some conspiracy to suppress Christianity; this is about honoring and doing our part individually and collectively to protect God’s sacred gift of life, especially for the most vulnerable in our communities and our world. 

The staff and leadership of First Church are choosing to err on the side of caution and continue to NOT have in person worship and meetings through the month of May. I am sure by mid-May we will know more and have a better idea of how to move forward. We are still worshipping together through KAKE-TV and our online streaming and at 5:00 p.m. with the Gathering through Facebook Live. I know it is not the same, but it is gift for us to continue in our spiritual walk together. Some Sunday School classes, small groups and committees are meeting by Zoom and doing so successfully. There may be things we have learned from this and that we choose to keep.


I will continue to keep you updated as more information becomes available. Please continue praying for our ministry in our 150th year, for the staff and each other. We are a community of faith that is committed to changing lives by transforming communities. May we be committed to finding new ways to do so.


Graced to serve,
Cindy


(April 15 Update)

Dear Friends,

Governor Kelly has extended the stay at home ban until midnight May 3. She is working in conjunction with the Kansas City metro area and the governor of Missouri. She is also working with the Governor of Colorado. The peak may occur as early as April 29 but they are looking for a fourteen day period where cases and deaths go down. The long term view is that hopefully they will be able to slowly open up businesses and begin to get people back to work. According to the Governor, mass gatherings will probably be a much longer time period.

I don’t know what that means exactly, but I do know we will not have in person worship at least through the first Sunday of May. I honestly expect Sedgwick County to go beyond that because the cases continue to rise in our county. We will continue to monitor and adjust as necessary. When it is safe for us to be back together in our building we will do so. We are already considering what new measures we will need to take in order for us to safely gather.

Now, I have learned today that there seems to be some confusion around our worship service Downtown Alive on KAKE TV at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. We will be televising on KAKE TV for the foreseeable future. There is no plan to stop televising at the end of April. We are in a multi-year contract with KAKE and this outreach has been such a blessing for so many across Wichita and the state of Kansas. Particularly at this time, our television congregation has expanded and I receive multiple e-mails and letters each week from people who can not attend their local congregation and are so grateful we are on television.

Many wonderful things continue to happen even though we are not present in the building. The church is not a building, it is the community of believers bound together through love and faith. God is at work through First UMC and is reaching out in many ways. Our children and youth are meeting, we have Sunday School classes and small groups that continue to meet all through the gift of the internet. We are praying for one another, calling one another and trusting that God is with us now and always.

So we will continue to stay home and stay safe. I am praying for each one of you.

Pastor Cindy

Ways you can help: At this time, more than ever, non-profit organizations in our community are in need of our assistance. Here are a few opportunities to help.

Amazon wishlist of needsmonetary donations

Watch their Facebook page for updates, monetary donations


(March 24, 2020)

Dear Friends,


I am praying for you, for our health care workers, our social services working with our most vulnerable, the grocery store workers and all those who are trying so hard to work with those panicked by our current situation. I am praying for scientists and our leaders locally, nationally and internationally. I am grateful that the person who potentially exposed me and some others, from a mission trip I had been on, tested negative for COVID-19.


Sedgwick County just issued a stay-at-home order, beginning tomorrow, for the next thirty days. The staff and I had anticipated this happening and while religious leaders and employees are exempt, we plan to support and live by the spirit of law. The building hours are being adjusted to 9:00 to 5:00 Monday through Thursday. If there is a real need for you to be here, we ask that you call and make an appointment. All the staff are available by phone and e-mail.


Most of the staff will be working from home, myself included. We will have very limited staff in the building at any time. The phone will be answered and on Friday (when the building is closed), our First Impressions Receptionist will be checking periodically from home for any phone messages. The business office will be processing checks and paying bills, and our custodial staff will continue cleaning and doing some long term deferred maintenance since there will not be people in the building. The D building has been locked and is closed off for the time being.


We will be worshipping live each Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m. with just the persons necessary to ensure we can broadcast a meaningful service, not only to our members, but also across 2/3 of the state of Kansas. We will continue worshipping this way through the end of April. We believe this is an essential ministry we offer and have been offering for over 40 years. We have received more letters in the last two weeks from persons who do not have internet access and are at home. I am deeply grateful for those leaders who believed in this ministry. 


As you might understand, our 150th celebration kickoff on April 19 has been postponed, as is the “Free” Reunion for June. The “First Light” will look a little different for April, but we hope to share some good ideas for staying connected. Depending on how things change, our plan is to be back in worship together and resume all our activities in May. I invite you to continue to pray with me, reach out and connect with the staff and your friends and family.


Please consider keeping up your giving not only to First Church but any other charitable organization. In times like these, we all will be working to continue in ministry with limited funds available. All of us together, make a difference in our world.


Friday, I will send an e-news with information about Sunday’s worship. Thank you for all you are doing to keep our community safe, and keeping yourself healthy.

Praying for you and with you, as I am graced to serve

Pastor Cindy


Here is what we can do:

  • Pray: for those affected by this virus, the ones who are ill, their families, the medical professionals who are treating them
  • Check on your friends and neighbors. Many are self isolating and restricting their time with groups of people. Call, send a card, connect through the internet, let them know you love them and care for them.
  • Consider ways to show your appreciation to our medical community. They will be working long hours and we can bless them through small acts of kindness and appreciation.
  • Keep yourself healthy. If you are sick, stay home. Wash your hands, do everything in your power to keep yourself and others safe and well.


COVID-19 Statement

Greetings First Church family,


I want to acknowledge that we are in a time of great concern over the novel coronavirus COVID-19. While, Kansas has not yet seen a great number of cases, the number of people infected across the world and our nation continues to rise. I want to assure you, we take the well-being of our congregation, staff and visitors to our church facility very seriously. In the event there is coronavirus outbreak in our community, we will implement any actions/plans recommended by the Sedgwick County Health Department and/or CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention).

Current actions to prevent the spread of illness include:

  • Our facilities are regularly cleaned and sanitized by our facilities staff.
  • In addition to our hand sanitation stations outside the Sanctuary and the Wilke Family Life Center, we are in the process of adding additional hand sanitation stations throughout our buildings.
  • Our staff and volunteers will wash their hands frequently and stay home if they are sick.
  • During Holy Communion, all servers will use hand sanitizer before serving the elements.
  • At this time, when greeting one another, we encourage you to smile, wave or bump elbows. Our staff and volunteers will still greet you warmly, just not shake your hand.

You can help by following the guidelines from the Health Department and the CDC:

  • Stay home when you or your family members are sick, and worship with us at 11:00 on KAKE TV or online at firstwichita.org
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • Carry your own hand sanitizer so you can use it as often as you wish.
  • If a major outbreak occurs in Wichita, we will invite you to join us on KAKE TV or online for worship.

We are taking this seriously, monitoring the information and developing plans to do what we can to minimize the spread of illness through our programs and worship, and determining what role we will play in helping others. Even as we take this seriously, I want to remind you, at the time I wrote this, there are only 1,100 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus in the United States and 30 deaths. Of those who contract the virus, 96% recover. Meanwhile this flu season, 12,000 people have died, and the pediatric rate is the highest in a decade. I mention that not to minimize the concern, but to put the number of deaths by the COVID-19 virus in perspective. We want to respond appropriately and not react in fear. 
We want our church family to be prepared for this virus should it strike Wichita and to do our part to minimize its spread, to support health care workers and to care for those affected by it. We will provide updates as necessary.

Graced to Serve,

Pastor Cindy