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.
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,
(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,
(April 15 Update)
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.
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.
(March 24, 2020)
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
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.
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,