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When Can We Meet in Person Again?

by Rev. John Weston, SUMC Senior Pastor on March 17, 2021

We are not approved for more than 25 people to be on campus indoors at any one time. The Reopening Team (Brett Hall, Des Hall, Chris Wyatt, Shelli Walker, Grant Bosshardt, Shyrl Kinert, Pastor David Snapper, Kathy Coser, and myself) submitted a formal request for permission to host Sunday worship indoors with groups of up to 80 in our gym at the beginning of this month, but that request was denied. We were granted permission for Phase 2.1 by the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area's standards outlined in a document entitled “Reimagining Life Together,” which allows for any church's building, regardless of how large their capacity is, to be approved for up to 25 gathering in-person meetings. If you have a sanctuary or auditorium that can accommodate 1000 people, you are still limited to 25 people compared to the Washington State guidelines which would allow the same facility to host 200. Our limitation is not Kitsap County or the State of Washington; it's regional United Methodist leadership. We are trying to honor the authority God has placed over us. (1 Samuel 26:23 (NLT) [David addressing King Saul] The LORD gives his own reward for doing good and for being loyal, and I refused to kill you even when the LORD placed you in my power, for you are the LORD's anointed one.) SUMC's campus remains closed to the general public.

Technology Needs

Behind the scenes, our technology team consisting of Brett Hall, the Weston family, Shelli Walker, Cindy Keen, and Blake Hall, has been working to improve our streaming capabilities and to provide sound support for praise band recording sessions as well as the weekly worship stream, and outdoor events like the two drive-in services last August and Live Nativity in December. We need a lot more help in all areas if we are to move forward and continue streaming live worship when we finally do meet in person:

  • Sound techs operate a sound mixer and make adjustments during both recording sessions and, eventually, live in-person events.

  • Video techs operate remote-control cameras through Wirecast, and switch between multiple camera shots to produce video that is streamed or put up on the big screen for attendees to see.

  • Slide operators run EasyWorship, our specialized worship presentation software which provides lyric overlays for praise band video as well as sermon slide overlays for the preached word.

  • Facebook hosts are online during a worship stream and interact with people watching and help them through technical difficulties.

  • Zoom hosts run the Facebook Live stream through Zoom so telephone participants without computer devices can hear the audio through their handset.

Brett, Jennifer, and I are putting the system together. We just need people who can be trained to operate it. Please ask the Lord to send the right people! Maybe even you.

Scheduling Small Groups

Now that we are permitted to have small groups meeting in the facility, we begin the process of scheduling. Groups will need to keep their meetings on schedule to allow other groups their turn. We are staggering meetings so that there will be no overlap and hallway congestion with over 25 people. Everyone will be required to wear a mask, temperature-checked, and asked basic questions about their health and potential exposure to Covid-19 before entering the building. Anyone failing the check will be asked to come back another time. Small group leaders are expected to keep an attendance record shared with office staff in case an outbreak occurs. Young adults met at the courtyard firepit Monday night. Youth group will meet in the gym Sunday evening. Other groups who wish to meet on campus should contact the office to get the process started.

Constantly Shifting Circumstances

We currently have no plans for outdoor worship for Palm Sunday or Easter. We were hopeful that our indoor worship plan would be approved. Since it has not been we will continue to worship online into April. The stage has been set up in the Gym/Great Hall and our new streaming cameras have been mounted—to tear that all down and figure out an outdoor set-up for Easter that is weather-proof in less than three weeks is beyond the size and strength of our team. We are looking at the possibility of a hybrid drive-in service for the spring and summer since we are permitted to have up to 50 people sitting outdoors 12 feet apart singing for worship, plus guests who would agree to stay in their cars for the duration. But if GNWUMC restrictions are lifted, then our outdoor plan would be scuttled in favor of the indoor. Do you see how complicated this is?

Pray for Bishop Elaine Stanovsky and D. S. Mark Galang. They have incredibly difficult jobs. Bishop Elaine will be stepping down from her position to retirement at the end of this year. One of our other district superintendents will be stepping down early from his post and leaving church ministry for a while. This is taking a toll on them just like us. Ask God to send the Spirit of Wisdom to fill her with hope and discernment to allow churches to reopen in accordance with local and state guidelines. Must we be the last churches in the world to reopen from Covid? Lord, hear our prayer!

Amen.

Deuteronomy 34:9 (NLT) Now Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did everything just as the LORD had commanded Moses.

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