Our Plan for a Safe Return to Worship

May 26, 2020

Dear Hope family and friends,

Greetings in the name of Jesus who conquered every suffering and trial of this life for us and gives us eternal life in heaven to look forward to. You have been in my daily prayers during this trying time. Know that our Savior will see us through, bless us and accomplish his kingdom work.
I am writing to you on behalf of the church council to inform you that we have developed a procedure for reopening for in-person worship at Hope. What has prompted us to make such plans? First, when we discontinued in-person worship, we did so in following the recommendation of our governor to flatten the curve, and so that the healthcare system would not be overwhelmed. Both have been accomplished. Secondly, a recent executive order from Governor Whitmer explicitly stated the following: Nothing in this order should be taken to supersede another executive order or directive that is in effect, except to the extent this order imposes more stringent limitations on in-person work, activities, and interactions. Consistent with prior guidance, neither a place of religious worship nor its owner is subject to penalty under section 20 of this order for allowing religious worship at such place. No individual is subject to penalty under section 20 of this order for engaging in or traveling to engage in religious worship at a place of religious worship, or for violating section 15(a) of this order. (Executive Order 2020-77, paragraph 16; May 7, 2020 – https://www.michigan.gov/…/0,9309,7-387… )

The underlined portion was an addition to what had already been in place in several previous executive orders. Section 15(a) that is referred to deals with the face mask requirements. Those gathering for worship are not required to wear face masks.

Considering these things, and the desire expressed by many to resume in-person worship, we have developed a plan to do that as safely as we can. We are not motivated by fear or panic. We will take these precautions trusting in our God, who desires that we gather together around the means of grace, the gospel in his Word and Sacraments. Please know that if you are not comfortable gathering currently, continue to connect to the means of grace online or by service recordings. We will continue to livestream worship and mail recordings. Pastor will continue to make himself available by appointment for private communion, at church or in homes.

Please know that all these decisions have been discussed, thought out and prayed upon. A committee was formed to develop a plan. That plan was recommended to council, who adopted the plan as outlined below. The leaders of your congregation have wrestled mightily with all these things. We understand that people have different thoughts on this issue and are taking varied courses of action. As we deal with one another, let us remember to treat each other in Christian kindness, love, and patience. I have met with all the pastors in our circuit on this matter also. All the WELS churches in Saginaw County are open or planning to open within the next few weeks (along with churches of other denominations).
The church council has decided to resume in-person worship on Sunday, June 7 at 9:00am. We will also offer services on Monday evenings at 7:00p, beginning June 8.

To that end, we will put the following protocol in place. Understand that we will adapt as necessary, both as we receive new information about Covid-19, and as we refine things once we start gathering. Please look it over so that you will know what you can expect when you come to worship as we try to do that as safely as possible.

  • We will use printed order of worship with everything needed in it. Members can bring their own hymnals and bibles if desired, since we will remove the hymnals and bibles from the pews. Hymnals will continue to be available if you would like to borrow one during this time. If they would like, worshipers can also use their phones/tablets to pull up the order of service that will be posted.
  • We will ask for volunteers to remain after each service to clean the pews and other frequently touched surfaces using a checklist.
  • We will have a designated “Communion Registrar” who will check in communicants, so that multiple people will not be required to touch a single pen.
  • Pastor will evaluate and change as needed his placement for greeting after the service.
  • Members will be encouraged to stay home if they are uncomfortable with physical attendance, if they are ill, or just do not feel well. We also encourage our members that have compromised health to remain at home.
  • We ask worshipers to make the best decisions they can using the government’s social distancing guidelines. We will sit every other pew in the sanctuary. While family groups can sit together, we are asking others to keep social distance whenever possible, and to be sensitive that even if you are not concerned, your brother or sister in Christ may be. Because at times it may be difficult to strictly adhere to the 6-foot rule, people can feel free to move to another area as they see fit. The fellowship hall will be set up for an additional seating area with the service projected on a screen as another option to gather for worship besides the sanctuary.
  • Wearing a mask is not mandatory. Worshipers can wear one if they would like to. Out of an abundance of caution, for the time being Pastor will choose to wear a mask greeting people before and after worship, and during the distribution of the Lord’s Supper.
  • The offering plates will be placed at the back of church rather than passing the plate. We ask members NOT to seal their envelopes.
  • The fans will be turned OFF during the service.
  • The security person will open the doors for entry and leave the doors open for departure.
  • Cry-room and the drinking fountain will remain open. Members may use it at their discretion.
  • We will monitor emerging research on singing and virus transmission.
  • As always, hand sanitizer will be available in multiple locations.
  • We will look to use the pavilion for open-air worship as much as possible, weather permitting. Keep this in mind when you come to church. You may want to keep a chair and/or a jacket handy in case!
  • Communion will be done with contact precautions as it has been. Pastor will do the distribution alone. He will sanitize and wear mask and gloves. He will drop the wafer into the open palms of communicants. There will be no common cup at this time. Individual cups will be handed to communicants by Pastor. Communicants will stand instead of kneeling, spread out in front of the communion rail.

Also this Sunday, May 31, will be confirmation for our 8th graders, and we are asking that the service only be attended the immediate families and grandparents of the confirmands. This is simply because there are some at-risk family members of the confirmands. To take extra precautions out of love for them, we are trying to limit the number of people in attendance. We will still be recording and livestreaming the confirmation service so that our Hope family and friends can join in thanking God for his work in these young people and welcome them in our midst.

God bless and keep you and your families in his gracious care,

Pastor Baldwin