An In-Person and Online Future
The staff and board have created a draft plan of how we welcome in-person participation in church programs, including worship. This plan is for your feedback, questions, concerns, and suggestions. This is a community process, and we want everyone to have lots of time to consider these matters. We are planning for a future where we have both online and in-person programs, including worship. We are planning for a future when we can hug – if both people want. Where we can see each other’s faces, hear each other’s voices, and be in each other’s presence – and where robust online options, safety measures, and other steps keep everyone connected and safe.
Our general principles remain:
Inclusivity and justice: We will not exclude people and will take special care that equity and anti-oppression are centered in our decision-making.
Safety: We will do our utmost to keep our people and the community safe. We will not contribute to community spread.
Community matters: We value our community and being together. As soon as it is safe to gather in an inclusive way, we will.
Pro-science: We support vaccination for those who are able to as scientific, reasonable, and loving decisions. You protect yourself and others. We believe that vaccines are effective and trust the scientists who have worked on them.
Here is our plan:
We are in Phase 4. Matthew will be 10 days past his second dose on Feb 22nd, and at that point in person pastoral care with other vaccinated people will begin in earnest. Beginning in March, small groups can choose to meet in person or stay online. We will always continue to have some online-only small groups. However, worship will remain an online only experience.
When three criteria are met, we will plan to begin hybrid worship – online and in-person – for six weeks following the ascertainment that the criteria are met. Those criteria are:
1. Illinois has entered or is clearly on track to enter, Phase 5 of the recovery plan.
2. On CovidActNow, Winnebago County’s Infection Rate and Test Positivity is “green.”
3. The vaccine is widely available to adults. Widely available means free to patients, at multiple accessible locations in the County, with a same-day appointment.
Once these criteria are met, we will select a Sunday, at least six weeks out from that date, to welcome in-person worshipers. The first Sunday may be an outside service, before moving inside the next week.
Assuming this date is in the summer, we will have outdoor-only children’s programs through at least Sept 5th. If the weather cooperates, children’s programs will be outside as long as possible. It is important to note that we cannot begin hybrid worship until we have enough RE volunteers to staff the program, including when Lauren and Lindsay are off. These volunteers cannot be anyone – they need to be able and willing to be out in the woods, on the grounds, being active with children during Summer Sundays. Vaccines are required for volunteers who work with children, for so long as children cannot be vaccinated. If you know you will be vaccinated by mid-summer and are ready and able to be a regular RE volunteer, please contact Lindsay.
Only people who have been vaccinated should volunteer as greeters, ushers, and hospitality hosts. Contact Chris if you are interested in these roles when we return.
We pledge that we will be transparent, responsive, and deliberate about how we go about this. Below is our beginning list of questions and answers. If you have a question, please ask – it will help us think through all the aspects of this process. You can email or call Matthew at email@example.com or 815-398-6322.
What about masks?
We will require all people to wear masks until Winnebago County reaches a “herd immunity” threshold of at least 70% of the total population vaccinated. (Staff may remove their masks when working in their own office, and Matthew and Tim will remove their masks when speaking or singing, with adequate distance.)
After we reach the 70% vaccination threshold, people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, or because they are children for whom the vaccine is not yet approved, should continue to wear masks. Other people are more than welcome, though not required, to wear masks, whether they’ve been vaccinated or not. People with any COVID or flu-like symptoms should worship online, and not in person. We may adjust these requirements based on CDC and IDPH guidance.
Will we require proof of vaccination?
We will only require proof of vaccination for RE volunteers. Hospitality volunteers should be vaccinated, but that, and our encouragement for everyone who is able to be vaccinated, is on the honor system. We did not feel it was appropriate for the church to ask or keep track of this information. However, if we find that we have a large number of unvaccinated people whose choice to not get a vaccine puts those who cannot get one for medical reasons at risk, we will reevaluate this. The Board and staff agree that you can be trusted to get your vaccine – please do so.
Why don’t we worship outside all summer?
Outside worship, though lovely on a mildly warm day, is not accessible. It is hard to make audio work well outside, it can be too hot for many people, and, if we are on the lawn, folks with mobility challenges cannot access it.
What happens if new variants or slow vaccine uptake changes things?
In all cases, we’ll follow the most conservative advice of the WCHD. That includes how we might respond to a new strain, to rising case numbers, or other measures.
What happens if we have an outbreak in the church?
If an outbreak occurs among our people (5 or more cases that may be linked), we will pivot immediately to online-only worship while we assess what happened and what steps we should take.
What happens if we can’t get enough RE volunteers?
If we cannot secure sufficient RE volunteers, we will have on-line worship only that week. Under no circumstances will we have in-person worship without an RE option.
What about singing?
When and how we begin to sing at worship is an open question. We await the science on this. It may be that we can begin to sing when we return, or it may be that we wait for a herd immunity threshold.
What if lots of non-vaccinated people are coming and putting folks at risk?
If we become concerned that a large number of unvaccinated persons is putting the health of those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons at risk, we may require vaccination (or proof of ineligibility) to attend. The Board will make this decision. Please, plan to get vaccinated if you can.
I know this is driven by metrics, not dates, but what’s your best guess for when we will start in-person worship again?
The key measure is when vaccine supply outstrips vaccine demand. Folks have been guessing that this happens in May, which means it is possible – but by no means for sure – that we will have an outdoor informal worship on July 4th and begin in person worship on July 11th. That’s a reasonable guess, but it could be a few weeks later or earlier, since some are now estimating that supply could outstrip demand as earlier, as production increases.
What about Staff who can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons?
Staff who are contraindicated for a vaccine because of a history of medication-related anaphylaxis or another similar reason will be offered a reasonable accommodation when possible, and in accord with our staff policies. That might mean limiting their exposure to crowds though shifts in duties (but not a reduction in hours), providing social distance space around their work area, or other measures. We will not generally disclose which staff are contraindicated for vaccination, and we strongly encourage congregation members not to pry into the medical status of employees. Staff who are not medically contraindicated may receive some accommodations, but there are no guarantees. They have chosen to take that risk.
How do I submit a question?
Email Matthew at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 815-398-6322.