COVID Session Letter

June 17, 2020


Dear Derry Family and Friends,

We hope you are well, safe, and healthy in body, mind, and spirit. We know these past few months of sheltering-in-place have impacted each person differently, and we hope you have found the connections and support you need.

On March 12, 2020 — for many reasons, but mostly out of an abundance of caution and love — Session voted to close our campus and shift our congregational life online.

As a community, we have adapted well to the “new normal” of live stream worship and Zoom meetings and fellowship. We are grateful for your patience with the technology, for the mutual encouragement you have offered each other and the staff, and for your willingness to adapt to the changes thrust upon us in such a sudden manner.

As our community moves through the Yellow and into the Green Phase of reopening, we feel it is time to make several decisions about our worship, building use, and congregational life. Our Task Force has been meeting weekly to discuss the theology, safety, and practicality of these decisions. We also have heard from other churches in our area and around the country and have taken advice from Carlisle Presbytery and the PC(USA) into consideration.  

Today we acted on the first set of recommendations from our Task Force, which are as follows.


Two weeks after Dauphin County moves into the Green Phase, Session will permit non-essential gatherings of 25 or fewer people in the church building and grounds, while following CDC and other government guidelines.
 

If small groups, fellowship groups, or committees would like to meet at the church, they will be able to after Dauphin County has been in the Green Phase for two weeks. Those meetings must take place either outside or in indoor spaces that can be ventilated and where groups can practice social distancing. Masks must be worn, and attendance must be turned in to Teresa Hutcheson in the church office. Rooms will be deep cleaned after each use and sanitizing supplies will be available. If you would like to schedule such a gathering, please contact the church office. 


Session has approved a detailed plan for implementing outdoor worship which will be available soon on this page.
 

Once Dauphin County has been in the Green Phase for three weeks, we will start by hosting a "test run" of an outdoor service on the front lawn for a small group of church officers. This timing will allow us to react to any spike in new cases or other changes in the weeks following our movement into the Green Phase. This test run will allow us to better understand spacing, logistics, sound, location, and other practicalities before we invite the congregation to gather for outdoor worship.

If all goes well, we will schedule four weeks of outdoor services on Tuesday evenings at 7:00. Attendance will be limited, and those who wish to attend must sign up in advance. The maximum number of worshipers will be determined following our initial trial worship. Those who wish to attend in person may sign up for one of the four services. If there are still spaces available on the day of a given service, anyone may sign up. After four weeks, we will evaluate outdoor worship and make any necessary changes before scheduling additional outdoor services.

Those who plan to attend will bring their own seating, remain at least six feet apart from anyone not in their household, and wear a mask. We will provide hand sanitizer. If someone forgets to bring their mask, we will have a few extra disposable masks. We will keep the service under an hour and have limited singing. More information about the services, including dates, will be posted on the church website.


Session has voted to continue livestream only worship on Sunday mornings through August.
 

This will allow the staff to continue to tailor worship to the livestream audience. Over the past few months, we have used many pre-recorded videos to maximize participation in the service, but we do not have the technology to allow everyone worshipping in the building to see the videos. Singing and congregational responses would also need to be limited if we had a group in the sanctuary. Under our current circumstances, trying to provide one worship service for both in-person and livestream audiences would result in serving neither audience well.

Livestream worship must be planned and prepared for far in advance. This plan provides worship leaders with the time and clarity to prepare meaningful Sunday services. As we continue to update our technology, we can provide meaningful at-home worship on Sunday mornings, even as we provide meaningful in-person outdoor worship on Tuesday evenings. We hope this approach reflects the time and care we have taken to hear the desires and concerns of our members, our staff, and our community and denominational leadership.

It is our goal not to make premature decisions or take risks with your health and safety. We hope this 3-point plan will alleviate some fatigue and offer some clarity; many of us are weary of day-by-day decision-making and waiting for news about each of the gathering places in our lives. We realize that it might feel like we are reopening too slowly; some businesses and other spaces are able to reopen sooner, but we know that traditional church services and similar events are higher-risk activities. We want to acknowledge all of those feelings and share that we expressed them in our discussions, too. No one wants to wait longer to be together. We did not come to this plan lightly; it was born of our church’s theology, identity, and mission and developed in consultation with recommendations from the PC(USA), Carlisle Presbytery, and medical professionals in our church.

We continue to be surprised and delighted by the Holy Spirit, who inspires us to be church despite the challenges we face. As we have proven in the last three months, we are a vibrant congregation well able to adapt and adjust to the unknowns of our time while remaining unchanged in our commitment to be an inquiring, inviting, and inclusive Christ-centered community that proclaims God’s word, shares God’s love, and practices God’s justice. 

We give thanks to God for all the ways Derry has shown patience, compassion, kindness, love, and community through this time. We continue to pray for God’s peace and protection for you all.

 

The Session of Derry Presbyterian Church