On a personal note, Alynette and I have been feeling better and are still recovering from COVID-19 at home. We thank you all for your prayers, calls, texts and well wishes. At this time, we have been quarantined for over 2 weeks, so today we went to get retested hoping that we were clear of the virus. Unfortunately, my test already came back as still positive which means another 2 weeks of full quarantine and we fully expect Alynette’s to be positive as well. To say that we are disappointed would be an understatement, as we were hoping to be able to put this difficult chapter behind us and move on. At this time, we have no choice but to continue to keep everyone safe by staying at home. We look forward to being retested later this month. Please keep us in your prayers and we will keep you in ours.
I have to tell you that I miss you terribly. I miss being able to worship with you, I miss catching up with you every week, I miss talking at Holy Grounds as we share a coffee, I miss singing and praising God together in our Spirit-filled worship spaces, I miss the children coming up for children’s moments and I miss seeing people at the altar praying for one another. This situation continues to prove to be a marathon and not a sprint. Please know that as your pastoral leadership, Pastor Jose and I are committed to coming up with the safest possible way for us to resume in person worship at the church. To that end, Skyland United Methodist Church has formed a “Health and Wellness Task Force” in response to the recommendation of our North Georgia Conference Bishop and Cabinet to address the preparation and execution of plans to reopen our church for worship. While COVID-19 continues to present a risk to our members, staff, renters, visitors and community at large, and we can never completely eliminate the risk, we want to prayerfully and thoughtfully offer hope to our church community and think through how we can gather together again in our church building in the safest way possible.
The task force is focusing on the five areas of our church most responsible for considering the people, places, and things most impacted by reopening. These five areas, and the people selected to represent each area, include:
- Pastoral Care/Worship – Miguel Velez (Senior Pastor) and Jose Rodriguez (Associate Pastor)
- Member Support and Communication – Jim Pirkle (Administrative Council Chair) and Will Morgan (Lay Leader)
- Worship Services – Yvonne Norman and Cathy Wages (Worship Committee Co-Chairs)
- Building and Grounds – Matt Hurd (Trustee Chair) and Austin Flanagan (Trustee Vice Chair)
- Church Operations/Staff – Eleanor Flanagan (Business Administrator) and Sheila Sheffler de la Cruz (Staff, Pastor-Parish Relations Chair)
These are some of the questions the group members have been considering in devising plans for in-person worship:
- How many people can our worship space hold if we are worshiping in family groups six feet apart 360 degrees?
- How will we cap attendance at events so we do not go over gathering limits?
- What should be done with small groups who have shifted to meeting online? How might we continue these when in-person worship resumes?
- How will we maintain online streaming and how will that need to adjust when there is also in-person worship happening?
- How will we ensure sanitation and disinfection with regard to communal spaces? Pews, chairs, doorknobs, bathrooms, other areas that people touch when in the building?
- How will we update our building rental use agreements to reflect the new realities of COVID-19?
- If someone contracts COVID-19, how will we communicate with the congregation and others who may have come into contact with that individual while maintaining privacy and pastoral care?
- If someone who has been in our building contracts COVID-19, how will we do a more intensive learning process prior to its next use?
- How will we communicate our safety plan and best practices to the congregation?
As we move forward, please remember:
- This process must be covered in prayer for the healing of the sick, discernment for leadership, and patience for the body.
- This will take time. We can’t simply open our doors and go back to the way things were. As the Church, our first priority must be to care for one another, especially the most vulnerable.
- The process of re-entry will be data-driven and informed by many factors and sources including denominational guidance, department of health updates and the experience of other churches that have reopened. While we may be anxious to re-gather, we will seek to do so in ways that minimize risk, witness to our faithfulness in loving our neighbors, and show our consideration and concern for the most vulnerable among us.
Linked you will find a draft of a phased reopening plan over several months. Please know that this is a work in progress and we would like to receive your feedback and thoughts on our proposed plan. The finalized plan will be presented to the Administrative Council for approval, with the understanding that even an approved plan will need to be flexible to changing circumstances and new information that might become available. We want to thank you for your prayers for our leadership, your sustained financial support and your patience during this pandemic.
As you read this proposal, we encourage you to prayerfully consider any feedback and questions you might have and to send us your input. We want to hear from you. We in no way want anyone to feel that they need to resume in-person worship until they feel ready to do so. Our goal is to have a plan in place to be ready to safely move forward to worshiping together.
We look forward to hearing from you soon.
God bless you and keep you!
-By Rev. Dr. Miguel A. Velez, Senior Pastor and Dr. Jim Pirkle, Admin Chair