RCPC During the Pandemic
Worldwide and Nationwide – The year 2020
The year 2020 had a profound and lasting effect nationally and globally. The Flu like virus would soon be known and referred to as the COVID-19 virus and first appeared in the United States in early 2020. The first human cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, subsequently named SARS-CoV-2 (or commonly referred to as COVID-19) were first reported by officials in Wuhan City, China, in December 2019.
The narrative you will read here seeks to record the effect of COVID-19 on the Raleigh Court Presbyterian Church Community during the year 2020 and early 2021. The RCPC Community cancelled, postponed, reflected, and responded in many ways during this time. The emotional, physical, and mental aspects of living through this global pandemic that claimed many lives both in the US (over 600,000 and over 3.5 million world-wide) as it spread cannot be understated.
Guidelines from both national (CDC) and state mandates guided how we went about our lives while three (3 pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. researched, tested, and created a vaccine for this deadly virus within a year’s time. NOTE: A development of this magnitude normally takes 3 to 5 years. Distribution of the vaccine in the U.S. started in November 2020 and was still ongoing as of June 2021 many in the United States have received the vaccine and are now able to resume more pre-COVID-19 interactions with others. Shipments of the vaccine to other countries occurred in early Spring 2021.
Much has been said and written in various places in the past year as to how life was lived during this pandemic but we of the Raleigh Court Presbyterian Church community can say that we continued in the RCPC Mission: To Seek Christ, Serve Christ, Show Christ and Know God Through Christ.
Initial – Notices, Responses
One of the earliest communications to the Raleigh Court Presbyterian Congregation (RCPC) was a Congregation wide email from our Senior Pastor/Head of Staff the Rev, Andrew C. Whaley outlining the CDC advisory and precautions for vulnerable portions of our population and how RCPC is responding with suggestions to RCPC congregants to act according to their personal situations and vulnerabilities.
RCPC Congregants were encouraged to engage in regular communication together over the coming weeks, spending time introducing themselves to each other, making sure that everyone had necessary food staples and household items.
Offer a morning or bedtime prayer, share prayer concerns, send a card, or note.
What was closed or limited access?
Just like the surrounding outside world many/most activities at or in the RCPC building were abruptly Cancelled or postponed and eventually cancelled.
Examples of cancelled events:
Worship services: Choirs(all), Scheduled Guest Choirs and other musical events.
All meetings hosted or housed in the church or grounds. Examples:
Session Deacons Boards Ministry team meetings Fellowship dinners Bible study Volunteer Front Desk Receptionists Pre-School, Boy Scouts etc.…
So How Did We Respond?
RCPC Staff and leadership initially responded by reaching out to reassure and offering support to the congregation in several ways.
Communication to congregants about what was happening, initial and ongoing efforts of support, forming community support groups.
First developing some community groups of people in our congregation you can spend some time getting to know as we are not able to gather in person. E-mails, text, phone calls, cards- ways to stay connected when we cannot be together.
The Staff explored, implemented, expanded ways to conduct worship, bible study, meetings, fellowship and maintain congregational connections keeping us all safe.
Congregational and Community Outreach offered support to assist with impacts on our congregants Financial and spiritual.
Requesting those who could continue their regular giving to support the life of RCPC.
Created a sidewalk prayer line.
Mission donated funds through our local mission partners.
Despite the pandemic restrictions RCPC members maintained or expanded and were generously embracing many “Opportunities for Generosity” such as: the South Sudan Water Project, the annual West End Center School Supply Drive, House of Bread, Roanoke Area Ministries (RAM), plus several others.
A Learning Curve
Live Streaming Worship became an important lifeline to RCPC congregants.
A new way the observe Communion: with Pre-packaged wafer& juice.
The expansion and refining the Sunday Morning service for at home worship of RCPC Congregants.
Recorded weekly Wednesday Reflections and posted online.
Instituted a Thursday evening prayer & music service.
The expanding exploration of online technologies to host a virtual Bible studies and meetings. Several groups/teams elected to meet outdoors in the parking lot (socially separated and masked as needed).Fellowship dinners outside in the parking lot occurred as well as midday outside “Lunch Under the Oaks”.Outdoor Wednesday 7AM Prayer and Communion service resumed with social distancing in the RCPC Columbarium with a brief break for cold.
The staff and RCPC technical support team continued to refine and add to the audio-visual equipment and enhance the delivery of the Sunday Morning Worship service for at home worship of RCPC Congregants.
Christmas at RCPC 2020
Alternative Giving Tree
West End Sock and Underwear Collection
Sudanese Refugee Gift Drive
An outdoor Pageant done by the God Alive Childre
A special evening prayer service offering space for the grief felt during the Christmas season acknowledging the collective grief carried in this year.
Christmas Eve Candlelight Service in the Parking Lot
Christmas Day On-Demand Service of Lessons and Carols on YouTube and Facebook.
Holy Week 2020
Maundy Thursday - RCPC congregants received an in-home Maundy Thursday worship guide. Included with the worship guide were a series of traditional Passover recipes, if you wished to incorporate those elements into your celebration. Communion was a part of this service, with a video link to a Great Prayer of Thanksgiving and the Words of Institution.
Good Friday - 7:30 PM on Friday Evening a live streamed worship service from the sanctuary, including the Passion narrative of Jesus' crucifixion, prayers, and special music.
Easter Day - Live streaming the worship service from the sanctuary on Easter at 11 AM celebrating the Lord's Resurrection.
Associate Pastor Search Committee -
Calling a New Associate Pastor
RCPC moved forward in the Spring of 2020 trusting the Spirit for guidance by forming an Associate Pastor Nominating Committee despite COVID-19 restrictions. The committee of 8 members APNC successfully searched a new associate pastor for RCPC in early August 2020, RCPC received exciting information from the APNC informing us of a candidate they were putting forward to be our next Associate Pastor. After an electronic congregational vote, the Associate Pastor candidate was approved by the congregation. Our new Associate Pastor Isabella Fagaini started at RCPC on August 24th, 2020.
Installation and Ordination
Online participation and limited in person service to ordain and install the new Associate Pastor Isabella Fagaini. A drive-by parking lot greeting was organized to welcome the new Associate.
Creation of a new ministry group: Conversations About Racial Equality (C.A.R.E)
Creation of a Lenten Devotional booklet with contributions from both current and past members.
Parking Lot Fellowship picnic dinners
Lunch under the Oaks
God Alive children meeting with Ms. Leigh for various outdoor activities.
Parking lot Bible studies & Bible studies hosted outdoors at various homes.
Creation and distribution of a Summer Devotional booklet
Wednesday 7AM Prayer and Communion in the Columbarium
Limited in person worship began in late June 2020 with initial capacity seating of 50 in the Sanctuary and 20 in the Chapel. Scripture, Hymns, and other portions of the service were projected onto the walls in the sanctuary chapel and gathering area (no use of bulletins, Bibles or Hymnals allowed). Masking and adherence to social distancing for safety with printed reminders in place for all to follow..
Resumption of two services began in September 2020 with capacity restrictions and recommended safety protocols for RCPC congregates.
RCPC’s staff and Tech teem continued to enhance the online and in person worship experience through increased audio and visual means.
Parking lot fun along with indoor worship (separation required) meetings, Wednesday Zoom check-in
Committees, Team meetings
Limited In-person worship started in June 2020.
Funerals - were conducted with the recommended safety protocols (generally family only) and often graveside only services with limited attendance.
As we continued to adapt and find new ways to be in community with one another, the country was doing the same with masking and social distancing. Accordingly, the Session of RCPC voted to begin holding worship services again on Sunday, June 14, 2020. Masks were required and social distancing with designated seating places in the pews to enforce this, along with signage throughout the church declaring RCPC’s commitment to safely gather as much as permitted by CDC guidance and the State of VA mandates was maintained.
To assist in fostering a sense reflection, connectivity, community spiritual sharing and growth, various members were asked to write contributions to a devotional series entitled (Devotional - Lament and Hope) that covered the summer months of 2020. This devotional booklet was mailed to all RCPC households for their use.
Wednesday morning communion worship service; resumed in late July 2020 outdoors in the RCPC Columbarium with social distancing and individual communion elements.
In person worship which original resumed with both the 9:30 and 11:00 AM services were reduced to one service (11 AM) as the attendance was well below even the social distancing capacity of RCPC’s Sanctuary and Chapel and livestreaming the service continued as usual.
On select Thursday evenings the Music at Raleigh Court Series featured livestream musical offerings.
Repeating a well-received idea from the summer of 2020 RCPC invited various members to share devotional thoughts in a booklet complied and mailed to the entire congregation for Lent in 2021 each devotion had a musical selection to accompany the day’s devotion.
Many activities continued or expanded as both the national (CDC) and state guides permitted. Examples of such activities: Wednesday Dinner to Go, Opportunities each month for Generosity, Lunch and Learn in Lent, Adult Small Groups, Special Bible Studies, and more.
Ash Wednesday in 2021 took the form having the imposition of ashes available in the RCPC Columbarium (afternoon) and “Drive-Thru” ashes (6:00 to 6:30 pm).
RCPC also observed a Lenten Opportunity for Discipleship & Praying for Each Day by gathering weekly donated items for the Presbyterian Community Center’s Food Pantry.
RCPC instituted on each Tuesday in Lent Open-Door Prayers with persons entering in the Sanctuary from the side doors of the church to light a candle, to pray, to admire the beauty of the sanctuary, and to hear beloved songs of the season.
Holy Week and Easter 2021
PALM SUNDAY was still different in 2021 from what we were accustomed to as members were asked to register online for which service, they wanted to attend due to capacity limits
An in-home worship guide was sent to all members which allowed them to celebrate this night around their own tables in their own homes. Additionally, their weekly Fellowship Dinner was a to-go meal based on elements of the Jewish Seder incorporation into home worship
The churches of Grandin Road joined together for the annual Good Friday Cross Walk. A service in the Sanctuary at gathering around the story of Christ’s crucifixion as the lights slowly extinguish and the chancel is stripped of the symbols of our Christian faith. Special music by instrumentalists and soloists was featured.
Three worship services were held on Easter, as with Palm Sunday registration was required to make sure that all people can attend and maintain social distance. Services were held at 8:00 AM, 9:30 AM, and 11:00 AM
Finally, there is no better way to conclude this narrative of the Raleigh Court Presbyterian Church during this pandemic than displaying this message sent April 3rd, 2021.
Embodied Life Together - A Plan for Return
Then the king said to me, “What do you request?” So, I prayed to the God of heaven. Then I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ graves, so that I may rebuild it.”
As we continue to monitor the number of COVID-19 cases in our region as well as the vaccination numbers, we are moving toward a plan to resume many of our in-person activities at RCPC. Our daily prayer is that our faith has been even more integrated into the rhythms of home and work over this past year as we have not met in person as frequently, but we have sought to create alternative and new connection points, many of which will continue. We are resuming embodied worship and life in a transformed way- more grateful, compassionate, kind, and aware of the power of and need for the gospel of Jesus in our lives and in our community.
With new guidelines from the CDC, we are seeking to create a plan for more in-person opportunities over the spring and summer months. This is a tentative schedule that could be subject to change:
April 5 - Church groups may resume meeting in the building. If all members of the group are vaccinated, the group may meet without masks or practicing social distancing in their regular classroom. If all members are not vaccinated, they may meet in the Fellowship Hall, Room 201, or the Commons wearing masks and each sitting at their own 6-foot table. These groups include Committees, Deacons, Session, Small Group Bible Studies, Centering Prayer, Monday Morning Prayer Group, Handbell Rehearsal
April 7 - Resume Outdoor Wednesday Communion Service at 7:00 AM in the Columbarium
April 11 - Nursery & Children’s Worship at 11:00 AM (If registration numbers for available nursery spots are full, we will add nursery at 9:00 AM as well). Contact Leigh Sackett to register.
April 15 - Wednesday Parking Lot Picnics through May 7
May - Outdoor Sanctuary Choir Rehearsals (group singing refresher and music reading sessions)
May 30 - Begin 10:00 AM Worship Service for the summer. Begin use of printed bulletins, pew Bibles, hymnals, and regular schedules for ushers. Continue use of basket in Gathering Area for collecting the offering.
June 7 - Resume the services of volunteer receptionists at the front desk
Throughout June - Depending on attendance and COVID-19 numbers, we will either:
Allow members to remove masks in their seated area after the Passing of the Peace and until the Doxology - OR -
Reconfigure the tape in the pews so that individuals are spaced but seating is available in every pew. This will not allow for six feet of social distancing but allows for greater than three feet and masks would continue to be worn in the sanctuary at all times.
August 22 - Worship with no sectioned seating or masks and Children’s Worship and Nursery return to their previous spaces and protocols
This date is contingent on state guidelines in Virginia at this time. We are watching the protocols regarding indoor dining at restaurants and the need for mask-wearing in retail establishments as a benchmark for this return to worship.
Passing of the Peace will still be suspended
Communion will still be celebrated with the prepackaged kits
Pastors will still greet worshipers outdoors following the service
August 25 – Sanctuary Choir Rehearsals resume
August 29 - Congregational Potluck Picnic at Mill Mountain
September 12 - Rally Day and resuming all regular indoor activities
Resume the collection of the offering during worship
Resume the use of the Friendship Pads in the pews
September 15 - Wednesday Communion Service returns to the Gathering Area and Fellowship Hour to follow
October 3 - Worldwide Communion Sunday
Seated Communion and return to the regular elder assignments for serving communion
Homebound Communion resumes following the worship service
Children and Youth activities will remain mostly outdoors through July with the use of masks and practicing social distancing. When events are held indoors, masks and social distance will also be maintained. The Children’s subcommittee and Youth subcommittee will bring a recommendation to Session when they believe it is advisable to resume these activities without mask-wearing and concern for the distance between individuals.
When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel; and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord,
“For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”
Addendum - Messages to RCPC Congregants During the Pandemic
As we monitor the rising case numbers of COVID-19 in the United States and in the Roanoke Valley, we see a need to make some adjustments to the common life of RCPC. This is in alignment with the recent orders from Governor Northam and also through our desire to follow the teachings of Jesus. Our Lord commands us that the best way to love God is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:40, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:28). Our Lord also teaches us “in everything do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matt 7:12). By exercising caution and care we protect the members of our church family, and we bear witness to our community that as Christian people we are called to restrict our personal freedom for the good of all because we know the true freedom that comes from Christ. This is a freedom to live not for ourselves but for our neighbors. We have freedom not to be selfish! May our Christian freedom, therefore, be our guide in these new adaptations.
Beginning November 24, no evening meetings of church committees or programs will take place inside the church building until numbers have steadily declined and the Session authorizes those gatherings once more. These gatherings will still occur on Zoom or Conference Call to continue to the work of the church.
Children and Youth Ministry
God Alive will continue meeting outdoors and with masks. This group is typically under twenty-five people and because it is outdoors and masked and allows for social distancing, it will continue to meet.
Living the Word for preschoolers will continue to meet outdoors at Leigh Sackett’s home. This group is usually 4-7 people and all participants wear masks while together.
Children’s Worship is suspended until further notice. The number of participants has ranged from 2-6 children since we began it again in September. We have only three storytellers willing to lead right now and do not wish to put those individuals in a compromised position.
Youth Ministry will take place either in outdoor gatherings with masks and social distance or in Zoom Gatherings.
Adult Small Groups will either gather outdoors or on Zoom but will not meet in the church facility until further notice.
A Discover RCPC Class will be offered in the winter but will be held on Zoom only
Alternative Giving for Advent has been designed to take place outdoors and include the entire Raleigh Court neighborhood.
Hunger Mission will continue to have access to the building for the storage of food and the packing of food bags.
Wednesday Dinner-to-Go plans to continue through the winter months. Their volunteers have been confirmed.
After each Handbell ensemble rings in December, handbells will be suspended until sometime in March, in hopes of having bells in worship for Palm Sunday (March 28) and Easter Sunday (April 4).
Special musicians will continue to be used for both Sunday morning worship and Thursday Evening Prayer.
We will continue worship services at 9:00 and 11:00 in the sanctuary with live streaming of 11:00 AM. Our present practices align with Governor Northam’s orders for religious communities. We will, however, add disinfecting the pew rails between services to our list of protocols.
We will suspend acolytes after November 22 until Palm Sunday, March 28.
Open Door Prayers will continue through December 22 and will then be suspended until February 23. They will resume during the Lenten season. This is always a small group of worshipers who wear masks while inside.
The Wednesday morning communion worship services are suspended until they may resume outdoors (most likely after Easter).
Virtual Evening Prayer will continue as it has been done through the fall.
An outdoor, socially distanced Christmas Pageant will take place in front of the columbarium on December 13 at 4:30 PM, led by our children and youth. Those who attend will need to wear a mask and maintain physical distancing from others. This event could easily exceed the 25 person limit but it is hosted outdoors, with masks, and practicing physical distancing.
A live Christmas Eve worship service will take place in the parking long at 5:30 PM. It will be a service of Lessons and Carols. Worshipers may sit in their cars with windows down, set up a chair in front of their vehicle, or stand beside their car. All those in attendance will be asked to wear masks. The one moment where physical distancing may not be able to be maintained is when we try to light the candles of one another before Silent Night.
Youth Sunday, January 31, will be an entirely virtual service live streamed to the congregation. It would be very difficult to include all the youth, their families, and other worshipers in the sanctuary on this day and maintain our social distance in the sanctuary.
Ash Wednesday will be celebrated in a Lenten Kit provided to each RCPC family. There will also be time for folks to visit the columbarium for the imposition of ashes between 4:30 and 6:30 PM that day. Those who come by will receive the blessing from one of the pastors but will be asked to make the sign of the cross on their forehead with their own hand.
We will not celebrate communion on Easter Sunday, April 4.
June 25, 2020
Dear Church Family,
On June 14 we resumed the opportunity for congregants to join us for worship in the building. We offered two worship opportunities- 9:30 AM and 11:00 AM. We had capacity for fifty worshipers spaced out in the sanctuary, twenty to see a simulcast in the chapel, and ten chairs spaced out in the Gathering Area. On Sunday, June 14 we had 18 total worshipers between the two services. Last Sunday, June 21, we had 24 total worshipers. Because participation is so far below our safe seating capacity, we are suspending the 9:30 AM worship service at this time. If worship attendance becomes a weekly average of 40 people, we will reinstitute the 9:30 AM option. As we have previously stated, the 11:00 service will continue to be live-streamed on YouTube and Facebook. Below are some reflections on worship and church life together. They are intended to help us think biblically and theologically about what it means to be faithful in this new season of life.
Why Return to In Person Worship?
One of the principal theological ideas in Christianity is the “body.” In the prologue to the Gospel of John we hear, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Christmas is the celebration of God coming among us as a human person, in a body that experienced all of human life.
Jesus’ ministry cared for the bodies of others, healing the sick (e.g. Mark 3: 1-6, 5: 1-20), eating in homes (e.g. Mark 2: 13-17, Luke 19: 1-8), raising the dead (Matt 9: 18-26, John 11), and calling people to restructure their embodied lives to reflect the Kingdom of God (Luke 4: 16-21). So important was the body, that the night before he died, Jesus told his disciples that the bread they were eating and the wine they drank were his body and his blood (1 Cor 11:23-26). His body, filling our bodies. His body on a cross, reclaiming our bodies for God.
Important to all four Gospel accounts is that Jesus rose from the dead in a body (Mark 16: 1-8, Matt 28: 1-10, Luke 24: 1-12, John 20: 1-18). He shows Thomas his wounds in his hands and side (John 20: 24-29). He eats with the disciples on the beach (John 21: 9-14). He is not a ghost or a Spirit. He is a body. Jesus cares about our bodies.
Christian life, therefore, is not able to happen in its most faithful form online. It must be embodied. The Apostle Paul centers his entire theology in this idea. We are the body of Christ in the world (1 Cor 12: 14-27). We are members, one of another (Romans 12:5). We rejoice and weep together (Romans 12:15), and when one member suffers, we all suffer (1 Cor 12:26). Together we bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2), and we sacrifice our personal freedoms, our hostilities, and our superiority for the sake of being embodied together in the way of grace (1 Cor 8: 12-13).
“Here are symbols to remind us of our lifelong need of grace.
Here are table, font, and pulpit. Here the cross has central place.
Here in honesty of preaching, here in silence as in speech.
Here in newness and renewal, God the Spirit comes to each.”
(Fred Pratt Green, “God is Here”)
Since Jesus rose from the dead, men and women have gathered on the first day of the week to celebrate the Resurrection. Together we sing and pray. Together we speak and listen. Our sacraments are tactile with water, bread, and juice. We seek to learn names, pray for needs, and learn about how we can serve God in the world.
We cannot be Christians alone. YouTube does not a disciple make. It takes others, embodied others, to really be a Christian. Frankly, to be a Christian alone is too easy. To be in relationships where we have to repent, ask forgiveness and grant it, and live in reconciliation- this is the test of the Gospel. When we are not gathered together, we cannot witness, learn, or grow into the fullness of Christ who is the head of the body, the Church (Eph 4:15).
To neglect communal worship because the time of day isn’t convenient, that it requires too much effort to dress and drive to the gathering space, or because it is true that God is everywhere, these neglect the depth of Christian witness. It violates the faith of the saints from the past. It diminishes our attention to the Holy Spirit. It is a failure in discipleship. Christians must be Christians together, in their bodies.
Nuances and Precautions
We must, however, care for the most vulnerable, for this is our charge from the Lord Jesus as well. We are seeing new spikes in COVID cases. Neglectful practice in social outings and the refusal to wear masks is causing more people to suffer and die for the sake of recreational fun for others. This is unfaithful and harmful to do as Christian people. We absolutely do not want to participate in the spread of COVID-19 through communal worship. This is why we are advising those with compromised immune systems or who are elderly to continue to engage online. Without a reliable way to distance children from one another, we are not yet able to provide nursery services or Children’s Worship, and so we ask families to worship together online.
For those who are capable of attending, however, we are taking every precaution we can to ensure the health of all who enter our building as we gather for worship in an embodied way.
When you arrive at church, you will find a sign outside the building asking you to evaluate if you exhibit any symptoms of COVID-19. If so, we ask you to please return home.
Upon entering the building, there are signs reminding everyone that they must wear a mask while inside. Masks are provided for those who need them. Hand sanitizer, additionally, is available. Signs reminding us to keep six feet of distance are posted six feet apart throughout the Gathering Area as you venture into the Sanctuary.
The pews of the Sanctuary are taped off. Each seating section is clearly marked, and every single seat has been measured to 7+ feet of distance from any other seat in the room.
Attempting to limit physical touch, all of the liturgy and music is displayed on the walls on either side of the chancel. Masks remain on until the Welcome and Opportunities for Discipleship. Because of the physical distance between worshipers, and the fact that no worshiper is speaking during this time, those in attendance are invited (if comfortable) to remove their masks until the end of the sermon. Once the sermon ends, we ask that masks be worn again until outside of the building.
After the benediction is pronounced, we ask all who have worshiped with us to exit all the way into the parking lot before sharing in conversation. Outdoors, however, and spaced out, conversation and catching up is most welcome as we celebrate that we are together the Body of Christ.
Thoughts for the Future
Based on what we are seeing with this pandemic, I do not anticipate any of our regular church activities to continue in ways we have previously done them for several more months at least. Somehow, in every aspect of life, we are going to have to find a responsible way to be good stewards of one another while not living in lockdown, paralyzed by fear. Schools, offices, government, and religious institutions must navigate this new reality and find ways to persevere.
I do not anticipate that worship, fellowship, mission, or spiritual formation will occur in the ways most of us have known our entire lives until a vaccine for COVID-19 is successfully developed and widely administered. Church may never again look as it did before March 15, 2020, but it may be raised to new life never before imagined.
Please continue, then, to exercise caution in this pandemic time. Check in on one another as we are able to- telephone, text message, email, social media. Stay up-to-date on RCPC activities through Facebook and Instagram and YouTube and email. Join with us as you are able and safely. And please remember that we are Christians together, that we care for another, and we seek to worship and serve in person as we are able. May we chart this course together, looking to Jesus as our guide.
New Adaptations for Raleigh Court Presbyterian Church
“Knowledge puffs up; but love builds up.”
-1 Corinthians 8:1
“The reconciling work of Jesus was the supreme crisis in the life of mankind. His cross and resurrection become personal crisis and present hope for men when the gospel is proclaimed and believed. In this experience the Spirit brings God’s forgiveness to men, moves them to respond in faith, repentance, and obedience, and initiates the new life in Christ.
The new life takes shape in a community in which men know that God loves and accepts them in spite of what they are. They therefore accept themselves and love others, knowing that no man has any ground on which to stand except God’s grace.
The new life does not release a man from conflict with unbelief, pride, lust, fear. He still has to struggle with disheartening difficulties and problems. Nevertheless, as he matures in love and faithfulness in his life with Christ, he lives in freedom and good cheer, bearing witness on good days and evil days, confident that the new life is pleasing to God and helpful to others.”
-Confession of 1967 9.21-9.23
Our task throughout this pandemic is how best we can love, honor, and serve our neighbor as Christ would call us to. We have appreciated and followed the guidance of the scientific community. We have followed this wisdom in social distance, mask wearing, hand washing, and promoted the COVID-19 vaccines. Recently, the Center for Disease Control and the Governor of Virginia stated that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to practice mask wearing and social distance in order to protect themselves and others.
We recognize that this knowledge allows new opportunities, but does it build up the body of Christ? When and how is the best way to live our life together? This is our task.
We are also aware of the temptation throughout the Church’s history for Christians to promote their own righteousness above others. To accept grace, however, we must acknowledge our common brokenness and need for redemption and trust the Holy Spirit to free us from the pride that promotes our way over the Lord’s way. We do not wish to promote safety practices in the church that elevate our own righteousness instead of promoting love of our neighbor. What is the right course of action?
Since we have trusted the scientific community to this point and because we trust the overwhelming reception of the COVID-19 vaccines by our church community, we recommend the following actions:
1. Beginning May 30th, all current limits on seating and sign regarding social distance and mask wearing be removed from the church and replaced with a few signs which read, “The Center for Disease Control recommends that all those who are yet to be vaccinated for COVID-19 wear a mask while in the building.”
2. Worshipers may return to worship without a mask or social distance practices on this day, and we trust our community to be trustworthy, that those unvaccinated will continue to wear a mask until further notice.
3. Ushers and greeters will resume their duties, including weekly collection of the offering and the passing and collecting of attendance in the pew registers.
4. Nursery registration will be ended but nursery workers will continue to wear masks in addition to all nursery workers being vaccinated.
5. Communion will be celebrated with prepackaged elements for Sunday, June 6 but the regular order of communion celebration will resume in July.
6. Beginning May 15th, funerals and wedding may be held in the sanctuary and chapel with those involved notified that everyone in attendance who is not vaccinated for COVID-19 needs to wear a mask.
7. The Wednesday communion service will continue to be held outdoors until July 7th. Beginning June 9, the worshipers present will be invited to pass the elements to one another.
8. On June 1, weekly committees or Bible studies may resume gathering in their regular meeting spaces and only those yet to be vaccinated need to wear a mask while together.
9. Also on June 1, outside groups who use the facility will be invited to return upon agreement that those who are not vaccinated for COVID-19 will continue to wear a mask.
10. For those who are concerned about being present in a more crowded sanctuary, the simulcast in the chapel and the gathering area will still be available and worship will continue to be live streamed.
It is important to remember that being “vaccinated” for COVID-19 means that a person is two weeks past their Johnson and Johnson vaccine shot or two weeks past their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. Until that time, a person is not considered vaccinated and needs to continue wearing a mask within the building.
We will continue to seek God’s guidance and trust the scientific community if activities need to shift again. We trust our Lord and one another and rejoice in the hope of worshiping and serving together in this new season of life.
Embodied Life Together
A Plan for Return
Then the king said to me, “What do you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. Then I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ graves, so that I may rebuild it.”
-Nehemiah 2: 4-5
As we continue to monitor the number of COVID-19 cases in our region as well as the vaccination numbers, we are moving toward a plan to resume many of our in-person activities at RCPC. I ask that all of our elders and deacons seek to refrain from saying that we are “re-opening” or “returning to normal” over the next months. My daily prayer is that our faith has been even more integrated into the rhythms of home and work over this past year as we have not met in person as frequently, but we have sought to create alternative and new connection points, many of which will continue into the future. I also hope we aren’t just “going back to normal.” I hope we are resuming embodied worship and life in a transformed way- more grateful, compassionate, kind, and aware of the power of and need for the gospel of Jesus in our lives and in our community.
With new guidelines from the Center for Disease Control we are seeking to create a plan for more in person opportunities over the spring and summer months. This is a tentative schedule that could be subject to change based on case numbers, restrictions in place at the state level, and the total number of vaccinations.
• March 28- Acolytes return
• April 5- Church groups may resume meeting in the building. If every member of the group is vaccinated, the group may meet without masks or practicing social distancing in their regular classroom. If all members are not vaccinated, they may meet in the Fellowship Hall, Room 201, or the Commons wearing masks and each sitting at their own 6 foot table. These groups include:
o Small Group Bible Studies
o Centering Prayer
o Monday Morning Prayer Group
o Handbell Rehearsal
• April 7 - Resume Outdoor Communion Service at 7:00 AM
• April 11- Nursery & Children’s Worship at 11:00 (If registration numbers for available nursery spots are full, we will add nursery at 9:00 as well)
• April 15- Parking Lot Picnics through May 7
• May- Outdoor Sanctuary Choir Rehearsals to remember how to sing and start reading through some music for upcoming weeks
• May 30- Begin 10:00 AM Worship Service.
o Begin printing bulletins once more.
o Return pew Bibles and hymnals to the pew racks.
o Resume regular schedule of ushers
o Offering collection remains suspended, utilizing the basket in the Gathering Area
• June 7- Resume the services of volunteer receptionists at the front desk
• Throughout June- Depending on attendance and COVID-19 numbers, we will either:
o Allow members to remove masks in their seated area after the Passing of the Peace and until the Doxology
o Reconfigure the tape in the pews so that individuals are spaced but seating is available in every pew. This will not allow for six feet of social distancing but allows for greater than three feet and masks would continue to be worn in the sanctuary at all times.
• August 22- Worship with no sectioned seating or masks and Children’s Worship and Nursery return to their previous spaces and protocols
o This date is contingent on state guidelines in Virginia at this time. We are watching the protocols regarding indoor dining at restaurants and the need for mask wearing in retail establishments as a benchmark for this return to worship.
o Passing of the Peace will still be suspended
o Communion will still be celebrated with the prepackaged kits
o Pastors will still greet worshipers outdoors following the service
• August 25 – Sanctuary Choir Rehearsals resume
• August 29- Congregational Potluck Picnic at Mill Mountain
• September 12- Rally Day and resuming all regular indoor activities
o Resume the collection of the offering
o Resume the use of the Friendship Pads in the pews
• September 15- Communion Service returns to the Gathering Area and Fellowship Hour to follow
• October 3- Worldwide Communion Sunday
o Seated Communion and return to the regular elder assignments for serving communion
o Homebound Communion resumes following the worship service
*** Children and Youth activities will remain outdoors mostly through July with use of masks and practicing social distancing. When events are held indoors, masks and social distance will also be maintained. The Children’s subcommittee and Youth subcommittee will bring a recommendation to Session when they believe it is advisable to resume these activities without mask wearing and concern for distance between individuals.
When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel; and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord,
“For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”
-Ezra 3: 10-11