May 20, 2020
As we have now entered our third month of this pandemic, I reflect on what I miss and what I have learned. I miss being able to go to the post office or shopping for myself (my family points out that I am in a “high risk” category). I miss teaching my Sunday School classes and fellowship times with friends. I have learned to navigate on Zoom and am becoming more proficient, even at leading meetings. I enjoy family game nights with folks from across the US, and even a grand niece in Japan! I can wear sweatpants to worship, but really miss singing in the choir. My church does worship via Zoom. Members who have been unable to get to our building and others from across the country are now joining us in worship. Surely, God is creating new things.
It is true that there is much suffering because of this pandemic. There are also many people working and giving and praying for each other. God still walks with us, even when we don’t know where God is leading us. Even in the throes of a pandemic, we are Resurrection people!
“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isa 43:18-19)
American Baptist Churches of New York State
UPDATE: RE-OPENING CHURCHES
At his May 20, 2020, press conference, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced, “Beginning Thursday [5/21], religious gatherings of no more than 10 people will be allowed statewide where social distancing measures are enforced and all participants wear masks. Additionally, drive-in/parking lot services will also be allowed beginning Thursday.” LINK to press release: https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/amid-ongoing-covid-19-pandemic-governor-cuomo-announces-results-states-antibody-testing-survey
Further, the Governor’s Interfaith Advisory Council will discuss proposal to safely bring back religious services. He noted the hope that in beginning religious gatherings in-person that we avoid further spread of infection. To view the Governor’s remarks, visit this link: https://youtu.be/3qnhISwb0dM
Overall updates about NY Forward and its four phases will be available via: https://forward.ny.gov.
NOTE: While re-opening will be allowed, it will be highly important to be prepared to re-open and maintain safe and sanitary facilities meeting the CDC’s protocols. A smaller church MAY be able to start more “easily”, however, the major work of cleaning up consistently and accountably must be assured!
Also, with a drive-in/parking lot service, you will need to decide about the availability of public bathrooms. If you chose not to offer them, please announce in advance that the on-site bathrooms are not available. If you choose to offer them, please check with your insurer about best practices.
For example, you may be advised by an insurer that each and every time a person uses the facilities, you will need to sanitize all surfaces and re-set the bathroom for the next person. Further, you will need to ensure the “line” for the bathroom is kept with social distancing (6 feet apart, etc., etc.) and attention given to the common area surfaces around the line-up area. It may be a longer time before such bathroom protocols can be relaxed, so please ensure when you offer public restrooms that the cleaning supplies and volunteers/staff are ready to assist! Other guidance may come from the State, County or local authorities, so please check with your insurer and civic authorities to be compliant.
Even if a church can re-open, it is strongly recommended that your church make plans to offer worship online or via other means to allow persons who are in high risk vulnerability categories (due to age or health conditions or personal choice not to be in-person). The creativity many churches are undertaking to ensure weekly worship and programming through electronic/virtual means is needed to help our church members reconnect, especially out of sensitivity for their health and wellbeing and the prevention of further COVID19 conditions. (NOTE: The “carrot and stick” element of these four phases is that we must keep up the intentional work of keeping clean and safe. An area, or worse, the nation, could see a second wave of disease, so it literally depends on each of us and every community doing our best to keep the protocols for social distancing and cleanliness at the forefront!)
Church Mutual (see below) offered a webinar on how to begin re-opening processes (see below for information.) Further ABCUSA provided a guide for churches as you consider what is needed for reopening. You can download this document via:
https://www.abc-usa.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Reopening-Conversation-Guide-COVID-19.pdf. Additional national ABCUSA resources: http://www.abc-usa.org/coronavirus/.
In our reading of various articles about COVID19 spread and prevention, Jim Kelsey recommends this article: https://www.erinbromage.com/post/the-risks-know-them-avoid-them. Jerrod Hugenot notes the concern being raised about the effect congregational singing may have in spreading the disease right now, as described by the Wisconsin Council of Churches’ article available: https://www.wichurches.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Returning-to-Church-Church-Music-final.pdf
ABCNYS offers assistance to pastors in need through the Psalm Fund. The Region’s Executive Committee designated up to $25,000 of the Psalm Fund to provide for pastors who are experiencing budget cuts to pay and benefits. To receive an application form, please contact Rev. Jerrod Hugenot (firstname.lastname@example.org). We also welcome donations to support our pastors during COVID19. You can donate to the Psalm Fund (noting “COVID19”) by sending a check (payable to ABCNYS) via: ABCNYS, 3218 James Street, Syracuse, NY 13206.
MMBB offers assistance to ABCUSA pastors who are members of the Comprehensive Benefits plan (the most common plan MMBB offers). They will consider applications up to $3,500 in one-time grants. Please contact MMBB directly for this application form: 1-800-986-6222 or contact Grace.Cruz@mmbb.org. Rev. Gradia McKinney is also glad to work with ABCNYS pastors (Gradia.email@example.com or 347-703-1582).
ONE GREAT HOUR OF SHARING
Each summer, American Baptist congregations collect gifts to the One Great Hour of Sharing Fund. The monies are then used for domestic and global humanitarian needs, administered by American Baptist Home Mission Societies and International Ministries. The 2020 OGHS offering materials were sent out late this year, due to COVID19 disruptions, so please check your church office mailbox. Need further information? Check out the website: www.abc-oghs.org for downloadable materials, videos, etc. Questions? Contact Jhugenot@abc-nys.org.
Church Mutual provided a helpful webinar and supplementary resources. You can view the webinar and access the materials via this link to aid in your church’s planning for safely reopening and maintaining protocols that promote health and infection control: https://www.abcusa-insurance.com/reopeningsafely.
Further, on May 13, 2020, Church Mutual announced a donation program to help eligible non-profits meet the needs of local communities. To learn more and apply, please go to this Church Mutual website:
Our Executive Minister Dr. Jim Kelsey returns from sabbatical on Tuesday, May 26, 2020. Pray for Jim as he resumes his duties more fully. We are grateful for his willingness to consult with staff and Board leadership during this time away while we navigate COVID19 challenges.