Return to In-Person Worship
Dear FCN Friends,
Good news. We will return to in-person worship with a “soft opening” on Sunday, July 18!
This recommendation was affirmed by the Coordinating Council from Interim Pastor New and a subcommittee after considering:
- virus case counts and vaccination rates in the Commonwealth and our community,
- current requirements and guidelines of CDC, state, and local authorities,
- best practices shared by the United Church of Christ, and
- input from you through the recent congregational survey.
Our primary concern has been and remains the health and safety of our congregation, in particular, that of the most vulnerable among us.
We are entering a transitional time as a worshipping community requiring adjustments in our attitudes and behaviors. Some are eager to be back in the sanctuary, yet others are not ready or able to return. New patterns to our lives may shape our participation decisions. In-person worship will be different from pre-pandemic times. Digital worship will change somewhat. Worship leaders will be readjusting to being in the sanctuary again. Moreover, the shifts in our experience will continue as time goes on.
We hope that we will continue to extend considerable grace to others and to ourselves in this transitional time. We will have a mix of thoughts, emotions, and needs in our church community – as well as within each one of us – that we will need to navigate. Being the Body of Christ during this time will require special attention to our mutual care and concern for one another.
Naturally, you will want to know what to expect. The In-Person Worship FAQ below should give you a good idea about the worship policies and practices we will be following. Also below is a Covenant for Our Worshipping Community that we will be using regularly, stating norms and expectations. If you have questions about our plans to return to in-person worship, please don’t hesitate to be in touch with me or church moderator, Robin Clausen (email@example.com).
July 18 will be a “soft opening”. We don’t expect that everyone will return to in-person worship right away. And, though we have excellent plans in place, we will learn things as we go and make further adjustments along the way. Provided that conditions continue to improve, we are hopeful that most of us will want to return to in-person worship by Rally Day, Sunday, September 19 – mark the date!
FCN Return to In-Person Worship
Frequently Asked Questions
When are we returning to in-person worship?
We are planning a “soft opening” for return to in-person worship on Sunday, July 18, 2021.
What does “soft opening” mean?
We are speaking of July 18 as a “soft opening” because – like a restaurant opening or reopening – we do not expect that everyone will return to in-person right away and we know it is likely that, though we have excellent plans, we will be making adjustments as time goes on.
When might we expect the majority of us will be returning to in-person worship?
We hope that conditions with the virus will continue to improve so that by Sunday, September 19 – Rally Day – most of us who are able will attend worship in person.
What authorities were consulted in creating this plan for return to in-person worship?
Our plans meet or exceed the requirements and guidelines of the CDC, state, and local authorities. They are also in line with best practices shared by the United Church of Christ.
What else was taken into consideration in creating this plan?
The decision to return to in-person worship was informed by the following: Virus case counts are decreasing for our area, with fewer new cases being reported. The vaccination rate for those eligible (age 12+) in Natick is 85% fully vaccinated, 89% with at least one dose. In addition, of the 76 individuals who responded to our recent church survey, all indicated that they were vaccinated.
How does this plan reflect our church’s beliefs and values?
Our plans for return to in-person worship reflect our commitment to being welcoming and inclusive. At this point in the pandemic, not everyone will want or need the measures we are taking to control the possible spread of the virus. However, we are taking these steps for now, aware that some remain more vulnerable to the virus and in the hopes that those who remain apprehensive about returning to in-person worship will be more comfortable with the possibility.
What essential Covid-related expectations will there be for in-person worship?
- Remain at home if you are feeling ill, have tested positive for COVID-19, or have been exposed to someone who has tested positive.
- Sit physically distant from one another as individuals or in household or pod groupings.
- Wear masks covering your mouths and noses during the entire worship service, with masks to be provided to those who need them.
- Worship leaders/musicians will be fully vaccinated, wear masks, remove masks only when they are speaking/singing, and replace their masks as soon thereafter as possible.
- Vaccinated soloists may sing masklessly from a physically distant location in the sanctuary.
- Do not linger in the sanctuary for long periods before or after worship.
What other Covid-19 precautions are being taken?
- Greeters will meet worshippers at sanctuary entrances to provide masking, seating, and other instructions.
- We will seek maximum ventilation and employ UV air sanitizers during worship and will use ozone sanitizers before and after worship.
- Hand sanitizers will be available at sanctuary entrances and elsewhere in the building.
- Every other pew will be marked for seating availability to promote physical distancing.
- Additional designated sections will be marked off where worshippers may sit if they choose (e.g., families with children, people desiring more physical distancing, those needing special accommodations, etc.).
- Worship bulletins and hymnals will be made available to worshippers. However, a “digital bulletin” (as used for broadcast and livestreaming) with prayers, hymn lyrics, and other important information will also be available.
- Offerings will be collected in secure collection boxes near the sanctuary entrances. Online contributions will be encouraged. A QR code will be supplied in the worship bulletin.
- For communion, individually wrapped juice and wafer packets will be distributed as worshippers arrive.
What about singing?
For now, we will be encouraging worshippers to hum but not sing. Knowing how important this is to us, we will be revisiting this issue regularly as times goes on and hope to sing soon. We also hope to welcome our choir back to worship as conditions improve.
What about coffee hour and post-worship fellowship time?
We will have a post-worship fellowship time outside (weather permitting) where your interim pastor will greet worshippers. Worshippers are welcomed to bring their own drink or snack. We are also considering how digital worshippers might connect with in-person worshippers. Stay tuned!
What about children?
Children are always welcome in worship! However, please be aware that children’s programming and nursery care will not recommence until Rally Day, September 19.
What about the Covenant for Our Worshipping Community?
We will introduce and regularly refer to the Covenant for Our Worshipping Community during this transitional time. The Covenant highlights the norms, expectations, and intentions we have for this time and sets them in the context of our life as a faith community. Please note that the Covenant will likely evolve as conditions improve.
Will digital worship continue?
Yes! We will continue to broadcast our worship live via Natick Pegasus local access TV, to livestream worship, and create recordings for later viewing via our website or DVDs. The only change that we anticipate is moving to a different livestreaming service which we believe will enhance the video and sound quality. Look for more information about this in the near future. We will be sure to keep you updated about all the ways you can participate in worship through broadcast, livestreamed, or recorded means.
Covenant for Our Worshipping Community
During this transitional time of returning to in-person worship, we, the worshipping community of First Congregational Church of Natick, UCC, covenant with God and one another to:
- Care for and love one another in ways that are new and different to us.
- Encourage all people for whom it is possible to be vaccinated.
- Stay home from in-person worship if we are feeling ill, have tested positive for COVID-19, or have been exposed to someone who has tested positive.
- Be aware of and responsive to our fellow worshippers, telling others what we need to be comfortable and asking them what they need.
- Wear a mask covering our mouths and noses throughout the entire worship service.
- Sit physically distant from one another as individuals or in household or pod groupings.
- Seek to be close in the Spirit by opening our hearts to one another.
- Honor all worshippers, whether they be physically present in our sanctuary or participating through digital means.
- In all things related to this transitional time, extend grace to one another and to ourselves, thereby nurturing this Body of Christ.