In March, the increased risk to the safety of our members and visitors as a result of the COVID-19 became known to us. Every day brought news of increasing rates of infection and hospitalization and concurrent closures or cancellations of public events. In due course, the Province of Saskatchewan suspended public gatherings and mandated that we stay at home.
The Lakeview congregation has been meeting remotely since March 22 through the use of Zoom. Additionally, services have been recorded and posted on YouTube.
Attendance has been very supportive with 40 – 50 people sitting in the virtual sanctuary each week. The Zoom “room” opens about half an hour before each service, and many who gather have a chance to speak to catch up. We utilize live and pre-recorded material each week.
We are entering a period of reduced infection, but there is concern that a second wave may impact our lives once again. We need to address what the new normal for us looks like.
In considering this, we have had access to excellent resources and research, some of which apply to us and are embedded in what follows.
And all of this is predicated upon the approval of the appropriate health authorities permitting us to meet again — not limited in number — as a congregation. Currently, public health directives permit religious groups to meet in numbers not exceeding 30 people, and with certain steps in place to manage social distancing in a clean and safe space. As a congregation, we don’t feel that we should attempt to gather together under these rules, simply because we don’t think we are ready to do so.
A plan for recovery starts with some basic principles and simple but important questions:
1. The safety of staff, volunteers, church members, and all those we serve, need to be at the centre of our decisions about reopening for in-person activities.
This must be first and foremost in every decision we make
2. What is the need that we are trying to respond to?
As important as the religious experience of worshiping together is, the concurrent need of the congregation to “be a congregation” — meeting together, sharing, caring, and providing for each other.
A remote service is effective to a point. Ultimately, we want to and we need to be together — as best we can be.
3. Does our decision to meet serve that need in a way that is a faithful decision?
Christianity is not an exclusive undertaking. The shared experience is important.
4. Does the fear of losing members and donations factor into decision making?
It cannot. And in our circumstances, it is not a factor in what follows.
5. Does the risk of illness outweigh the benefit of gathering?
This is an immediate and difficult question, the answer to which is certainly very personal according to our needs and circumstances. We may not all arrive at the same decision and at the same time.
A plan forward needs to account for and accommodate these differences.
6. What is the impact of our decision on vulnerable members (i.e. gathering in a way that leaves out vulnerable members can be just as harmful as not gathering)?
We need a plan that accommodates all.
7. Where are the signs of hope?
Are we at the end of this pandemic? Or is this just the first wave to be followed by a second or a third? Do we have a better understanding as a community as to how to keep ourselves safe, and to respect the safety of others?
There seems to be a good reason to believe that we are smarter than we were two or three months ago, and better equipped to act quickly and with purpose. And that any plan that we make will keep us safe.
8. What shall we do differently, and how shall we live differently as we work through the pandemic, and emerge into this new season?
These are the questions to be answered in this plan of action.
9. What are the other values and principles that will form the foundation for your decisions?
In addition to the health and safety of our members and those we interact with, we need to keep in sight what we value as Christians and how this should shape everything we do.
June 21 was the first Sunday of the Tri-Church Experience led by Sunset United Church, who are providing their services via YouTube. Lakeview will host from July 19 –August 9, with Wesley United hosting from August 16 - September 6.
Lakeview will not meet in person until September 13 at the earliest. This seems like a long way off, but many things can happen in the interim.
We’ve created the following plan with hopes that we can meet in person on September 13. This is a soft number and we are not bound to any fixed date. In fact, we may defer a final decision to re-open (or not) until the days leading up to September 13. Accordingly, this plan has to be sufficiently flexible to accommodate the “lay of the land.”
We are not driven by any other considerations other than:
The safety of staff, volunteers, church members, and all those we serve needs to be at the centre of our decisions about reopening for in-person activities.
This leads us to identify three stages for re-opening Lakeview:
Stage 1: Assess the Risk
What is the contact intensity?
- the type of contact (close/distant) and the duration of contact (brief/prolonged)
We have a large Sanctuary. A normal Sunday Service will have between 40 and 60 people in attendance.We can limit the distance between those in attendance. We can control contact before and after the service.
What are the number of people present at the same time?
We don’t expect everyone will return at the same time, and perhaps they won’t for some time.It is reasonable to assume half of the congregation will be comfortable in the same space (20 - 30 people)
Can we provide adequate social distancing space?
We can almost provide everyone with their own row. We can mark the pews in such a manner to ensure the appropriate distance so that no one needs to worry about where to sit.
How many people can our building accommodate while maintaining social distancing at all times? Consider all spaces: offices, sanctuary, bathrooms, kitchens, entrances, and exits.
This seems like it is less of a problem if we confine ourselves, at least in the near term, to worship services. In the long term, and assuming attendance of our congregation at the higher end of our range, we are still in good shape.
The question as to what we mandate for our tenants and renters requires further development in conversation with those groups. We need to be willing to accommodate the needs of these groups but with a clear understanding of what is acceptable and what is not, and how this interacts with our own plans.
How will you ensure highly touched surfaces are cleaned and disinfected on a regular basis (especially washrooms)?
There are specific circumstances to consider.
Understanding that our sanctuary is shared on Sundays with our tenant Jesus the Annointed One, we need to establish rules that require them to provide cleaning by its members in advance of using the space, specifically the sanctuary, the chapel, and the washrooms.
In the case of regular tenants, we can impose similar obligations as to any space they use.
We have a dedicated building manager. It may make sense for us to engage on a part-time basis, an additional person whose sole purpose is to provide post-function cleaning, to ensure that in advance of any Church function we have a high level of confidence that our space is clean and safe. This should not be an overwhelming undertaking. And at a cost that can be borne by us.
Are there additional physical space changes, or rules and guidelines needed to help participants reduce the risk of transmission that we need to implement? How will we support good hand hygiene?
While we do have a number of hand sanitizer stations at Lakeview, this deserves a closer look. We should be able to place sufficient stations throughout the church to accomplish this coverage.
What protocols are needed for rental groups, and how will we work or communicate with them on these protocols? How will we ensure that rental groups will follow through on their commitment to ensuring our space remains safe?
The nature and the scope of expectations for our tenants, regardless of whether they use the space once or for the long-term, needs to be addressed with each group. Understand what our tenants think is fair and figuring out what we need to do to make this easy to comply with is a work-in-progress. It may be as simple as making sure that each tenant has adequate cleaning supplies and a clear understanding as to what they must do before and after using the space.
The gathering of individuals who may be parents or others waiting for those using our space needs to be managed in a better fashion. Historically we have allowed these persons to sit in the hallway, or perhaps in the welcome centre and even sometimes in the sanctuary at the back in the comfy chairs — this won’t be possible if we are to maintain any management of our space and its cleanliness. We must ask the tenants how they think we can make this work.
How will we communicate new practices and expectations to your participants?
This is a document that can be circulated, followed by an invitation to each tenant to speak to us about how they see this working.
How will we discourage hand-shaking or other physical contact?
Most of us are sensitized to this issue. Asking that we refrain seems like a reasonable proposition, although in circumstances where we have immediate access to hand sanitizer or hand washing, it seems to make this less of a real concern regarding disease transmission. We just need to remember to follow good hand hygiene.
If we move study groups or daily devotionals online, is there an expectation that this will continue in addition to other in-person work? Is it sustainable in terms of ministry personnel time?
This needs some thought with input from those who participate. If face-to-face is preferred, then we need to accommodate meeting space that provides social distancing — i.e. maybe a mid-week group meets in the sanctuary, where everyone can spread out with access to hand sanitizer. Limiting their interaction before and after will likely apply.
Stage 2: Make a Plan
What changes will we make in worship practices (but also funerals, weddings, baptisms):
Stage 3: Implementation
These ideas need broad circulation, amongst the congregation and our user groups. We need consensus and we need to have unconditional endorsement and acceptance of the steps that we will take to allow us to return to our physical premises.
The proposal is to incorporate this as a plan going forward. The tentative date to return to physical worship at Lakeview will be September 13, subject to the limitations described. Services like funerals, weddings, and baptisms need to be assessed on an individual basis and ensuring they are in line with our plan. Advancing our implementation of streaming video is a topic that requires additional work.
This plan must be flexible and adaptable to the circumstances as they may come to us. We can do this.
Kenneth A. Ready
Visionary Board Chair