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October 27, 2020

Dear Members and Friends of Grace,

Grace to you and peace from God and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

When the new sickness and virus emerged and then exploded into a pandemic, most of us were flummoxed about how to respond because we were facing something we had never before seen. We listened to the health experts, infectious disease doctors, epidemiologists, statisticians, government leaders and numerous other professionals as we individually and as a society fashioned our response.

In the middle of March as the news grew increasingly serious, your church Council determined it wise to suspend our in-person worship and other gatherings. At that time, we had no idea of the extent of the pandemic, the way in which our lives would be affected, and the number of deaths that would result. For a time, we thought, “Perhaps only two more weeks.” And then some weeks later we thought it again. That, of course, proved to be wishful thinking. So it is that the weeks and months have dragged on.

I want to share with you what has been happening over this time as the Church has continued to be “open” while not meeting in-person (the Church never really “closes”). We have maintained a regular pattern of Sunday worship with materials made available in multiple media. Sunday worship is augmented by a weekly service of evening prayer on Thursday. We are beginning to experiment with recording Sunday morning worship as well. This effort, of course, is quite labor intensive. Social ministry projects have continued to go forward on the planned monthly basis. While we cannot meet in person for fellowship, we have a bi-weekly coffee hour via Zoom and weekly Bible Study also uses Zoom. Your Council continues to meet on its regular schedule using available technology to reduce the risk of transmission and infection. Other committees follow this as well. And plans are underway for how we can conduct our annual meeting in a way that is safe for all of us.

Several months ago, your Council, in addition to its regular tasks, took actions to help guide us through this time. One of our Council members, Rusty Washburn, has been monitoring the statistics of Covid-19 in Polk County as well as statewide and nationwide and is providing reports on a regular basis. These help guide our decisions. Also, the Covid-19 Response Task Force was established consisting of Brenda Hornickle, Mark Thomsen, Sharon Lewis, Tim Dukes, Pat Blanchette, and Judy Washburn. The Task Force meets regularly via Zoom to consider how we at Grace can best respond to this pandemic in a faithful and safe manner.

The recent proposal of the Task Force as approved by the Council recommends small steps forward in our gathering together for worship provided that safety precautions are observed: up to 10 people present, masks properly worn, shorter rather than longer time duration, and safe physical distance maintained.
To that end, Council has approved two things on a trial basis. First, attendance at Thursday Evening Prayer beginning October 29 – November 19 will be opened to 6 people (in addition to the 4 who are needed to do the Live Stream and web broadcast). And second, there will be a Sunday morning worship at 10:00 am on the breezeway on November 8th and November 15th. Six others, (in addition to Pastor, an assistant, an usher, and a video tech) are welcome.

For those who attend any of these services here are some of the nuts and bolts:

· Reservations are required. Please call the church office. I know that sounds counter to what we do as church. But for this time and in the interest of safety and out of love for our neighbor, we must follow the guidelines of the experts. If you wish to attend, please contact the church office during regular office hours. Please be assured that if you are not able to attend a specific service, you will be placed at the top of the list for the next service.
· Masks are required. No exceptions. No physical touching. No exceptions. Smile with your eyes – to everyone you see.
· Restrooms and kitchen are not available. Extreme emergency exceptions only.
· Sunday worship basically will follow the Service of the Word. There will be no congregational singing.

Following these trial services, both on Thursdays and on Sundays, the Task Force will review and then make further recommendations to Council for its action. It may seem counterintuitive to take this small step forward at a time when the incidence of new cases is rising. However, we all have lived with this for many months now and we are much more accustomed to the safety precautions to be taken. The availability of these worship opportunities should not be understood in any respect to encourage someone who is at greater vulnerability to take an unwise risk. Please, if you feel at risk or otherwise compromised, continue your home worship. None should feel any compulsion to attend. As always, if you have thoughts, questions or suggestions, please do not hesitate to let me or a member of Council or of the Task Force know. We are all in this together!

These weeks and months have been daunting and tiring and worrying. We wonder what lies ahead. Yet in all of this we have the assurance of God’s persistent presence with us, the love of Jesus surrounding us, and the inspiration of the Spirit guiding us.

May God’s peace be with us all.

In Christ’s love,

Pastor Pam

Marty Lewis
Congregation Council President