When I was a high school basketball coach at the Christian school level, we played in all kinds of gymnasiums, from college courts to local community centers to YMCA’s to small church gyms.
One night we were playing a game at a small school, and someone in the foyer outside the gym tried to turn on a light in the hallway. Instead, the switch she flipped turned off the lights in the gym where the game was being played, right in the middle of the action. It was weird the way everything just stopped–and we all knew it wasn’t because our team was “shooting the lights out!” I can still remember vividly the strange glow of the scoreboard in an otherwise pitch-black gym.
The interesting part of that experience was that when they turned the lights back on they did not come on immediately, but had to “warm up.” So we had to stop the game and wait about ten minutes–which seemed like an eternity in the middle of the game–until the lights were bright enough for us to play again.
If you have been in many gyms or even stadiums, you know that type of lighting is not uncommon in that setting. We actually have them in the warehouse of our own Kids Crossing building on our church campus. They are metal halide lamps that start with a slow flicker, and then have a dim glow until gradually the light intensifies over time. When you flip the switch to turn them off, they go off immediately. But when you turn them back on, it’s a much longer process for them to warm up.
I bring up the story about that game, and tell you about those lights, because they are a good picture of what it will be like as we re-start our public worship gatherings at Shelby Crossings. When we stopped our services on March 22, it was quick and immediate. When we re-open, it will be a much slower process and we will not be plunging back into our normal routine and activities any time soon. It will take us a little while to warm up.
You have probably heard the announcement we made this week that we will return to public worship next Saturday and Sunday, May 23-24. We considered starting as soon as this week, but we were not fully ready to do so, for several reasons. Just as many stores and restaurants, with the restrictions lifted, still have chosen to hit the pause button for a little longer until they are ready to do business again, we felt that we needed another week to evaluate all sides and be fully prepared.
The fortunate thing is, our “business” is not defined by our building. As we have been reminded over and over through this season, we are just as much the church when we are scattered as we are when we are gathered. There are opportunities for ministry, service, loving our neighbor, and sharing the gospel whether the building is open or closed–and we even have opportunities for worship, teaching, and experiencing some level of fellowship online.
So we will begin at a measured pace, with much prudence and patience, making sure that we provide the safest environment possible for our church family to worship. That will certainly mean some change and inconvenience, and will require some selfless attitudes from each of us. There will be no children’s or preschool ministry on-site, and therefore no nursery, which means all of our services will be “family worship.” To begin, we will all need to do reservations/sign-ups for our services, to make sure we do not exceed a pre-determined maximum for each gathering. That may mean some of you will have to attend worship at a different time than you would normally do so.
We will offer a service on Saturday night with no music, for those who are concerned about the danger of possibly spreading the virus through singing. Our two Sunday services will be somewhat normal, including singing, but they will be shortened some since we will have the little ones with us.
We will also be removing more than half of the chairs in our worship center, and spreading out the ones that remain to accommodate 6-foot social distancing requirements. We will only open Building B, and will completely sanitize the building before and between services, and there will be prescribed entry/exit only plans through the two back doors, which will be propped open to reduce touch points. There will be no bulletins, and we will receive our offering only in the baskets at the back.
Each of you will be asked to maintain a healthy distance of at least six feet, and we will also encourage you to consider wearing masks, and even gloves if you feel so inclined. Other measures will also be put into practice, according to recommendations from health officials, to protect our church body. And of course, we would still recommend that those who are uncertain about whether to attend, or “at risk” because of age or health issues, stay home a while longer participate in worship online through our live stream.
The terms have been overused, I know, but this situation is “unprecedented” in our lifetime, and the process of restarting after a pandemic quarantine is truly “uncharted waters” for all of us. We are figuring it out as we go along, trying to make wise and safe decisions, to do God’s will–one week at a time. I hope you’ll continue to pray for our church, and for our leadership, as we seek to navigate this season and determine our next steps with faith, humility, sensitivity and courage.
The good news is, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel–even if it’s coming on much slower than it went off! I am praying for each of you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you soon!