Covenant’s response to covid-19

Updated Re-opening Plan -phase 3 September 22, 2020


Sunday Morning Worship in Person Begins Again November 1st

November 1st, throughout church history, has been celebrated as “All Saints Day” or in Old English “All Hallows Day.” It was seen by many as the holiest day of the year, and is the reason the day before, October 31st, has come down to us as Halloween (“All Hallows Eve” or “Hallows E’n”) when imaginations ran toward a time when evil spirits ran wild for a moment before the holy day arrived and they were once again confined to their appropriate spiritual prison.

For us here at Covenant, we are planning for an All Saints Day 2020 that will be as special as any we have experienced in our own church history, for that is the day we plan to reopen our church for in-person Sunday morning worship once again.

It will have been more than half a year, but now our Reopening Task Force has unanimously recommended, and our Elders have approved, a plan for us to resume worshipping God together in His house at 6695 Mae Anne Avenue once again with the kind of extraordinary safety protocols in place that we now see wherever we go—masks, social distancing, limited attendance, etc.

I am delighted to share with you the full plan as presented to our Session. Below you will find the rationale and particulars of our Phase 3 Reopening Plan. You will see that we are planning to open November 1st and that October 18th and 25th will be “trial run” or “soft opening” Sundays when we will do our best to iron out the wrinkles related to all of our safety protocols. Assuming that we do not see the feared dramatic Fall spike in Covid-19 cases predicted by our cautious scientists and politicians, we will offer three Sunday in-person services—9:00 traditional, 11:00 contemporary & a 7:00 p.m. praise service (essentially our current outdoor service moved inside for reasons of darkness and cold). We will be restricted to 50 people (two separated and socially distanced groups of 25) in our sanctuary for each of these services, and we will ask you, our members and friends, to make reservations each week (beginning October 12th) so we can manage these state-mandated attendance restrictions by calling or e-mailing Cindy Duncan in our church office.

Even as we offer in-person worship once again for those who feel it is time to return, we will continue to honor and support those who are more vulnerable and/or are simply not ready to return to public worship under the same roof. Our livestreaming will continue each week.

Please join me in thanking our hard-working Reopening Task Force for their time and efforts that have helped us through the ongoing Covid-19 crisis and will continue to do so through Phase 3 and into 2021: Dianne Billharz, Melissa Bullard, Dan & Bev Carne, Cindy Duncan, Jay & Denell Hull & Jennifer Oliver.

If you have questions or comments, please do not hesitate to call me at church or to contact any of the other Task Force or Session members.

Here, then, is the Phase 3 Plan in its entirety.

I look forward to seeing many of you in November (and in our “dress rehearsals” in October).

Soli Deo Gloria,

Pastor Jay

Covenant Reopening Plan – Phase 3 

September 22, 2020

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

– John 13:34-35

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  –  Jesus (Matthew 22:37-40)

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

– Hebrews 10:23-25

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

– 2 Corinthians 13:11-13

The Covid-19 Pandemic & Covenant, Reno

In Phase 1 we closed all in-person meetings and worship services and began live-streaming Sunday morning services (including communion) to our church family. This happened in March of this year.

In Phase 2 we added our Sunday evening outdoor service with governmental restrictions and the recommendations of our scientists in place (social distancing, masks, self-examination questions, etc.). This began in June of this year.

At our Session meeting later in June, our elders voted to amend this plan by allowing small groups (no more than 50 in compliance with governmental guidelines) to meet back in church beginning in the Summer—Phase 2.5. This did not include any open-to-the-public in-person Sunday morning worship, still only the evening outdoor service.  Our morning livestream continued for its 5th month.

We are now most of the way through September, and our Reopening Task Force unanimously believes it is time for us to plan, approve and implement Phase 3 which will include resuming in-person Sunday morning worship services with restrictions and precautions appropriate for public health and in keeping with our values of 1) being good citizens of our state, obeying the authorities God has placed over us (see Romans 13:1ff & 1 Peter 2:3ff) and 2) demonstrating self-sacrificial love for our church family and neighbors (see John 13:34-35 & Matthew 22:37-40).

Why now? What has changed? In a word: Context.

When we began this strange Covid-19 adventure, we were doing our best in the midst of many unknowns. How bad could this virus be? Were we going to lose millions of lives? We were told the great threat was a huge spike in virus cases that would overwhelm our medical establishment. People might die for lack of medical equipment and hospital beds. In Reno emergency facilities were set up in hospital parking lots. How long would it be necessary and/or prudent for us to endure the massive interruptions and inconveniences to life as we knew it?

At the start, we cancelled our in-person worship, and we thought we would probably be back together by Easter. Easter came and went, and we were still staying home. Pentecost came and went. Summer. Mission Month. Fall kickoffs.

Now September is almost over. And now we are making decisions with more information and a broader context.

Of course, there are mixed reviews about how well our nation has responded to the crisis, but clearly the valid concern about an overwhelming spike in Covid-19 cases beyond what we could handle did not happen. Good for us. This concern seems to have faded and has been replaced by an incessantly repeated nightly-news concern that anyone at all might get this highly contagious virus. Nevertheless, schools have reopened. Casinos have reopened (with packed parking lots, I have noticed). The scientific/political authorities are predicting another major spike in cases that should be happening right now. Up to this point we have continued to err on the side of caution, not doing as much as the government will allow but what our concerned scientists have said is wiser.

Our current safety protocols—masks, social distancing, extra caution—seem to be working. Are they enough? How risky is it to return to our sanctuary together as God’s faithful and faithfully masked community?

Current predictions suggest that we will not be significantly, statistically safer against Covid-19 for at least another year.

If we wait until the new authoritative “Word of the Lord” which is, for a militantly secular-humanist culture, “Studies Have Shown,” gives us the All-Clear Proclamation, we may well be closed for another year.

So, what is it worth to us to be able to worship our God as we faithfully assemble in His house together each week? And what will it cost if we continue to choose the path of extra caution urged by the voice of science?

Is our God speaking today in solidarity with this wisely cautious scientific voice for the sake of sacrificial love? Is God instead saying it is time for us to resume our shared life of faith in Jesus Christ our Lord and that our worshipping together is more important than propping up the illusion that “safety” is a reasonable and healthy ultimate goal adequately achieved by human ability and effort? I don’t know the answer to this.

What is different today than it was a month ago or five months ago? Context.

It might be suggested that our plan to reopen is fueled primarily by our impatience, that we are tired of this crisis and its inconveniences and we’re just not going to take it anymore. I have a different view. We are right, and not just impatient, to consider the context. What we were called to do, willing to do, right to do, for a few weeks, for six months, may not be what we are called to do, willing to do, right to do, for a year and a half.

So, in this new broader context, our Reopening Task Force believes—by faith and by sight but perhaps more the former than the latter—that it is time to come back together as best we can, submitting to governmental instructions and with safety protocols in place, reasonably and intentionally.

Before laying out the details of our Phase 3 plan, it is important to make clear what we are saying and not saying to our Covenant family.

A. We are not saying “It is now safe to return to in-person worship.” It is no safer today than it has been in the previous months. There is a real risk, though we believe still small, to gathering with 49 other people in a building. (Numbers of Covid cases has always been a small minority of our county/state/national population.)

B. We are not saying “We are done paying attention to the scientific data and informed opinions about the current pandemic.” If, for example, the significant spike in Covid-19 cases/hospitalizations/deaths in Washoe County happens in the next few weeks, as some predict, we will halt our Phase 3 plans and look to a later date for reopening.

C. We are saying “We will expect and monitor reasonable safety procedures as we regather, in keeping with the good instructions our good scientists and politicians provide, but this will no longer include a total ban on our worshipping together in God’s house.”

D. We are saying “We will continue to honor one another in our individual perspectives and varying levels of perceived vulnerability and subsequent caution in the midst of this pandemic. As we provide for those willing and able to gather, we will continue to care about and provide for those who cannot. Remote worship via livestream will continue even as six-feet-away worship begins and even when that longed-for day of shoulder-to-shoulder worship resumes.”

E. And we are saying “We believe the risks, seen in broad perspective, are outweighed by other factors—the human need for real fellowship, the Biblical priority of not giving up our assembling together, the importance of Christ-centered worship, the real size of the immediate threat, the demonstrated effectiveness of reasonable safety measures, the length of time we are considering, the illusory nature of the personal and collective ‘safety’ being held up as our ultimate goal by forceful people who don’t know any better…”

So, here is the Phase 3 Plan:

I. We will reopen our church for in-person worship beginning on November 1st

A. This reopening date will be preceded by 2 weeks of “dress rehearsal/soft openings” to which people

      will be invited with the knowledge that we are still working out the bugs in our procedures (October

      18 & 25).

      B. Our ongoing Sunday Evening service will be brought inside as a 3rd weekly in-person worship service


      C. So each Sunday we will offer 3 services:

            1. 9:00 Traditional Service (with choir, organ, liturgist, pastor preaching…)

            2. 11:00 Contemporary Service (with praise band & pastor preaching the same message)

            3. 7:00 p.m. Praise Service (more informal, praise band, a variety of preachers and different texts)

      D. Limited-activity (for reasons of safety protocols) Child-care will be available during the morning

            worship services.

      E. Staff, Ushers, Greeters and all the other Support Volunteers needed to implement safety protocols

            each week will receive special training prior to the reopening date.

      F. Sign-ups/reservations will be taken in the church office for each of the services to insure that we do not exceed the 50 person limit currently in place. (The presumption is that we may have to direct people to a different service time, but we ought to be able to accommodate all of our church family and friends on any given weekend.)

      G. Attendance, using the sign-ups and on-site observation will be taken each week for potential tracking purposes.

H. Both of the morning services will be livestreamed as we are now doing for those who cannot attend or who yet do not feel comfortable attending in person.

I. Remote Communion services, though, will be discontinued. Those unable to attend in-person   Communion services will be encouraged to request at-home Communion to be provided by Pastor      Jay and other Elders.

II. All those attending in person will be asked and expected to abide by the new, but now familiar,  public and personal safety protocols.

  A. Social Distancing – 6 feet between individuals and/or family groups at all times.

            1. One-way entry and exit from the building will be carefully planned, clearly marked and   courteously monitored.

           2. Worshippers will be encouraged to arrive a little earlier than usual and with a healthy supply of patience to facilitate traffic flow and slower speed of entry.

            3. Empty seats will be arranged and marked off between family groups by ushers.

            4. Those wishing to congregate with others after the services for conversation will be asked to do so   outside.

            5. We will encourage “Air hugs” and “Air handshakes” only.

B. Masks will be required of everyone in the building except very small children and speakers while they  are speaking. Plexiglass shields will be in place for our up-front speakers. A supply of masks will be  available each week and one will be given to those who forget theirs.

C. All participants will be screened as they enter the building

   1. Temperatures will be quickly and efficiently taken using forehead scanners. Those with   temperatures over 100.4 Fahrenheit will be asked to return home for their own, and others’,     safety.

            2. A set of basic Covid-19 personal health questions will be sent to our whole congregation and posted at the entryways. Each person will be asked to acknowledge their awareness of the questions and assurance that all their answers are “No” as they are welcomed into the church building.

      a. Do you have any of these symptoms that are not caused by another condition?

  • Fever or chills
    • Cough
    • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
    • Fatigue
    • Muscle or body aches
    • Headache
    • Recent loss of taste or smell
    • Sore throat
    • Congestion
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Diarrhea

                  b. Within the past 14 days, have you had contact with anyone that you know had COVID-19 or COVID-like symptoms? Contact is being 6 feet (2 meters) or closer for more than 15 minutes with a person, or having direct contact with fluids from a person with COVID-19 (for example, being coughed or sneezed on).

                  c. Have you had a positive COVID-19 test for active virus in the past 10 days?

                  d. Within the past 14 days, has a public health or medical professional told you to self-monitor,  self-isolate, or self-quarantine because of concerns about COVID-19 infection?

                  e. Do you believe yourself to be at special risk regarding contracting, spreading or suffering life- threatening effects from the Covid-19 virus?

III. Extraordinary Safety Precautions Will Be Followed for the Benefit of All Sunday Morning  Participants

      A. Gloves will be worn by Greeters/Ushers as they hand out disposable worship materials (bulletins, Covenant Connection, etc. and by Communion Servers as they hand out bread and cups (as Pastor Jay is doing each month now).

      B. Plates will not be passed during the time of Offering. Instead, a box for tithes and offerings will be  available at the back of the church.

      C. Hymnals/Bibles will not be shared outside of family groups within or between services (48 hours before anyone else touches the book).

D. Hand sanitizers will be abundant and conspicuous throughout the church building.

      E. Social distancing etc. will be observed in the child-care areas as well as in the sanctuary and narthex.

F. Used chairs will be sanitized between services.

      G. A “one person/family at a time” policy on Bathroom use will be in effect. Bathroom surfaces will be cleaned between services to supplement our usual weekly cleaning service’s more thorough work.

      H. Coffee & Snack service, if provided, will be offered only outside by masked and gloved volunteers using pre-packaged treats.

IV. All of our people will be reminded regularly, as long as Phase 3 lasts, to please, honor and be gracious to those who may seem more or less cautious than yourself

For the Reopening Task Force (Dianne Billharz, Melissa Bullard, Dan & Bev Carne, Cindy Duncan, Jay & Denell Hull, Jennifer Oliver),

Pastor Jay Hull