Introduction

Praise God that the numbers continue to improve and our city is preparing to gradually resume ‘normal’ life!  As this progresses, here is our general plan for resuming in-person meetings.

Bible Directed

We desperately and rightfully long to be together again. The next section of psalms that our church is getting ready to go through in our Bible Reading Plan – the ‘Songs of Ascent’ – were sung as pilgrims anticipated worship at the Temple. We can certainly relate to the sentiment expressed in Psalm 122:1 – “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’”

As we’ve said from the beginning of this season, we must not forget that assembling together around Jesus is fundamental to what a New Testament church (ekklesia) is. We have tried to safeguard this truth by not attempting to produce an online version of ‘church’, but rather to let the lack be felt and drive us to deeper reflection and prayer (listen to Episode 2 of the Immanuel Pastors Podcast for more). Therefore, we are especially eager to resume Sunday gatherings as soon as reasonably possible.

Local Government Informed

But the Bible also directs us to love our neighbors (Rom. 13:10) and to submit to our governing authorities (1Pe. 2:13-17). While the President recognized churches as essential and some in other parts of the country are already re-convening… and while the Governor has lifted restrictions on Illinois churches, our particular setting requires a slightly slower pace. For the sake of our local witness and local public health, at this point we will be following the re-opening guidelines laid out by our Mayor.

Phases 1 & 2

Though it was hard, we stressed staying home as much as possible and when outside using social distancing and face masks during the first phases of this pandemic. Small Groups and Prayer Meeting happened via Zoom and Sunday services were cancelled.

Phase 3

Since the Mayor declared that the City could enter Phase 3 on June 3 we still have not gathered on Sundays, but our Small Groups began having an in-person element. Some have been uncomfortable or unable to come and so we still have a Zoom option for joining in. Plus, Small Groups have not been able to have over 10 people present (including kids), so some people have had to opt to stay home and join via Zoom on certain weeks. Those come have to wear masks and keep a safe distance. We encourage outdoor gatherings as much as possible. But this has been a welcome step forward towards embodied re-engagement with each other.

Phase 4

As soon as Chicago enters into Phase 4 (which in the current plan allows for gatherings of up to 50 people) Small Groups will have no attendance limit and we will move to begin having Sunday corporate worship again! It won’t feel like March 8th did. It won’t even feel like March 15th (our last Sunday together when we had started to implement several precautions). But it will feel good.

In the months and years to come, we want to be up front that we are not expecting a totally COVID-free church, but we will have a COVID-safe church. This is not a comprehensive list, but here are just some of the safety measures we plan to have in place at first:

· There will be a lot of hand sanitizer.

· Everyone will have to wear and sing with masks.

· We will not offer Kids’ Corner.

· No handshakes or hugs.

· There will not be any food, besides the Lord’s Table (and we have a plan for distributing those elements in an extra careful way).

· Offering baskets will not be passed but will remain stationary.

· There will be no bulletins and it will be BYOB (bring-your-own-Bible).

· Surfaces will be wiped down after every use and The Meeting Place will be professionally cleaned every week instead of every month.

· Seating will be spread apart.

· Entrance, exit, and traffic flow will be streamlined to maintain safe distance and minimize touching handles.

· Those who are sick or susceptible should stay home.

· RSVPs will be required and the Welcoming Team will keep a count to make sure we do not exceed 50 people.

The 50 person limit does not leave much wiggle room for visitors, but we think we can meet like this for a while and evaluate our options as the fall and the possible return of students approaches. Perhaps there will be new developments in the spread of the virus and/or government guidelines by then. We will also be prepared for the possibility of needing to move back to Phase 3 at some point.

The logistics and legalities of outdoor services have also being explored, but at the moment seem to have too high of a liability.

Conclusion

We want to communicate openly with you about our plans. Obviously, circumstances are constantly shifting and plans are always subject to the Lord’s will (James 4:13-15). We will keep monitoring the situation.

In the meantime, we ask you to keep praying: for us as leaders, for each other, for your own soul to remain in Christ’s love, for the revival of the Church, for the lost around us and around the world, for the abatement of this virus, and ultimately for the return of Christ. Keep pursuing the Lord through private and family worship routines. And keep pursuing relationships with your brothers and sisters through things like our Saturday Morning Prayer Meetings, weekly Small Group Bible Studies, discussing the Sunday Guides, participating in the Facebook Group conversations and events… and through reaching out individually.

We hosted a Town Hall Zoom Meeting for members of the church to discuss this on June 21.

 

Updated 6/24/20