by Rev. Dale Azevedo, Sr. Minister          –         June 25, 2020

The latest gathering of the BCCUCC Moving Forward Team wrapped up at 2:11 on Thursday afternoon (June 25, 2020). This was the fifth consecutive week we have met (beginning May 26) to discuss how and when we could begin resuming in-person ministries and worship at BCCUCC. This was another productive meeting. What was most helpful about this session is that we had recently received the results from our church-wide survey. The data was fascinating and provides us with an invaluable tool as we proceed. Thank you for participating. We had 112 responses which far exceeded our expectations. This outpouring tells me how seriously our members take this decision. The team asked for me to assure you that we are proceeding in a prayerful and thoughtful manner, seeking to understand all the necessary information in this ever-changing landscape.

One of the most striking aspects of the survey results is how diverse our responses were. On one hand, this perhaps shouldn’t be surprising because we are a few hundred different people with different experiences spanning six generations. Many of us are in very different stages of life. On the other hand, there is significant homogeneity in our congregation and community. The most telling of our diverse answers is found in the chart to the left. It shows that 15.2% of respondents would be comfortable returning “to our church buildings soon as possible” while 18.8% would not feel comfortable “until a vaccine is widely available.” The remaining responses were divided up between sometime “in the fall” and “maybe next winter or spring” at 38.4% and 27.7% respectively.

The answers to this one question make it clear that, as different members of the same body, we have different needs. This contrast is also seen in some of the many thoughtful insights shared at the end of the survey. One of you writes, “We miss coming into church, but anything indoors feels ‘risky’ right now. Hopefully #s will continue to trend in the right direction throughout the summer. The virtual worship has been very well done.” Another shared this feedback, “I think that it should be opened up for the older parishioners first. They are less likely to be able to use the technology fluently and are (probably) missing the services a great deal more. As a family with teenagers we are finding that our kids are less interested…The way our church is designed would require some serious planning and signage to observe the 6-foot rule.” And finally, “I love the concept of outdoor services – perhaps requiring reservations to avoid overcrowding. However, I’d still recommend no singing. Perhaps we could hum?”

Some people wrote a lot:

Late fall is the earliest I feel truly comfortable attending indoor services, after we know if there is a Covid 19 surge in September/October. While I definitely cherish being inside the church building, I wouldn’t like all of the restrictions that are imposed now, except for masks, which I think are the most important anyway. There would be too many things missing, especially the choir, as well as the in-person socialization with the rest of the congregation. I enjoy the online services, meetings, etc. Everyone has made an amazing effort to bring just about everything to the online format. The choir and instrumentalists are great Maybe we could have a hybrid of both until things are truly more back to “normal” or there is a vaccine? One in church service per month starting in the fall and see how everything evolves from there?

Others were quite succinct:

Like the Nike slogan “just do it “

These statements, along with all the rest you shared, make it clear that as a group we are are both quite anxious to get back to worshiping together AND express a high level of caution and concern for our, and our neighbor’s, health and well-being.

I wish that I had some definitive news to share with you today about how long virtual worship will last and when we may come back together for in-person gatherings of some sort. The truth is it is still too soon for us to have those answers. We are working hard at finding them though. One thing I can share with you is that it is highly likely that virtual worship will remain an option going forward at BCCUCC. With nearly fifty percent of our respondents saying you will not return to the buildings until next winter/spring or until a vaccine is widely available, this is the most logical course of action. We will remain online at least in some form, even after we return to worshiping in-person.

For those who are wondering why we are taking such a long time to come up with a solution, here is a sobering example from the news this week. Over a period of three days, Covid-19 cases in LeGrande, OR, jumped from 22 to 240. 236 of those cases are linked to the Lighthouse Pentecostal Church which had recently reopened. This is a concern. Nationally, churches are now seen as on par with strip clubs and bars as places where outbreaks originate.

The example of Lighthouse Presbyterian Church is an extreme example. Apparently they took no precautions, sang together, and didn’t physically distance. But we want to make sure we do not become another example. There will be safe times and ways for us to gather again in person. We look forward to them! In the meantime, we are continuing to gather data, listen to our public health officials, and explore how we can safely reconvene. Be well and stay safe.

 

*Note An earlier version of this blog stated that nearly 10% of Union County, OR, is Covid 19 positive. This statement was incorrect and has been removed from the blog.