Multiple staff were exposed to COVID-19 last week. Operating out of an abundance of caution, we will not have in person worship until august 16th. Please join us at 11am through either the church's Facebook page or website.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In my twenty years of pastoral ministry, this has been my most difficult season of ministry. Much of the angst I’ve felt has involved wading into territory outside my calling and expertise. I am not an infectious disease doctor or infectious disease nurse or MD or research scientist or epidemiologist. As my oldest is fond of saying, “You may be a doctor, but you’re not a real doctor. If we’re not talking about Jesus, you can’t really help anybody.” Those words have never rung more true than in the last few months.
This is one of the many reasons I’m thankful for the multitude of gifts reflected within the body of Christ, because decisions made by the regathering committee, have never been my own or relied on my expertise. With the committee’s diversity of gifts, the committee includes medical professionals, one of which works specifically in the field of infectious disease and directly cares for COVID patients. The decisions made on when and how to regather for worship have been collective decisions made by the committee. The committee has arrived at these decisions through the study of verifiable research findings and personal consultation with multiple MDs who have intimate knowledge of COVID-19 research. One of those consulted is a leading infectious disease doctor at a large hospital conglomerate in central Indiana.
Every decision made by the regathering committee has been agonized over and researched, and yet, if I’ve learned anything over the last four months, it’s that we need to stay up to date on new findings and that every report of a new finding doesn’t amount to hard evidence. When a headline reads, “239 scientist say…,” those findings may not be rooted in objective research on COVID, but subjective opinion based on how other viruses are spread.
With the changing narrative on COVID and what often appear to be contradictory findings, I understand that others may reasonably come to conclusions that differ from the decisions made by the regathering committee. If you find yourself wrestling with the decisions made by the regathering committee, don’t hesitate to ask questions, or if you work in the field of medicine, don’t hesitate to offer insight and wisdom.
With those words behind me, let me share two updates:
1.Singing has been shown to be a super spreader for COVID-19; in response, a few congregants have, understandably, expressed concern over the regathering committee’s decision to allow congregational singing in worship. For those unfamiliar, when singing, because we project our voices, large droplets of saliva are forcibly expelled from our mouths, along with aerosolized microdroplets that may remain aloft in the air. The larger droplets are the droplets primarily linked to the spread of COVID-19. Those droplets are typically transmitted through close personal contact, but when those droplets are forcibly expelled by projecting your voice or yelling or singing, larger droplets can potentially travel six feet or more.
Unlike the larger droplets, the aerosolized microdroplets remain in the air, and absent adequate airflow, the microdroplets can hang in the air. This is the reason the back doors of the church will remain open and the fan will remain running throughout the worship service. That being said, transmission of COVID is not recognized to be transmitted through aerosolized droplets as, “most public health organizations (including the WHO) do not recognize airborne transmission, except for aerosol-generating procedures performed in healthcare settings” (It’s Time to Address Airborne Transmission of COVID-19, Oxford University Press for the Infectious Diseases Society of America).
Current understandings of COVID transmission, undergird the decision of the regathering committee to require masks. One study, out of Munich, Germany, commissioned after mass spreads among two choirs in the U.S. and Germany, concluded that “tests with face masks revealed that singing with surgical masks filters out the large droplets completely and the aerosols partially.” In consultation with the MDs mentioned above, they communicated similar understandings related to singing and transmission. Having explained to the doctors the preventive measures we’ve employed, one shared, “[as of current findings] there have not been any cases in churches who employed these measures.” Another of the doctors consulted, simply explained to me, “If all are masked appropriately and socially distanced, then risk should be very low.” Finally, the leading and renowned infectious disease doctor we consulted, reported, “In big church outbreaks, not everyone was using masks. Singing poses a risk, but mostly if folks are not using masks. People need to use masks, but they have to use them correctly.” None of the doctors suggested or advised us to stop singing.
2. Beginning July 19th, we will bring back the 9:45am service in the sanctuary. If you choose to worship at 9:45am, here are additional items to know:
a. We will not allow anyone to enter the building until everyone from the 8:30am service has vacated the building; this will prevent cross traffic. The goal will be to have the 8:30am service clear by 9:30am; please, remain in your vehicles until the greeters at the door give you the all clear. By 9:35am, we should be well on our way to welcoming people into the building.
b. Recognizing that different groups will use the sanctuary in immediate succession, there may be some concern over contact transfer. While contact transfer from surfaces is not believed to be a major concern for COVID spread (as one doctor/ researcher plainly explained to me, “We are not worried about surface transmission”), we will continue to exercise an abundance of caution. Pews left empty during first service will be the pews opened during the 9:45 service, and pews occupied during the 8:30 service will be closed off during the 9:45 service. Ultimately, if everyone enters the church with their hands Purelled and their masks covering their nose and mouth, the possibility of contact transfer should be nearly eliminated.
I know I’ve shared more than you ever wanted to read, so I’ll conclude with this, yesterday, an article in the New York Times caught my attention. The article is entitled, “Churches Were Eager to Reopen. Now They Are a Major Source of Coronavirus Cases.” When I read the headline, I immediately thought, “We’re headed back to online worship,” then I read the article. Far from determining churches to be a “Major Source of Coronavirus Cases,” the article concluded, “More than 650 coronavirus cases have been linked to nearly 40 churches and religious events across the United States since the beginning of the pandemic, with many of them erupting over the last month as Americans resumed their pre-pandemic activities.” Let’s place these numbers in perspective. As of July 8th, there were a confirmed 3.17 million COVID cases in the U.S., of those cases, 650 have been linked to churches. Those 650 cases have been traced to 40 churches or “religious gatherings.” In the U.S., there are over 350,000 churches and tens of millions of churchgoers. This isn’t to minimize the reality that there have been multiple outbreaks traced back to churches, but those outbreaks, in every case, though the Times article doesn’t make this clear, included a failure to require masks and, in most cases, a failure to social distance.
My brothers and sisters, even with measures we’ve employed at Fishers UMC, if you choose to attend the in-person worship, there is no guarantee you will not contract the virus. If you do not yet feel comfortable entering into worship or are immunocompromised, you should, in good conscience, remain home and participate in online worship. Every week the regathering committee will continue to meet to discern next steps; if new research mandates instituting stricter measures, we will employ stricter measures.
Love to you all,
Dr. Ben Greebaum
Just a reminder, here are a few things to know as we gather together.
8:30 & 9:45am in the sanctuary, traditional worship (We will enter through Doors 2 and 3. The other doors to the church will be locked.)
11:00am in the gym, contemporary worship (We will enter through Door 4. The other doors will be locked.)
*To maintain social distancing, ushers will direct us to our seats on Sunday mornings. We will not have our choice of pew or chair.
*For those who do not feel comfortable returning, we will continue to offer online worship, but the time will move from 10am to 11am. The online service will be filmed at 8:30 and shown at 11, which will allow time for the video to be rendered. The video can be viewed at fishersumc.org/liveworship or on our Facebook page.
*Everyone entering the building, ages 2 and over, will be required to wear masks. If you forget your mask, a mask will be provided to you at the door.
*Hand sanitizer will be provided as we enter the building.
*Please refrain from bringing food and drink into the building, unless it is for infants/babies.
*We ask that no one gather in the common areas while entering and exiting the building.
*Please, respect the need for others to maintain social distancing. We understand the desire to hug and shake hands and greet one another, but for the health and safety of one another, please grant space to each other.