We regret to inform you that since we have met the criteria established by our own Reopening Committee to suspend indoor worship, in an abundance of caution, we are temporarily suspending the current indoor worship service as is, and instituting a small-group indoor worship format that better protects staff and congregants in light of the worsening COVID climate.
The modified format will shorten the service to approximately 35 minutes and reduce the number of attendees to 25, starting on December 13.
We recognize that this is a divisive issue and that some of you may believe we are overcautious and some of you may believe we are not cautious enough. We have attempted to find the middle ground. There are encouraging signs on the horizon and we are hopeful these restrictions will end in the not-too-distant future.
The Good Shepherd Lutheran Church (GSLC) Board of Servant Leaders (BoSL) convened on November 19 to address the issue of indoor worship in light of the ongoing national spike in COVID-19 cases and the Virginia governor’s recent decision to limit certain group activities statewide. Because of the fact that the previously agreed-to criteria for shutting down indoor worship services has been exceeded, the BoSL agreed to suspend the current 50-person limit on indoor worship beginning after the already scheduled November 29 service. In order to continue to provide indoor worship, we instituted a reduced-scope worship format that decreased risk for congregants and staff. This modified format will last 35 minutes instead of 50 minutes and have a maximum of 25 participants instead of 50 participants. The service content will be similar to the existing COVID-compliant indoor service. We are investigating additional changes that further reduce infection risks. These parameters align with the existing Small Group Meeting Guidelines that were already recommended by the Reopening Committee. Indoor services will continue to operate on a bi-weekly schedule.
These decisions were not taken lightly and arrived at only after very vigorous internal debate. The BoSL made this decision in consultation with the Reopening Committee and in alignment with the Small Group Meeting Guidelines. However, this modified worship approach is outside the scope of the guidance from the Reopening Committee. We made this decision carefully and prayerfully after consulting personal feedback from many of you.
Indoor worship is deeply valuable for many of us. We recognize that not all congregants share these priorities. Not everyone on the Board or the Reopening Committee feels the same way either, but we recognize the importance of this to our brothers and sisters and are identifying a way to serve them that is balanced with the risks at hand. The major concerns we have are in regard to the health of our staff and our responsibility to the larger Fairfax community to reduce the risk of community spread. The reduced scope of the service and our continued enforcement of strict indoor service guidance may help decrease the risk of spread.
Additionally, we considered the guidelines of other Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and non-LCMS churches in the area and incidences of infections. We continue to enforce more conservative guidelines than many of our fellow LCMS churches and institute very stringent best practice indoor guidelines.
We encourage you to re-examine our criteria and give us your views. We recognize that GSLC has a responsibility to our staff and community to reduce the risk of contagion regardless of the risk tolerance of individual worshipers.
We are daily monitoring the Northern Virginia Regional COVID-19 Dashboard and state guidelines and will cancel services if warranted. The BoSL will evaluate quantitative criteria for ending indoor services altogether in December after we are able to gather more information from the impact Thanksgiving had on our regional measures.
This has been an extraordinarily difficult year. The frustration and sadness we hear from you all about being unable to be together speaks to the strength of the community of this church. We join you in prayer that this global ordeal will come to an end soon and we can all worship together in person. Take care of yourselves and one another. We will get through this together and come out better in the end.
Yours in prayer,
The Board of Servant Leaders