God’s Great Commission is an enduring command to spread the word of salvation to all people until such time that He returns to establish His eternal kingdom. From the Christian Church’s early beginnings, it has continuously survived, adapted, and grown in the face of war, famine, disease, persecution, and every other obstacle in this fallen earth. It will not be defeated by the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church intends to respond to the pandemic in a manner that both obeys God’s command and cares for His sheep: our members of all ages, their extended families, and the surrounding community. In doing so we will depart from some treasured traditions and become accustomed to some new ones. All changes described in this plan are being made to address both the spiritual and the physical welfare of the GSLC community. We also rely on and respect the sound judgment of individuals. No one should feel obligated to participate in an activity with which they are not comfortable.
The plan is consistent with the regulations and guidelines provided by local, state, and federal authorities. In some cases, GSLC may choose to adopt more restrictive approaches than recommended by civil authorities. The plan is also guided and informed by information from the Southeastern District (SED) of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and neighboring Lutheran churches, along with legal and insurance recommendations.
Although a dedicated team of volunteers diligently prepared this plan with the best information available, our knowledge about the virus changes often and the trajectory of the pandemic is unknown. Therefore, the plan may be modified to accommodate individual situations and/or to incorporate learning from experience.
The following describes an approach to both virtual and initial in-person worship at GSLC. Guidelines that will be used to determine when to begin or suspend in-person worship can be found by CLICKING HERE.
GSLC’s virtual worship will continue to be an integral part of our weekly worship ministry. It consistently reaches a large number of people, including nonmembers and those who are out-of-area. To maintain the present quality, the virtual service will continue to be pre-recorded during the week in the sanctuary. In the near term the existing, temporary audio visual equipment will be used; but ultimately more capable, permanently installed equipment will significantly improve our ability to use the sanctuary in various and flexible ways.
Note that some elements of the virtual worship, such as music and small-group singing, may be incorporated into the in-person worship services.
To augment virtual worship, a modified Service of Holy Communion will be offered twice a month. This will be a drive-in service, held in the lower level of GSLC’s parking lot. Members will remain in their cars and listen to the service via FM radio. Each service can accommodate approximately 70 cars.
In-Person Worship (Phase 2)
Health and Safety
The physical worship environment is one of close contact among many households for a prolonged period in a confined space. In addition, group speaking and singing increase airborne aerosols and thus a higher risk of disease transmission. Therefore, for the mutual love, respect, and safety of GSLC’s members and staff, the initial phase of in-person worship will be under conditions of a modified order of worship, strict social distancing, and personal protection measures.
During this initial phase, the in-person worship experience will be significantly different from what we were accustomed to prior to the pandemic. Public health guidelines dictate that we limit the number of people such that safe distancing (6 feet) for unrelated people or households can be maintained within the worship space. A sign-up process will be used to manage attendance at each service.
Controlled entry and exit procedures and signs will be used to direct the flow of people and minimize close contact at the doors and common areas. Ushers will assist with seating and monitor for safe distancing. All loose materials such as bulletins, hymnals, welcome cards, pens, and children’s bags will be removed. News and Announcements will continue to be available on GSLC’s website. No assisted listening devices will be available. We plan to use an FM transmitter for people to listen to the service in other rooms.
Within the building, only the worship area, its main doors, and nearby restrooms will be open. Weather permitting, exterior doors will be propped open. If exterior doors cannot be propped open, they will be handled by a gloved and masked person. Hand sanitizer will be readily available near the doors and in the restrooms. Use of restrooms will be limited to one person at a time (except for a person in need of assistance), and each person should thoroughly wash their hands and wipe down any surface they touch with disinfectant wipes before they exit. The Nursery will not be open, but a limited number of areas will be available for a family member to care for their children and listen to the service via FM radio.
Anyone showing symptoms that could be from COVID-19 is strongly encouraged to worship through our virtual worship services. See the GSLC COVID-19 Health Guidelines for full details regarding in-person attendance for high risk and increased risk people, for those who may have symptoms or may have been exposed to COVID-19, and for those who have recovered from COVID-19.
In accordance with health and safety guidelines, anyone attending an in-person worship service will be required to wear a mask that covers their mouth and nose while in the building. The Pastor and other officiants will not wear masks during the service, but will attempt to maintain a safe distance or remain behind a protective barrier. Those not comfortable with following the guidelines will be given information about the virtual worship and drive-in communion services.
For contact tracing and prayer requests, we will encourage everyone to complete an online welcome card on the GSLC website. A limited number of welcome cards will be available at the doors for those who can’t complete them on-line. Anyone who becomes ill with COVID-19 after attending an in-person worship service should notify the Pastor or the church office so that other people who were present at that service can be notified that they were potentially exposed. The confidentiality of the person who became ill will be maintained.
There will be changes in how the worship service is conducted. There will be no procession of the cross, and acolytes will not be used. The “meet and greet” welcome will be discontinued. The order of worship and liturgy will be projected on screens. Due to the heightened risk associated with singing, there will be no congregational singing or chanting. Choir music will be limited to a small number of singers or will be pre-recorded.
Online, electronic, or text offering collection will be encouraged. A collection basket will be present at the door for those who wish to contribute in that manner. Communion will use sealed, disposable communion packs.
The worship area will be cleaned prior to each service with emphasis on disinfecting touch surfaces such as pews, pew backs, door handles, etc. The Altar Guild will use sanitary procedures to prepare the chancel, microphones, and communion packs.
Greeters will be present to welcome people from a safe distance with a wave and a smile. The Pastor will not greet people as they exit to avoid creating a bottleneck. Coffee and fellowship following the service will not be available. Everyone will be asked to avoid congregating inside the building and maintain safe distance guidelines both inside and outside.
Worship Times and Location
The congregational survey indicated enough interest in attending an in-person worship for two services. (See the Survey summary here.)
After considering several alternatives, the Fellowship Hall was determined to be the best place to begin in-person worship. It offers the most seating arrangement flexibility, accommodates the most people, and is easier to clean between services. With appropriate distancing (6-ft. household separation), the Fellowship Hall can accommodate approximately 100-125 people, depending on number and size of family groups. We will continue to support the SLHS Food Pantry from other room(s) within GSLC.
Later, after funding and installing a permanent audio visual capability, the sanctuary will also be available for an in-person worship service with the potential for livestreaming. It also would continue to be used to record virtual services.