COVID Building Reopening Plans

June 22, 2020

Dear Presbyterian Church of Okemos Members and Friends,

It has been three months since we last gathered together, and many of us have spent these months imagining what it will be like when we are back in the church building and worshiping in person. We now recognize that returning to church will have to happen in phases. What future we will find ourselves in depends not only on the behavior of the virus, but on the actions of people – as individuals, churches, communities, and governments. The way forward will not be a matter of following a timetable, but of faithfully discerning the progress of the pandemic, and responding accordingly.

Please understand that for at least the next year, we anticipate our lives to be shaped by the timeline set by COVID-19. We face difficult choices between conflicting needs and imperatives.  If we don’t continue our efforts to contain the virus, a new wave of infections and deaths will cause further damage, and we will lose what we’ve gained from the measures we’ve already taken. And if we push the envelope too far by reopening our buildings and resuming gatherings prematurely, we put the health of our members at risk.

We pray for a spirit of discernment, for wisdom, and patience. We pray for researchers and medical professionals; for the planners; for the ill and recovering; for those grieving and struggling with the weightiness of these times.

PCO session has appointed a COVID Task Force to make recommendations for how to gradually reopen PCO’s building.

How will we know when to return to PCO’s building?

We will continue to follow the guidance of the state of Michigan, the CDC, and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Our primary concern is the ongoing safety of our community. We will always err on the side of safety and caution when faced with multiple guidelines.

Churches are unique because being “open” for us is different than for a store or other businesses: we have large groups of people that come into the building, sit close together to talk, and spend 1-3 hours in a room at a time. It is different from an office where everyone is in separate spaces or from a store where people come and leave quickly.  Opening the building means being able to handle the volume of cleaning needed, follow social distancing protocols, and provide masks and sanitizer for all who need it. We know this means reopening the building in multiple stages.

Here are some of the questions we are asking as we evaluate what each stage of reopening looks like:

  • How will we maintain social distance while entering and exiting buildings, using bathrooms, worshiping, and greeting one another?
  • In early phases of reopening, how will we cap attendance at events so that members of the community can join and so we don’t exceed guidelines?
  • How many people can our worship space hold if we are worshiping in family groups sitting 6 feet apart?
  • How will we ensure sanitation and disinfection in regards to communal spaces? This includes: worship bulletin disposal, hymnals, areas where small groups meet, nursery and church school classrooms, pews and chairs, doorknobs, bathrooms, kitchen, other areas that people touch.
  • What safety precautions such as masks, sanitizer, and cleaning supplies do we need to provide? Who is responsible for maintaining the supply of these and how do we ensure their use is enforced?
  • If someone contracts COVID-19 or test positive for SARS-CoV-2, how will we communicate with our congregation and members who may have come into contact with that individual while maintaining privacy and pastoral care?

Sunday Worship & Sunday School

Even as the building slowly begins reopening, we will continue to worship online using Facebook and our website. We will do so until it is safe to have 100+ people in one space together, with safety and social distancing precautions in place. We know that some of our most beloved worship practices (singing, communion, coffee hour) are not recommended even when small groups are initially able to gather. For that reason, we will continue to worship online for Sunday mornings.

As the building slowly reopens, Bridge Pastor Alice Townley, Sue Schnackenberg, Marlene Brewbaker, and Connor Koppin and additional worship participants such as liturgists, and special musicians (including a modified bell choir) will continue recording worship. These worship segments are combined by Carl Lira with the help of Matt Pearson. We lament that our choirs will not be able to meet in person for quite a while, but are heartened by the creativity of our staff and lay leadership to create our online worship.

Online Worship

It has become abundantly clear that having PCO’s worship services available online is a ministry of accessibility and outreach. We are committed to continuing to offer an online worship option in an ongoing manner, both livestreaming and recording and publishing Sunday morning worship services each week.  Before moving back to live worship in the sanctuary we will finalize a plan that includes accessing services online in perpetuity.

Weddings and Funerals

We will evaluate how we conduct weddings and funerals as the need arises depending on the safety recommendations of the moment. We will work with families to create a plan that honors their loved one, honors their grieving process, and keeps everyone safe. We have ideas and wisdom about how to have online memorial services or visitation should a family not wish to postpone their service.

Building Rentals and Support Groups

We will not open up the building to rentals and support groups until we are in a phase that can support the size of their group, they can ensure they will follow social distancing and safety guidelines, and we can keep up with the demand for sanitizing spaces when they are done. Our Administration Committee will communicate with our outside groups about meeting requirements and timelines for reopening.

What will reopening look like?

For a congregation as large as ours, reopening will happen in several phases.

  • The timeline will not be linear. There might be times when we return to earlier, stricter, phases, before opening back up for a second or third time. We have to be flexible in adapting to the guidelines, and we will continue to clearly communicate how to participate in church ministry at every step of the way.

 Phase One

The first phase activation date depends on the guidance of the aforementioned agencies. In brief, activation of Phase One was to occur with two weeks of declining case counts, improved availability of testing, improved contact tracing and no PPE shortages. These criteria have been met and the Governor’s Executive Order 2020-110 dated June 1, 2020 prompted the COVID Task Force to request of the session that PCO proceed to Phase One.   On Wednesday June 17,2020 session approved implementation of Phase One and charged the COVID Task Force with approval of persons using the building.

Phase One will include:

  1. No public access to the church by members, the public or support groups.
  2. All people using the church building will maintain social distancing, wear masks and disinfect surfaces per CDC guidelines. At no point shall the number of people in the church building exceed 10 people
  3. All church employees.
  4. Members whose work requires use of the office area. Specifically: Jane Bobay, Carl Lira, Doug Paterson, Dave Rumminger, Gary Sturk, Dorinda VanKempen and Gary VanKempen.
  5. Up to 6 members of the bell choir and their director Irene Shutt. This group will use the building to prepare for 3 recordings of their music in June and July. Edward Ennen will be present to open the building for this group.
  6. Choir members rehearsing and recording music. Marlene Brewbaker will record.

All other PCO members with a need to use the building will contact one of the following people to schedule a building entry (phone numbers are available on the church directory): Edward Ennen, Keith Camann or Gary Sturk.

Later phases will be determined based on the evolving recommendations of the aforementioned agencies.

Looking Ahead Long Term

Although there is still a lot about the future we do not know, we believe we can anticipate these things:

.    There will be some continued change that feels like a loss, and some that feels like an opportunity. It is okay to grieve the changes in our rituals and gatherings. It is also okay to look for the ways our creativity is drawing us into new, more accessible, ministries. We are in this together, and there will surely be a wide range of feelings that we are all processing. We will continue to create space for us to share and process our experiences together.

  • Our staff and church leadership are prepared and poised to take on these new challenges. They have been working together for the past three months to ensure the safety of our congregation and to bring PCO’s ministry to life in new ways. With the help of God, may our church continue to be a beacon of hope and a touchstone of care for all who encounter us.

In hope and love,

PCO Session and
COVID Task Force Members:
Rev. Alice Townley
Keith Camann
David Detrisac
Gary Sturk
Paula Zichi