COVID-19 scheduling update
Shandon Presbyterian Church: Making plans for the foreseeable future
August 24, 2020
Dear Shandon members and friends,
As autumn creeps ever closer, we find ourselves again in the position of making decisions about our life together.
Earlier this summer, we determined that the best way to prioritize the health and safety of our members and our community was to suspend in-person worship indefinitely. Allowances currently are made for “occasional” services such as weddings, funerals and ordinations, with those gatherings being strictly limited to no more than 10 individuals present. We have been monitoring COVID-related numbers very carefully, while also observing that increasing numbers of our own community have been directly impacted.
We remain committed to finding our way faithfully and living out our call to love God and love our neighbors. For everyone’s health and safety, the following practices will be observed for the foreseeable future — until the pandemic situation meaningfully changes (i.e. until S.C. numbers decrease considerably and consistently and/or until there is a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19). This open-ended timeline acknowledges how the unpredictable nature of the pandemic requires us to adapt accordingly. We would like nothing more than for there to be a definitive end date for these decisions, but while our impatience with pandemic living grows, the realities behind our current situation remain unchanged. The coronavirus is as present today — perhaps even more so — than when we closed the building in March. While the reopening process throughout our country has become a politicized source of debate and dissent, our commitment is to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Believing that our actions are expressions of that commitment, Session unanimously approved the following for the foreseeable future:
Sunday morning worship will remain online only. We will continue to pre-record our services, while continuing to explore new ways of interacting with one another and building relationships. As we continue to plan for the months ahead, we invite you to share your experience in an online worship survey that will be made available in the next week.
In reaching this decision, we acknowledged several realities about in-person worship and how it would be experienced in this time:
- In-person worship is a super-spreader event, considered to be second riskiest only after bars.
- We could not be open to all. Social-distancing requirements mean we could no longer welcome all; we could only welcome some. That means those who didn’t know they had to register in advance; those who do not have the technological access or knowledge to sign up beforehand; those who would be visitors. For more than a few, their experience of Shandon might be one of being sent away.
- We would have to make choices about attendance. Who receives priority in registering? Those who can sign up fastest? Those who have been members the longest? Those who are newest? Does everyone in our community have the opportunity to attend once before anyone may attend twice? Every decision that is “for” some is also a decision “against” others.
- Arriving and departing would become procedural, rather than a time of greeting and fellowship. Individuals would need to maintain social distancing upon arrival, move immediately into predetermined seating apart from others, and remain in place until being dismissed slowly upon the service’s conclusion.
- Worship itself would be a very different experience. There would be no bulletins, no hymnals, no Bibles, no Passing of the Peace and no offering plates. There would be no choir and no congregational singing. There would be only one soloist, positioned at a significant distance from the congregation. In short, those in attendance would be passive observers rather than active participants.
- There would be no time of fellowship, no coffee hour, no greeting the pastors.
In short, it is difficult for in-person worship during this pandemic to embody what we value most in coming together. Out of necessity, we would be required to actively discourage the warmth and inclusive nature that defines our Shandon community. Therefore, we are focusing our time, energy and resources toward other, online ways of being church: encountering the holy and the sacred in worship; interacting meaningfully with the Word; developing and nurturing relationships; making a difference in Columbia and beyond; and in all ways, being a welcoming family of faith.
The following plans were previously approved, have been in place throughout the summer and now continue into the fall:
Weddings, memorial services, and ordinations: We will continue to host on-site weddings, memorial services and ordinations for up to 10 participants (including church personnel) when all agree to abide by our safety policies, including wearing masks and social distancing. Upon request, services can be live-streamed.
Shandon Weekday School: SWS reopened June 1 with specific DHEC-mandated safety procedures in place.
UKIRK Campus Ministry: UKIRK at the University of South Carolina has begun for the fall semester with university safety protocols guiding ministry on campus and on UKIRK property.
Recovery groups: Because of the essential nature of their purpose, a limited number of recovery groups currently use the McDonald Youth Center. Group size is strictly limited to permit appropriate social distancing, masks are required at all times, and no food or drink is permitted.
Individual meetings: One-on-one meetings with clergy or other staff may take place on site if scheduled in advance. No “drop-in” meetings are permitted.
Committee meetings, classes, fellowship groups, etc.: Small group gatherings will continue to take place online. Church facilities are not available for these purposes, nor does Shandon endorse in-person meetings or gatherings off-site. The Reopening Task Force, following the guidance of health officials, previously set a benchmark of two weeks of significantly decreasing COVID-19 numbers before revisiting any decisions regarding small group gatherings.
Pastoral care: Clergy are available for pastoral care in a variety of platforms: Zoom, telephone, in-person at church, or, at individual discretion, in-person off-site. We are committed to maintaining spiritual care for our members and community. Please keep in mind that our clergy will assess risk levels for themselves, the individual(s) in need of care and others in close proximity (family or health care workers). Please contact clergy members directly if you are in need of care.
Building access: For the sake of safety measures, it is important for us to know who is in the building and for what purpose. That, combined with the need for increased cleaning protocols when the building is used, means that:
- The building will remain locked with church access limited to the office doors under the portico.
- Use of space will be limited to activities as outlined above.
- Advance scheduling is required for any non-staff person to be on site. This is coordinated by the staff person associated with the meeting or event.
We give thanks for your continued financial support of Shandon Presbyterian Church. Our pledged giving remains constant. Where our budget is falling short, however, is in “plate giving,” or the contributions made outside of pledges each week when the offering plates are passed. We are in the midst of simplifying the process of making financial gifts to Shandon, including online giving and text-to-give. When these are in place, we will include this information in Sunday worship. To those who have continued giving, thank you. To those whose giving capacity has changed, we understand and encourage you to make decisions that are best for you. And to those who are able to make additional contributions, we invite you to prayerfully consider this possibility.
We believe that these decisions, while difficult, are the most faithful steps forward for Shandon Presbyterian in this pandemic season. They emerge from our affirmation that we are, together, the body of Christ, and that when one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers. We also trust that God’s presence is not limited to any physical building, nor is the work of the Spirit. In these recent months, while we have grieved over many changes, we have also rejoiced at the many new expressions of God at work in our community of faith. We celebrate and give thanks for the ways in which our online ministry and mission is thriving. While these decisions change some of the ways we are the church, they do not keep us from being the church.
We are grateful for your prayerful support and your ongoing commitment. Please feel free to reach out to members of the Session, the Reopening Task Force or clergy for further conversation or clarification.
In Christ’s service,
The Session of Shandon Presbyterian Church
Members of Session:
Debbie Alexander, Bill Allen, Marcia Bacon, Gary Cannon, Jenna Cox, Janet Hamilton, Linda McDonald, Leck Patterson, Sarah Ramsey, David Roberts, Jay Rogers, Cheri Stakely, Frank Vail, R.B. Williamson, Scott Winburn, Rev. Jenny McDevitt – moderator, and Sandra O’Neal – clerk of Session
Members of the Reopening Task Force:
Debbie Alexander, Stacey Brennan, Jenna Cox, Janet Hamilton, Matt McCall, Rev. Jenny McDevitt, Linda McDonald, Sarah Ramsey, Diana Thorne and Rev. Dr. Robert Walker