Regathering Revisited-December 2020
During this pandemic, love of neighbor requires careful planning. Because we love God, we want to offer worship that brings our very best. Because we love our neighbors, we want to do everything we can to make sure we bring no harm to anyone when we gather.
To that end, worship in our initial phase of regathering will look different from what we have experienced before, but as always, it will be based out of our theological principals to love God and love one another.
In this regathering phase, Sunday morning worship will require masks and physical distancing.
With the holidays upon us, we thought it would be an ideal time to revisit our social distancing and safety protocols for our worship services.
Additional COVID-19 Questions
Q: What is currently happening with the rates of COVID-19 in Texas and the Houston area?
A: While cases are increasing significantly in Texas, the rate of increase in the Houston area is not as pronounced as statewide. Last week there was an average of 856 cases per day in the Houston area (as reported by the Texas Medical Center tmc.edu). This compares to 697 for the prior week, 497 a month ago and a high of 2,366 average daily cases the week of July 13-19. For comparison, the average daily cases the first week we regathered was 1,122.
Q: With these increases are we reevaluating gathering physically on Sunday mornings?
A: Currently we do not plan to alter our gathering plans. This is based on a number of factors:
- Between Grace school and church, we currently have almost 500 people on campus most days and have had no reported cases of transmission between people while on campus. This indicates to us that social distancing and masking, along with our cleaning protocols and the improvements we have made to our air conditioning systems are effective in mitigating the transmission of the virus between people on our campus.
- Since our initial regathering, we have introduced several other measures to reduce the potential exposure of the congregation to virus particles emitted from people on the chancel. These include closing the first two front rows of pews in the center of the sanctuary and adding plexiglass microphone shields to the singers who are at the front of the chancel. We have also eliminated coffee service before the service to minimize the removal of masks during services in order for people to drink their coffee.
- Our congregation’s compliance with our hand hygiene and cough etiquette, as well as masking and social distancing protocols, has been high both within worship and in the equipping hour. We will continue to emphasize the need for everyone to wear their masks properly and to socially distance.
Q: I have heard that we have installed equipment in the air conditioning system that “kills” the virus. Can you tell me more about this?
A: We have installed needlepoint bipolar ionization systems from Global Plasma Systems on the entire campus with the exception of Massey Tucker Hall 2nd and 3rd floors. This technology produces a high concentration of positive and negative ions, which are delivered via the ventilation system. Within the air stream, ions attach to particles, where they combine, become larger and are more easily filtered from the air. Additionally, when these ions come in contact with pathogens, they disrupt the pathogens’ surface proteins, rendering them inactive. Laboratory tests of the GPS system show a 99.9% reduction in the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 after 30 minutes of exposure. More information can be found on the needlepoint bipolar ionization systems from Global Plasma Systems at https://globalplasmasolutions.com.
Q: Are there metrics that Grace evaluates to assess its operations in this COVID-19 environment?
A: We look at three primary measures that can be found on the Texas Medical Center website (tmc.edu). These are:
- The weekly average daily cases in the greater Houston area.
- The virus reproduction rate [R(t)] for the greater Houston area. A rate greater than 1.0 indicates that the virus is spreading.
- The test positivity rate for the hospitals in the TMC system. This is the ratio of positive tests to total tests. We use the TMC system results as these statistics have a lower reporting lag than those available for the entire Houston area.
While these metrics guide our decision-making process, we make final choices based on the results we see in the context of our own campus. Finally, we monitor the protocols and requirements issued by Federal, state, and local authorities.
Q: Are there any other changes around church activities that we might see as a result of increases in the number of COVID-19 cases in the Houston area?
A: Food and beverages are an issue for us, not because they increase the risk of virus spread but because a person must remove their mask to eat and drink. A further increase in metrics may lead us to discontinue coffee service in the Welcome Center.
Q: I am still uncomfortable returning to in person worship. Will Grace continue to live stream services?
A: We plan to continue to live stream services. Additionally, some of our Sunday School classes are offering a Zoom alterative to meeting in person.
Q: I tested positive for COVID-19, and I was at church. What should I do?
A: You may contact our director of Human Resources, Narda Weierbach, at email@example.com. Additionally, you should contact anyone that you were within (masked or unmasked) six feet or less for fifteen minutes or more (cumulative time over a 24-hour period) and let them know that they have potential exposure to COVID-19.
You should consult your medical professional for specifics but our protocol for employees and volunteers is to allow people to return to Grace when:
- You have had no fever for at least 24 hours without taking medication to reduce fever during that time: AND
- Any respiratory symptoms (cough and shortness of breath) have improved; AND
- At least ten days have passed since symptoms began or if non-symptomatic, 10 days since the date of the positive test.
Q: I was exposed to COVID-19. When can I attend worship or other activities at Grace?
A: If you have you been in close contact with someone who is presumed or confirmed positive with COVID-19, we ask that you self-quarantine for 14 days after the last close contact with the person with COVID-19. Close contact is defined as being within six feet of the person for 15 minutes or more or having direct contact with infectious secretions of a COVID-19 infected person (e.g., being coughed on). The 15-minute period is cumulative over a 24-hour period.
What You Told Us
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. —Romans 8:28
Purpose Of The Survey
During late May, we surveyed the congregation of Grace. We wanted to assess your potential response to a return to in-person worship on campus. We also wanted to gage the impact of several different measures on your likelihood of attending. These various measures might be implemented to mitigate the chance of a COVID-19 outbreak occurring as a result of any Grace in-person church service.
- To date we have received 271 responses which is about 17% of our active adult membership.
- People 60 years and older represented 65% of the survey respondents versus 47% of our adult membership.
- 85% of respondents reported attending Grace on 25 or more Sundays per year, prior to the COVID-19 crisis, and 65% participate regularly in our current online services.
- 35% indicated that they or a member of their household would be considered at a definitely higher risk of serious health issues from COVID-19.
If Grace were to resume in-person worship with enhanced social distancing such as face masks:
58% said they were somewhat or highly likely to attend.
29% said they were somewhat or highly unlikely to attend.
The survey asked respondents to indicate the impact of 14 different mitigation measures on their likelihood to attend in-person worship. The measure MOST likely to positively impact the likelihood of attendance was the requirement to wear a face mask, with 51% saying it would either somewhat or greatly increase their likelihood of attendance.
Other measures with high positive impacts (greater than 25% with somewhat or greatly increased likelihood of attendance) include:
- Social distancing of family groups — 47% with somewhat or greatly increased likelihood of attendance.
- Screening you for a fever before you enter the building — 43% with somewhat or greatly increased likelihood of attendance.
- Decreasing community interaction due to social distancing requirements — 38% with somewhat or greatly increased likelihood of attendance.
- Eliminating congregational (but not worship leader) singing to decreased airborne virus particles — 38% with somewhat or greatly increased likelihood of attendance.
- Closing of common gathering areas such as the Welcome Center — 32% with somewhat or greatly increased likelihood of attendance.
The measures most likely to negatively impact the likelihood of attendance was the need to make an advance reservation in order to worship at your desired time and place with 36% saying it would either somewhat or greatly decrease their likelihood of attendance.
Other measures with high negative impacts (greater than 25% with somewhat or greatly decreased likelihood of attendance):
- Eliminating congregational (but not worship leader) singing to decrease airborne virus particles — 32% with somewhat or greatly decreased likelihood of attendance.
- Need to attend worship of a different style than you normally attend to facilitate social distancing — 29% with somewhat or greatly decreased likelihood of attendance.
What To Expect
What You Can Expect From Us
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. — James 1:5
|We will strive to lead with humility, grace, wisdom, love, and the boldness of the gospel.|
|We will maintain social distancing guidelines through a variety of practices such as closing every other row of pews in the sanctuary to allow six-foot spacing between household groups. No more than 150 in attendance at any one time.|
|The seating and exiting process will be usher-led and orchestrated to allow household units to stay at least six feet apart.|
|Items will not be passed hand-to-hand during worship services. These include bulletins, communion elements, and offering plates.|
|Bulletins will not be passed out by ushers but the worship liturgy is available online at gpch.org.|
|When communion is celebrated during worship we will use pre-packaged individual communion supplies.|
|For the offering, we will have a basket at the back of the sanctuary for you to place your offering. We encourage you to take advantage of our online giving platforms.|
|Bibles and hymnals will be removed from pews; if you need one, please let one of the ushers know.|
|Hand sanitizer stations will be available throughout the facility: entryways, Welcome Center, lobby, and restrooms. We encourage you to use hand sanitizer upon entering the building.|
|Bathrooms will be sanitized after each service. We encourage only one person or family unit in the bathroom at a time. Disinfectant wipes will be available for door handles and surfaces when exiting.|
|We will conduct a thorough cleaning and disinfecting of common areas and hard surfaces after each worship service, to include: bathrooms, doorknobs, and light switches.|
|To reduce unnecessary cleaning, all rooms with closed or locked doors should be avoided.|
|There will be no communal refreshments like coffee, cookies, or drinking fountains available during this time. You are welcome to bring your own coffee into the Sanctuary. We are working with Sacred Heart Café to get the café up and running soon.|
|We will ask you to wear a face covering in order to protect those around you, i.e. “I protect you—you protect me.” Masks will be available at entrances.|
|Children’s and Student Ministries programming will not be available on campus until Phase 3. Children must remain with their parents until we begin to offer childcare and children’s programming onsite. Children’s Ministries resources will continue online, including weekly Bible Story video lessons and Zoom Small Groups which can be found here. Student Ministries resources continue to be available as well.|
|We will continue offering online worship services for you to participate in via Vimeo and YouTube if you are not yet comfortable, ready, or able to return in person.|
What We Expect From You
Let all that you do be done in love. — 1 Corinthians 16:14
Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. — 1 Corinthians 10:31
|Be patient with the transition to regathering. It may take longer than you expect and we will not do everything perfectly without frustrating some. Pray for us as we strive to lead for the glory of God and the good of His church; we need His wisdom to lead wisely.|
|Make corporate worship a priority whether it is in person or via digital platforms.|
|Bring and wear your own face covering (we will provide masks if needed). All worship attendees must wear a face covering that entirely covers their mouth and nose at all times. Note that during worship, people who are preaching or speaking from the chancel, or those who are participating in the worship team, may temporarily remove their masks while singing or speaking. Children over the age of 10 should wear face coverings. Face coverings for children under the age of 10 are optional (under age 2 are discouraged).|
|Per CDC Guidelines, “Singing is a higher-risk activity as it more forcefully expels respiratory droplets than speaking. And the act of singing may contribute to transmission of COVID-19, possibly through emission of aerosols. Congregations should refrain from singing.” There will be worship leaders helping to facilitate your worship in a variety of other ways on Sundays, and we encourage you to continue to worship in spirit and in truth in a variety of
|Maintain appropriate social distancing with others. Respect the boundaries and personal space of others who need extra precautions because they themselves or their family members are at higher risk.|
|Join us in welcoming young children into worship. Children are a gift from God and are a wonderful addition to the worship experience.|
|Parents will ensure their children maintain appropriate social distancing from other families while on campus.|
|We recognize that we love our Grace family, however we must encourage our children to maintain social distancing with other friends and family.|
|Anyone who has a confirmed positive test for being actively infected with the virus within 14 days of being on the Grace campus is asked to voluntarily notify Harris County Public Health. This will allow the church to collaborate with the county so they contact everyone who attended in-person worship
A message about a Regathering
It’s never been about the building. The “church” has always been a collection of individual believers called, equipped, gifted, and mobilized. Every single day, we, as disciples, are called to make disciples who make disciples for the glory of God.
Our mission remains unchanged. Are you ready for what lies ahead? Together, we are called to this amazing mission!
—The Session of Grace Presbyterian Church