COVID-19 Task Force Update

empty pews in the sanctuary

Dear Mt. Carmel community,

It’s been three months since we last worshipped together in person. It feels like a very long time. We know you’re anxious to see everyone again and having that fellowship. We miss you too. Having just three of us in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings is strange.

However, Mt. Carmel has a duty and calling from God to do what we can to keep our members safe while still providing the ministry and community that we all need, especially now in a world that on a daily basis feels like it’s been turned upside down. We must also recognize that because of the age and health factors of many of  our members, they are at risk or compromised when it comes to the virus, so we need to be extremely cautious and keep the risk of exposure to a minimum.

So unfortunately, we can’t worship in person…Yet. We can promise you that day is coming, but we just don’t have a good idea of when that will be. Or even what worship will look like when we can return to the building.

The COVID-19 Task Force has been working on trying to define that date. But we have to complete work and make many decisions before that. It isn’t as easy as simply saying “the state says we can worship in church now,” because even after we return, the threat of the virus will still be out there, probably until an effective vaccine is widely available.

The task force is taking guidance from the ELCA and the Minneapolis Area Synod, from governmental bodies including the City of Minneapolis, the State of Minnesota and the CDC. While gatherings are being allowed now, we must meet certain requirements in order to reopen the building to worship, and allow meetings by groups like Casa, AA and Scouts.

The state has mandated that Mt. Carmel have a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan in place. This documented plan needs to be posted, and it needs to direct what we must do to make gatherings in the building as safe as possible for everyone. Under the plan, for instance, we need to block access to the drinking fountains, limit access to the restrooms so that only one person can use it at a time, make sure that hand sanitizer is always available, restrict how many people can be in rooms in the church and even restrict which spaces will be used.

In choosing a date to reopen, we need to first decide on what milestones must be achieved for us to feel it’s safe to reopen. Bishop Ann Svennungsen sent out a letter this past week urging congregations to refrain from indoor worship , and to wait until the level of new infections each day comes back down to the level it was in April. Currently the state is over twice that level, though it is falling slowly. And many experts expect a second wave of infections that may require a tightening of the newly relaxed rules.

When we are able to worship in person again, though, it won’t be a return to “normal.” All of the advice we have tells us communion may be changed or may not happen at all in worship. Obviously, sharing the peace will look different, but even singing and reading prayers and Bible verses aloud together likely won’t be permitted. Everyone will have to wear masks and we’ll only be able to have a maximum of 50 people in the sanctuary at one time, spaced at least 6 feet apart. And after worship? No coffee and snacks, and no fellowship time, as everyone will be strongly advised to exit the building immediately to reduce risk of exposure. All of the hard surfaces in the sanctuary that have been touched would have to be sanitized for their next use.

We realize these rules may make in-person worship seem hopeless, but we’re also considering options including investigating the possibility of offering outdoor worship, which would allow some slightly more relaxed rules.

The bottom line here is that everything the task force is doing takes time, planning and work, and is complicated by the seemingly constant changes in requirements and information about COVID-19. As much as we want the recovery from the pandemic to be easy, COVID-19 will not cooperate. We are very aware of the desire of some of you to return to normal sooner rather than later, but it is imperative that we take direction from many sources including medical and safety experts.

As leaders and as a group, we pledge to bring you regular updates of our progress via as many communication channels as possible, and we will try to give timelines when we feel they are realistic and not just speculation. We want to return to in-person worship as much as you do, but we need to balance that desire with the need to keep everyone safe and healthy.

Meanwhile, thanks to a grant from the synod, we are working to improve our livestream and will continue to try to offer more ways for our community to connect from a distance.

If you have any questions, please contact Paul or Pastor John. Thank you for your patience and above all, be well.

Paul Lathrop                John Strommen
Task Force Chair             Pastor

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