July 10, 2020 Update
In light of Governor Andy Beshear’s executive order, July 9, 2020, requiring masks in any “indoor public space in which it is difficult to maintain a physical distance of at least six feet from all individuals who are not members of that person’s household,” we have updated our regathering strategy to address this mask requirement language for our 11:00a service. Therefore, in compliance with the spirit of this requirement, we are asking that all attendees:
- Enter and exit with a mask covering nose and mouth.
- Continue to safely utilize a mask any time physical distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., when moving within the auditorium).
Once seated and participating in the service, feel the freedom to remove/lower the masks provided you are keeping three open seats between you and other households. This updated executive order also expanded the list of those exempt from face coverings. The most applicable exemption is for children ages 5 or younger. You may certainly choose to continue having your children (ages 3–5) wear a mask, but our regathering strategy has been updated to reflect this change.
For those who arrive unaware of this change, we will have a limited amount of masks to provide attendees.
While we are aware of a legal challenge to this executive order from a circuit court judge, we are choosing to follow the governor’s order until that conflict is resolved.
All other aspects of our gathering will remain as described in our regathering update on June 17, 2020. We still very much look forward to worshiping our great God with you this Sunday in person or live stream at 11:00a.
June 17, 2020 Update
Irregular Services for Irregular Times
Dear Immanuel Family,
We are very excited to announce that we will begin meeting again for two worship services this Sunday, June 21st, at 9:00a and 11:00a! There will also be a live stream option available at 11:00a EST. Although we will not initially offer additional Sunday morning discipleship opportunities (e.g. prayer rooms, Immanuel Kids, Immanuel Youth), we thank God for this first step of regathering.
Let’s remember what a privilege it is just to gather! Confident that we are speaking for many, we are looking forward to Sunday’s corporate worship more than ever. If gathering means that—for a season—we must defer to one another by undergoing some temporary changes to our services, we believe that the significant benefits to worshiping our great God with more of our brothers and sisters outweigh the negatives of the temporary changes.
To best present our regathering plan, we have organized this letter around addressing the broad categories of this plan first, followed by a series of questions and answers to address specific details. Please be sure to read the entire letter to understand how you can best serve one another, followed by registering for your intended service here. We will also work to provide this information through multiple communication channels.
PRECAUTIONS IMMANUEL HAS TAKEN/WILL TAKE FOR OUR INITIAL GATHERINGS
- Deep cleaning while meetings have been held remotely. Carpets have been cleaned, high contact surfaces disinfected, and restrooms sanitized. Replaced air filters in auditorium with filters that provide increased filtration.
- Offer two slightly irregular services, in addition to, a live stream of the 11:00a service (see below).
- Modified entry (Breckenridge St. doors) into and exit (Fourth St. doors) from the building to help flow and minimize contact (see map). Volunteers in masks will be at doors to assist. Exceptions will be made if ramps are required for entrance and exit to the auditorium. ALL other exterior doors will remain locked to limit broad access to the building.
- Signage and clear seat markings incorporated to help everyone follow the 6-foot social distance guidelines, including entering and exiting the building.
- Limited restrooms will be available for one (or parent + child) at a time and will be equipped with hand-washing soap and disinfectant spray. Restrooms have guidance to ensure the safest experience possible for whoever uses the restroom next.
- Hand sanitizer will be provided throughout the church building.
- Offering plates and worship guides will NOT be passed. You may continue to give by mail or on our website for the immediate future.
- No communion for the first few weeks as we seek to understand our new rhythms.
- Hymnals, flyers, communion tables, and any other surface that people may be prone to touch have been removed.
- Considering the airflow patterns in the auditorium, and also the distance between the platform and the first available seats, our service leaders and worship team will not be wearing masks while on the platform.
PRECAUTIONS AN ATTENDEE SHOULD TAKE
- Extend grace to others by preferring one another in regard to personal space and physical contact. Preferring may look like restraining your blessed impulse to greet each other with hugs or handshakes.
- Please check your temperature prior to attending and live stream the service if you have a temperature of 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit or above. If you were unable to verify your temperature prior to attending, we will have no-contact thermometers onsite and available for double-checking.
- If you are sick, feel sick, or live with someone who is sick, please continue to live stream the service.
- If you have recently been in close contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19, please continue following your physician’s self-quarantine and medical guidelines.
- Review CDC recommendations for the use of masks.
IRREGULAR SERVICES FOR IRREGULAR TIMES
9:00-10:00a Service | Masks Required for Attendees (Age 3+)
- Breckenridge St. entrance doors will open for guests attending this service at 8:30a.
- Enter and exit this service with a mask covering nose and mouth. Continue to safely utilize a mask while singing, talking, and any times physical distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., when moving within the auditorium).
- The worship team will lead this service in one song. If you wish to sing out loud (and I know we all do), we ask that you wear your mask during this song.
- Service will be kept to one hour, dismissing by row to ensure orderly exits and adequate time to thoroughly clean seats before the 11:00a service. This end time also provides additional time to participate in our corporate singing via live stream at the beginning of the next service from your homes.
11:00a-12:30p Service | Masks Encouraged for Attendees (Age 3+); Available Live Stream
While our 11:00a service guidelines do not require the use of masks, we ask that each attendee consider Governor Beshear’s Guidelines for Places of Worship and make the best decision for themselves/their household.
- Breckenridge St. entrance doors will open for guests attending this service at 10:45a.
- We ask that you not arrive earlier, unless you are wearing a mask and plan to follow social distancing guidelines while you wait to enter the building.
- Be sensitive to differing views on COVID-19 held by your brothers and sisters in Christ.
- Since we anticipate our limited capacity being tested by increased attendance during this service, please reserve a spot for you and your household (if applicable).
- Once all available spots have been filled for this service, the only remaining options will be to live stream from home or attend the 9:00a service.
- Service will more closely resemble our pre-COVID Sunday morning structure, ending at approximately 12:30p.
WHO SHOULD CONSIDER ATTENDING THE FIRST SERVICE OR LIVESTREAM THE 11:00A SERVICE FROM HOME?
- Anyone at higher risk for severe illness per CDC guidance.
- Anyone whose vocation requires minimizing all additional risks.
- Anyone who thinks this approach will best allow them to freely worship our great God.
- Anyone willing to free up additional seats for the 11:00a service.
WHY ARE WE OFFERING TWO SERVICES WITH SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT APPROACHES (REQUIRED VS RECOMMENDED MASKS)?
It is out of a spirit of loving one another—and a desire to allow the maximum amount of our church family to practice Hebrews 10:25—that we plan to offer these two services. We will continue to review our approach each week and modify it as necessary based on feedback and changing guidelines.
WHY ARE WE NOT INCLUDING EVEN MORE SPECIFIC REQUIREMENTS AND RULES THAT SHOULD GOVERN EVERYONE’S RESPONSE IN THE SECOND SERVICE?
We think that the items that are not explicitly required by state or federal guidelines are best left to the conscience of the individual. Instead, may we heed the governing lessons taught by Paul in Romans 12 and Ephesians 4—seeking to both outdo one another in showing honor and bear with one another. To this end, we ask that you show respect to one another, knowing that some may feel free to hug and shake hands while others need to refrain for some time. In all these things, we are called to peace.
WHAT CAN I DO IF I DO NOT LIKE ANY OF THESE OPTIONS?
Join us in praying that this irregular season will be short. Though we may be tempted to allow this time to frustrate us as church members, we must rest in the assurance that the Holy Spirit delights to use everything in the universe (including pandemics) to sanctify us, deepen our unity, and increase our longing for the perfect praise of our Lord and Savior in heaven. We hope to experience an even closer taste of that glorious reality someday soon here at Immanuel, but God has not left us without an opportunity to worship Him corporately now.
A TIME FOR THANKS
Thank you for participating in “the work of the ministry” by embracing the timeless “one anothers” during this unique time. Each time you visit, call, email, text, go to work, or run an errand for a vulnerable brother, sister, or neighbor, you demonstrate love for Christ. You display the good news that Jesus is your Savior and King.
Even though these days are unique, God keeps providing new opportunities to be a “city set on a hill [that] cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14).
Your pastors and staff will continue to work on a progressive approach for resuming additional activities over the next few months. Our approach will attempt to balance Immanuel’s convictions, guidelines from various government agencies, and recommendations from our medical professionals on steps to care for our members and visitors as we regather.
We ask for grace and patience in the weeks ahead as we continue to navigate unknown territory. We love you and look forward to seeing many of you face-to-face in the coming weeks and months.
On behalf of the Elders,
Pastors Ryan and Donnie
May 20, 2020 Update
A Plan for Greater Fellowship, Hospitality, & Love
This week, we hope to actively pursue and enjoy greater fellowship, hospitality, and love—but probably not the way you think. In a minute I will explain how we hope to gather as a congregation, but first, let’s start by stating the obvious: Regathering as a church is going to be complicated. It is complicated by at least four factors:
We are living in a time of global pandemic and we want to lovingly protect one another from a potentially deadly virus.
The recommended measures we need to take to protect one another could hinder the joys of corporate worship. We can sing, but with masks on. We can see each other, but no hugs.
The pace at which individuals and families are willing to meet is not the same. Some are eager to gather with hundreds, while others are eager to remain quarantined at home.
We are all in the midst of a storm of conflicting information that most of us do not have the time, expertise, or energy to adequately analyze.
Pastors have an expression that often comes up when they run into problems that they do not know how to deal with: “Well, they sure didn’t teach us that in seminary!” This is true in our current situation, but it is not only true for pastors! Our engineers most likely didn’t learn epidemiology in college. Our doctors possibly do not have a vocational history in economics. Our teachers probably didn’t practice medicine during their student teaching. We are all in over our heads—humility is the universal need of the hour.
Now, humility does not mean shirking hard work. As a staff, we have been working hard to lead through this complicated time. We have been listening to government guidelines, reading medical reports related to corporate gatherings, meeting with some of our medical professionals (the plan I will unpack later was their preference), consulting with other local pastors, and—of course—interacting with many of you (though obviously not as many as we would prefer). There is always one more article you could read, but what follows is a humble attempt to explain the direction we think we should go after having done our homework.
We believe that, for the next month, we should gather in small groups in one another’s homes to live stream the service together (May 24th–June 14th). We believe that this way of gathering will add the sweetness of personal fellowship and hospitality to the joy of singing and preaching. We also believe that it will enable our Immanuel family to move together at a pace that allows us to love one another deeply and wisely. Let me explain.
First, let’s start with a contrast. What would it look like for a church our size to gather in our building again on the 24th? It would mean arriving about 30 minutes early to enter the building through socially-distanced lines both inside and outside the building. It would also mean sitting at least six feet apart from other members in the service, wearing masks while fellowshipping and singing. That’s not all. Meeting each week in multiple services would require extensive cleaning before and after each service. If we only held one service then we would have to take turns coming once every 2–3 weeks—there is no perfect solution at our building awaiting us this Sunday.
What would it look like to meet in our homes? Simply put, a lot warmer and a lot less complicated. A family like mine could invite a few singles over to sing and fellowship together. Some Gospel Community Groups could split up into two or three clusters and gather to sing, listen to God’s Word, and enjoy one another’s company. A group of roommates could invite over a few more isolated members to celebrate Jesus together. Without the complexities of a large central gathering, we could enjoy the grace of many smaller gatherings. We could add fellowship and hospitality to preaching, prayer, and song! We want to pursue Christ and Christ-likeness through the blessings of open homes, warm relationships, Christian teaching, small group worship, and fervent prayer. Therefore, this seems like the logical next step as we gather.
I am aware as I write this letter that some of you will not be comfortable gathering this Sunday at all. Your convictions—or simply your wisdom regarding your own health and well-being—prevent you from gathering right now. That is fine. Our Christian liberty provides plenty of room for that position. We believe that the way forward we are proposing will give you and us another month to assess the situation, and it will hopefully allow more of us to come together when we arrive at the next phase of regathering.
So, this Sunday, here are some ways you can show love:
Would you consider inviting some members of Immanuel to your place to watch the live stream at 10:00a? Maybe you could gather with some old friends? Possibly you could gather with some saints you suspect have been extremely lonely? If everyone who is comfortable gathering would show hospitality, then I am sure all of God’s people would feel welcomed and loved! You can find additional ideas from Pastor Jeff for how to gather here.
If you are inviting people over, would you candidly let your friends know how strict or loose you intend to be in following the governor’s “Guidance for Gatherings of Up To Ten (10) People?” We are encouraging all gatherings to consult with this guide, but we know there will be a spectrum of strictness when it comes to enforcing these guidelines. Will you be requiring face masks? Will you be spacing out lawn chairs in the backyard or just leaving some room between each person/household on the couches? Please help each other know where you are at.
If you receive an invitation to go over to someone’s house, would you delight to show honor towards the way they are leading their home? Romans 14 can serve us so practically here.
Would you let someone know if you don’t have somewhere to go? Feel free to reach out to a family or friend who you want to connect with. Do not be offended if they already have a full house. God will open another door or he may use you to open a door for someone else. Furthermore, we will do all we can to make sure everyone is cared for. Although you may or may not join with your GCG, we will be asking GCG leaders to make sure everyone who wants to gather in a home has a home to gather in.
Gathering together in homes this week allows us to spend our energies growing in love rather than growing in complexity. Gathering together this way means that we spend more time finding those in the body who are lonely and welcoming them in. It means we spend less time getting our building ready for a large, complicated gathering. Of course, there is nothing wrong with large complicated gatherings, but we would rather see you growing in pursuing, preferring, and planning to love one another. I pray God would allow us to grow during this time in the warm hospitality and sacrificial fellowship of Christ.
I hope and pray that the Sundays throughout this next month are filled with loads of hospitality, lots of wise love, and tons of worship, praise, and fellowship. I hope your neighbors will hear and see and want to ask what all the fuss is about. I hope that the fellowship you receive in small groups will be more personal than a large meeting where it is hard to really talk to anyone. I trust Jesus will bless these humble efforts in these complicated times.
With Great Love,
(on behalf of your elders)