COVID-19 Response Task Force
July 3, 2020
Learning from Returning

We continue to encourage Sessions to follow state and CDC guidance in determining when and how to return to your buildings, and if at all possible, to continue making your worship available online as you do return. Some of our smallest congregations are beginning to worship in their sanctuaries with extensive new COVID protocols in place. The Task Force would appreciate hearing what you’ve learned as you’ve reopened your building so we can pass your insights along to others as they plan. Here’s what we’ve heard this past week:

  • “Shutting down was sure a lot easier than reopening!” The combination of the cleaning and distancing protocols and the pushback from those who don’t want to follow the mask or distancing requirements increases stress levels and effort considerably.
  • “Shorten your service substantially.” People, especially children, have gotten out of practice sitting (not in pajamas) for a whole service. Also, with less participation from the congregation, a full-length service is tiring for both the people in the pews and the worship leaders.
  • “Try to find ways to physically involve the children from their places in the pews.” Without coming down front for the children’s message and no standing for singing, the service doesn’t offer enough opportunity for movement for young children.
  • “Welcome and include those at home who cannot be with you in person.” Visible demonstrations of inclusion will help allay feelings of guilt or projections of shame.
  • “Focus on the One we are worshipping, not the how.” It is easy to get caught up in all that has changed in worship. Work to stay focused on why you’re there.
  • “Some wouldn’t come unless we required masks, others refused to come if we did. We opted to require masks to demonstrate our desire to care for others.” Masks and other COVID-related advice from health professionals have become divisive issues in our country and communities. The evidence continues to mount on the importance of face coverings to slow the spread of the virus. We urge congregations to require face coverings as statement of our commitment to care for others, especially the most vulnerable among us. 
How Can We Keep From Singing?

Many of us cannot imagine worship without singing. They go hand in hand. Singing connects us in deep spiritual and physical ways to one another, to ourselves, and to God. Yet singing has been shown to be one of the riskiest behaviors for transmission of the virus. We will not be able to sing together safely for some time. So how might we foster this deep connection in other ways as we worship remotely and resume in-person worship? Certainly, many are using soloists, at a considerable distance from the congregation or with Plexiglass. Here are a few additional ideas. We’d love to hear yours!

  • Experiment with other art forms. Poetry and visual art are two ideas. Find the poets among you and invite their poetic interpretation of the scripture themes for that week. Seek out visual artists (painters, sculptors, dancers) to do the same – either in advance of worship or “live” during worship. Allow time in your service for participants to silently reflect on the art provided.
  • Provide percussion instruments to those gathered. (Be sure to disinfect instruments before and after the service and avoid passing them around.)
  • Teach sign language or other motions as responses to prayers, or as lyrics to portions of hymns. 
  • Use pre-recorded music and add a video for listeners to ponder as it plays.
  • Think about humming! Especially for familiar hymns, humming can safely engage the congregation, and can even handle harmonies!
  • Finally, consider practicing silence. Presbyterians are not always so comfortable in silence and here’s chance to learn this ancient spiritual discipline. Folks who have missed your worship space may find silence is easier than it was before as they find renewal resting in this familiar place in the loving presence of God alongside (6+ feet!) their siblings in Christ. 

This is wonderful time to stretch ourselves. Ways to connect to God are limitless. Avoid the temptation to add more words and have fun experimenting!
Collecting Signs of Hope and New Life in COVID-Time

As people of both the cross and the resurrection, we want to acknowledge the suffering and challenges in this time and also help each other to shift our gaze to notice the ways God is bringing forth new life in the face of so many losses.

In the weeks ahead, we would like to feature your stories of hope and new life. The following questions will help you reflect on evidence of the Risen Christ alive among you. We’d love to share the hope you are experiencing. Please either write up a short description, send a video, or contact Loreen and she’ll capture your story!
As you think about how COVID-time has changed the way you worship, provide pastoral care, serve your community, and grow as disciples of Christ, in what ways:
  • has your congregation become more empowered in this time? 
  • have your young people become more involved in the life of your church? 
  • has your community been better served by, or involved with, your congregation?
  • are you ensuring you sustain the changes that seem to have brought new life to your ministries? 

Today we feature two churches.....
Kid Preachers 
Children of Manteno Community
Share Messages of Hope

While the pandemic has certainly presented our congregations with a number of difficulties, it’s also led to some unique opportunities. For Community Presbyterian Church at Manteno these past few months have led to some new partnerships with other churches in the area, some increased exposure for their existing ministries around hunger action, and a number of changes around the way they worship. Like everybody else, they had to navigate the world of online church and recording or streaming services. But in the midst of all that change, they found an interesting way to involve their youth and young families.
At Community Presbyterian Church, the children’s sermon always seems to hold everybody’s attention in a way that Pastor Alex’s regular sermons just can’t replicate. And the idea of holding online services without a children’s sermon, or having one without the kids physically present, just seemed less than satisfying. So Community Presbyterian decided to flip the idea of a children’s sermon upside down!
For the duration of their online services, rather than preaching to their kids, Community Presbyterian had the kids preach to them. Parents recorded their children delivering a message of hope, and Pastor Alex included those videos in place of the usual children’s sermon. There was a very enthusiastic retelling of the story of Noah’s Ark (see the picture above!), there were many songs of hope and joy, and there were even Psalms of the Good Shepherd read aloud next to some pet sheep! As the Scriptures remind us, the Lord has taught children and infants to tell of his strength! And thanks to the craziness of these past few months, Community Presbyterian Church got to hear of the Lord's strength in a new way!
-Rev. Alex Regets
Who Does What?
COVID-19 Adjustments Lead to Updates at
Bolingbrook Church of DuPage

As a pastor of smaller church we had not planned to do Facebook Live worship, Zoom Bible study, or on-line session meetings and small groups. While we miss being in the same room we’ve also seen new faces join us for on-line activities.

We are contemplating how we will continue some of these on-line activities and realize one place to start is with our staff. The work launched by the pandemic requires new skills and additional training. As a result we are rewriting all of our job descriptions.

The music director must now verify the songs we broadcast have appropriate copyright authorization. The church secretary job description now includes posting worship bulletins on Facebook and sending out Zoom meeting invitations. Our A/V person now streams the worship services live and also uploads them to our YouTube channel. Much of this unanticipated change in the life of the church is here to stay and that’s a good thing.

What are you doing to equip your staff and make sure you have the right staff?

-Rev. Eric Heinekamp
GENERAL RESOURCES

Blackhawk Presbytery COVID-19 page - information from past COVID updates is added regularly

Please email the Presbytery office with your questions, concerns or suggestions. We are working from home and not monitoring the office phone.