Your Leadership Team met Thursday after the Tarrant/Dallas County area achieved the established thresholds of more than 14 consecutive days of decreasing counts in four areas, and we are excited to share that we believe the time has finally arrived that we can safely begin to implement our campus reentry plan! When organizing for a campus and congregation the size of Martin, there are so many things to consider and I couldn't be more proud of the work your team has done. We want to share how we plan to move forward into the spring and why we are (or are not) doing everything right at once.
Return to Outdoor In-Person Worship: March 7 @ 8:30
You may remember we discontinued even outdoor gathering after Judge Whitley and Bishop Lowry implored everyone to stop any kind of gathering. Well, with decreased case counts we are able to safely gather once again on the parking lot in front of Wooton Hall. Rain or shine, we will be there. Feel free to bring your folding chairs and grab a spot, masked and socially distanced, of course, or remain in your vehicle and roll your windows down or tune your radio to the broadcast.
The 11:00 AM Live Feed Worship will continue on Facebook and we will also stream the 8:30 service for those who wish to join in from home.
On Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday we will enjoy special events during and after our 8:30 AM Outdoor Services, including an Easter Egg Hunt on West Field. These are in addition to the 11:00 AM Traditional Holy Week services that we will share on Facebook. Maundy Thursday, April 1, we will commune together as we share the Lord's Supper on the church grounds.
We will continue with the Outdoor 8:30/Live Stream 11:00 schedule until May 2 when we will add the option of indoor in-person worship at 11:00. Of course, registration will be required with social-distancing, masks, and all of the other things that we must do and refrain from doing to make it as safe as possible, but folks, we are getting there!!! It will continue to be Live Streamed so that people have the option of worshiping from home, as well. We have an increasing number of fellow worshipers on Sunday who live in varied places across the nation and around the world. Returning to worship in-person will continue to include them. Assuming all goes smoothly and there are no future surges that require us to do otherwise, we will continue to add and expand until, finally, we find our groove in something that feels "normal" again.
Beginning May 3 the campus grounds will also be available to you for outdoor small group gatherings. We will be publishing the protocol in the coming weeks, but a designated person will register your preferred time and location with Deanna, ensure that your group follows mask wearing and social distancing at all times, and return a written record of participants for contact tracing purposes.
Obvious Questions You Might Have at this Point:
Why not return to indoor in-person worship for one service right now? We have faced the challenge of this pandemic as ONE body for the better part of 12 months. While a group within our congregation has received one or both doses of vaccine, the majority have not yet had the opportunity for that kind of personal protection. Predictions are that this will begin to change in April. We are choosing to wait until May 2 to return to in-person indoor worship to avoid dividing our Body into "insiders" and "outsiders". It is also the case that only two of the worship team have been vaccinated, and the others are not yet eligible. We know everyone will not be vaccinated by May 2, but it is our hope and expectation that the process will be underway by then and no one will feel as if they are being shut out or as if their presence doesn't matter. As someone who "lucked" into a vaccine because too many doses had been thawed for the actual turnout at a pop-up clinic, and who was in the right place at the right time to even know about it, I realize how tempting it is to want to immediately return to life as it was before. But I also know who we are as the Martin family: younger and older, already vaccinated and not yet vaccinated, Tongan or English as a first language, everyone matters at Martin!
Why return to in-person indoor at 11:00 instead of 8:30 or 2:00? We are not privileging one service or one language over another. It is simply a matter of logistics and overall custodial expense in being compliant with State guidelines for disinfecting the facility after each use, sanitizing restrooms after each hour of public access, air exchange, etc.
What about the Tongan-speaking portion of our congregation? Pastor Faiana is working with the leaders who represent the Tongan-speaking brothers and sisters in our communion regarding when and if they will move to outdoor in-person worship. Currently, Pastor Faiana is not eligible for a vaccine and an overwhelming percentage of the Tongan part of our congregation has not yet been vaccinated. Initial conversations suggest the majority feels safer continuing to worship online for the time being, but that is an ongoing conversation.
Will worship feel like it used to when we return on May 2? No, it will feel different than you remember because we will be wearing masks, keeping our distance and refraining from hugs, etc. Family groups will be assigned seating as they pre-register and there will be no congregational singing, bulletins, passing of offering plates or even the symbols of peace, but we will enjoy being back together in shared space to worship our God who has strengthened and sustained us through this wilderness time.
Indoor Mission Space:
Beginning May 3, the two largest indoor spaces we have (not currently flooded) will be available for mission-related work. Wooton Hall and the Chapel will be the places we use to bring people inside to work while still providing better air flow with exterior doors and space for social distancing. These spaces will be available by reservation during regular weekday hours. Initially, there will be no use of them on Sundays as we resume indoor in-person worship. In the meantime, many of our mission projects will resume outdoors in the very near future, including the casserole ministry, ramp program, pantry, and backpacks.
Doug will be working with the Beacon House team to make it possible to reopen! There will be limits on the number of workers/shoppers at one time in such a small space, but we are excited to get it up and running soon!
I realize this is not everything - Sunday school classes and small groups will remain online unless they register to meet outdoors on campus somewhere. If a group chooses to do so, we ask that it continue to stream the meeting via Zoom so that those who aren't physically present always have the opportunity to remain connected. Given the damage to the Vastine Building, we anticipate the end of summer before use of that space is even possible, social-distancing not withstanding.
It's been a year, friends!!! I don't mean 365 days, but a long, challenging, painful year of loss. However, we read in scripture God's promise, "I will give you back what you lost." (Joel 2:25). In the midst of all we have given up, we have also seen God filling the voids and creating new ways. I ask you to join with me in leaning into a new beginning with enthusiasm, patience, creativity, and compassion. We will get through this. We ARE getting through it. Let us now recommit to God and with one another, to uphold Christ's church through our "prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness" and see what wonderful things God does with our faithfulness.
Please feel free to reach out to any member of the Leadership Team, or to me or Pastor Faiana, with questions or feedback. We are all in this together!
Grace and peace,
Pastor Lara aka "The Vicar"
with Doug Northup,
and Garry Hamilton