FCCP Reopening Task Force Update

Reopening Task Force Update

On September 22nd the Reopening Task Force met with the Church Council to share our report and recommendations. We have met weekly since June 29th. During this time, we poured over and reviewed guidance from the CDC, NH.gov COVID-19 Guidelines, Insurance Board, UCC and other churches in the NH Conference as well as churches nation-wide. We reviewed the physical premises for opportunities/restrictions for meetings and gatherings including the Sanctuary, Fellowship Hall, parlor, office, downstairs rooms (classrooms, nursery, library, big room) and the bathroom. We measured the floor space to determine maximum capacity in each room taking proper social distancing into account. We developed protocols for Small Outdoor Gatherings – 20 people, Large Outdoor Gatherings – up to 50 people, Small and Large Worship Services, Office Opening, Inside Group Meetings, Safety Steward Checklist and an Action Plan (in the event of positive COVID case in the church). We created an on-line pre-registration form to properly track attendance and member contact information at all live gatherings/meetings and created a kit with appropriate supplies needed to conduct gatherings/meetings located in the Woman’s Fellowship closet.

When the Task Force first met almost 3 months ago, we asked ourselves, what does Sharing what God’s love looks like in this process? For us, this meant our recommendations would come from a place of deep love for the congregation. We kept this close to our heart as we considered the unique needs of our church, our members and keeping our church family safe. After extensive research, discussion and discernment, we have come to these conclusions.

1. Air circulation is the overriding problem in all the rooms of the church. The building is old and does not have a proper air handling and filtration system. The lack of proper circulation will severely impact our ability to conduct inside worship or meetings when the weather gets colder. Bathroom usage is another major issue due to a lack of proper circulation and all are interior rooms with no windows. In addition, bathrooms would have to be cleaned after each use and asking each user to clean the bathroom after use is not acceptable. We need to decide who would be responsible for cleaning/disinfecting the bathroom, as well as, other parts of the church.

2. Worship services would need to be changed in order to adhere to new rules. In the Sanctuary, these changes would include, no pew cushions, bibles, hymnals, or worship bulletins. There would be no unison prayers, singing, passing of the peace or communion. The service would be limited to 30-45 minutes (due to no bathrooms), no rocking chairs in the back, no fellowship hour or food/drinks. Social distancing would limit seating to 30 spaces (number would be increased for couples/families sitting together). Pre-registration would be required for all services. Temperature checks would be conducted upon entrance into the Sanctuary. Seating would be assigned in order of arrival – fill rows front to back. Finally, all windows and doors would need to remain open in order to increase air circulation regardless of the season which may be detrimental to the organ if a consistent temperature is not maintained, not to mention the tremendous heat loss.

3. The Task Force looked at an alternative Worship service location, Fellowship Hall. It can accommodate approximately 50 people while maintaining social distancing and provides padded seats. All other restrictions for Worship services previously mentioned would apply in Fellowship Hall. The parlor would be used for emergencies only and is prohibited from gatherings. It is designated in our Action Plan for isolating a person if need be, until the person can be transported or if EMS needs to be called.

4. On-site meetings could be conducted in classrooms downstairs. All safety protocols would have to be adhered to and rooms would need to be cleaned after each use. The Task Force recommends that meetings remain virtual at this time and in-person meetings should be on an exception basis only.

5. Office opening is a concern. The Task Force cited, the administrator’s desk is too close to the door, social distancing would be difficult with the present layout, Carlos will need to use a separate entrance to access his office and pastoral counseling would not be possible in his office.

6. As mentioned before, cleaning/disinfecting remains a question. Do we have the proper equipment and chemicals? How frequently and what areas of the church need to be cleaned? How much should we rely on Laurie? Will we need to hire a professional cleaning service to assist in the workload?

7. Finally, we recommend the Sunday Virtual Service continue to be an option for members who are not comfortable coming back or have underlying health conditions that prevent them from returning to in-person service. Special consideration must be made on the workload this would create for Carlos with in-person and virtual services. Consideration must also be made for the Diaconate, Sue, Laurie, the Bell Choir or anyone else involved in the worship service, if multiple services are taking place.

At the conclusion of the Church Council Meeting, the Council agreed with the Reopening Task Force’s strategy to open our building slowly and deliberately. Starting on October 4th, the 8:00am in-person service will take place in Fellowship Hall. The same safety protocols we have been following for the outdoor services will be in place – preregistration required, limit of 20 people, temperature check, etc. The Council also agreed that committee meetings will remain virtual for the foreseeable future due to the requirements and restrictions of the indoor protocols. It was decided to reassess in a few weeks and consider whether additional in-person services can be added.

We are being cautious due to an abundance of love for our church. Our recommendations are consistent with the position of other UCC churches in the State of NH and we will remain diligent reviewing and assessing data and recommendations as it becomes available. Please remember, we are open, we never closed. Take advantage of all the wonderful opportunities we have to connect with one another. Carlos and a whole lot of people behind the scenes are working hard to show what God’s love looks like at FCCP.

Peace and blessings,

Reopening Task Force: Jane Ambargis, Amber Beland, Angele Diack, Carlos Jauhola-Straight, Margaret Oxner, Ron Schneider, Chair

© 2020 First Congregational Church of Pelham, NH  United Church of Christ

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