June 24, 2020 Letter to the Congregation

June 24, 2020

Dear SPC Family,

The Great Ends of the Church are a set of six mission statements in the Book of Order that define the life and work of the Presbyterian Church (USA). They seek to establish the heart of who the church is and what the church is called to do.

  1. The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind
  2. The shelter, nurture and spiritual fellowship of the children of God
  3. The maintenance of divine worship
  4. The preservation of the truth
  5. The promotion of social righteousness
  6. The exhibition of the kingdom of heaven to the world

Since early March, we as a congregation, along with faith communities across the globe, have had to wrestle with what it means to live out our faith in a time of pandemic and physical separation—separation from our houses of worship, and separation from one another. We’ve faced challenges and steep learning curves, and we’ve confronted the fragility of life and an enormity of loss. But we’ve also rejoiced in God’s ongoing creative work as we reaffirm together the heart of who the church is and what the church is called to do in the world.

With our country now turning to phases of “reopening,” we face a new set of challenges: deciding when and how to return to any in-person gatherings as a church.

In early June, the Session authorized the formation of a three-person planning team to review guidance about reopening from both governmental and ecclesiastical sources. The planning team consulted with staff and solicited input from the congregation through email, an open Zoom session, and church committees.

The overwhelming feedback received from members of the congregation was for caution and safety. Most people who shared their thoughts expressed concern about returning to in-person church gatherings in the short term. Another expressed priority was that worship remain accessible to everyone.

As a result of that preliminary research and dialogue, the planning team developed an initial set of principles and guidelines that the Session passed at its June meeting.

We all realize that information and circumstances change quickly, so these guidelines are meant to shepherd us through the summer, with an intention to reevaluate for September. And, of course, if circumstances change that require or allow adjustment before September, we plan to be nimble and responsive.

To that end, the planning team established four principles:

  1. the importance of staying informed with updated information about COVID-19
  2. the importance of continual communication with, and input from, the congregation
  3. the importance of establishing and maintaining a healthy, clean, and safe building
  4. anticipating ongoing change in our church routines and practices, but maintaining a nurturing and loving community in the midst of that change

The guidelines are as follows:

  • Because safety of all members and visitors is the paramount consideration, church meetings, activities, and worship will continue to be online-only through Labor Day 2020, with some limited exceptions noted below. In August, session will determine whether any in-person activities can resume safely in September. Committees are planning church activities for the fall that can be done virtually, knowing that adjusting back to our usual in-person way of doing things can be done quickly when it is safe to do so.
  • The House & Grounds Committee will prepare the building for use with a “deep clean,” any necessary maintenance and construction, and the establishment of a regular cleaning schedule, with adequate cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer stations positioned throughout the building.
  • Signs will be placed at the entrances to the buildings and all interior spaces with clear instructions about access, mask use, social distancing, cleaning of surfaces, handwashing, and self-monitoring of wellness and symptoms of illness.
  • Any entrance to the church building, aside from staff use, will be by appointment only through contacting the church office (or, for emergencies only, by contacting one of the pastors). This approach (which applies to members, visitors, and outside groups or contractors) ensures that any use of the building is coordinated with necessary cleaning procedures.
  • Every person entering the building, including staff, will be required to sign a log with their name, date, time, and contact information for any necessary contact tracing.
  • Church staff will be permitted to enter and work in the building. Beginning next week, Office Administrator Aaron Watkins-Lopez will be working in the church office from 9AM-2PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and at home on other days. (As is the usual practice, the church office is closed on Mondays between the Fourth of July and Labor Day.) Entrance to the building will still be by advance appointment only, but on Tuesdays and Thursdays Aaron will be able to answer the church phones in real time and will be able to meet any needs that require his presence in the church building.
  • Offices occupied by staff members will be for their use only, including the main office. All restrooms, other than those adjacent to Fellowship Hall, will be for staff use only.
  • The sanctuary will be used only by those leading worship, at the pastors’ discretion.
  • The Fellowship Hall kitchen will be strictly off limits, except to those who need access for purposes of our feeding mission programs.
  • Masks must be worn at all times by anyone inside the building. Staff may remove their masks in their individual offices.
  • Social distancing of 6ft between individuals of different households must be maintained at all times in the church building.
  • No shared food or drinks on the church property.
  • With coordination and scheduling through the church office, recovery groups that were using the building prior to the pandemic will be permitted to resume using the Fellowship Hall and adjacent restrooms only, following all of the building use requirements listed above. This reflects our determination that in-person recovery group meetings are an “essential” service and ministry of the church. The groups will be limited to a maximum of 40 individuals in Fellowship Hall. Tables and chairs will be set up at appropriate distancing in Fellowship Hall, and that set up may not be moved by anyone.
  • With coordination and scheduling through the church office, small groups of no more than 15 may meet outside on the church grounds for a church activity involving spiritual or social support. Each individual must bring their own chair, distancing of 6ft must be maintained, and masks must be worn. Access to the building by anyone using outside spaces on the church grounds will be limited to entering through Fellowship Hall to use the restrooms adjacent to Fellowship Hall.
  • Open Door Exchange, the Soup Kitchen, and any other ministries operating outside of the church property will have separate guidelines that match those specific contexts.
  • We continue to be in close communication with the Setauket Presbyterian Preschool about the fall.

We will need to live into these guidelines together—and as we do, we may discover a need to adjust again how we do things. Please, let’s show one another an abundance of patience and grace along the way. Your input, feedback, ideas, requests, and prayers are invited and encouraged, so do not hesitate to reach out to the church office, the pastors, or the clerk of session. 

Additionally, you’ll be receiving a congregation-wide survey, as well as some dates for additional Zoom meetings that will allow you to hear more about this planning process and share your thoughts about the next phases of our reopening.

Most important, we will continue to prioritize care for one another and our neighbors during this time. Thank you for all of the ways you have been the church to and for one another. May the Spirit continue to lead us together as we live out our calling as the church in the world!

Peace & grace,

The Session and the reopening planning team (Greg Bellias, Kim Richardson, and Ken Rogers), with staff support from Interim Pastor Kate Jones Calone, Community Outreach Pastor Ashley McFaul-Erwin, Interim Director of Spiritual Formation Heidi Parles, and Office Administrator Aaron Watkins-Lopez