RE-ENTRY OVERVIEW & STRATEGY (Part 1)

 INTRODUCTION & BACKGROUND

On May 1, 2020 Governor Holcomb announced that Indiana will be making steps toward reopening our great state.  At that time the Elder Team at Hamilton Hills Church established a “Re-entry Team” to begin that process for our church. This is the first installment of that plan.

  1. In an effort to be responsive to an ever-changing situation, the team will adjust and update this plan on a frequent basis and will not commit to any long-term deadlines or dates. The general rule of the plan is to make slow, but steady, steps toward a return to in-person worship services while continuing to provide a way for our most vulnerable to participate in our church community. The team used the professional expertise of its members, the state guidelines, as well as input from our online survey to create the next steps in this process.
  2. We would like to thank our state government leaders for entrusting religious leaders to make wise choices in this return to normalcy. We are blessed with a state government that has been committed to the right of Freedom of Religion as guaranteed in the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America. Governor Holcomb’s administration has given religious organizations a large amount of responsibility to establish individual plans to meet the needs of their congregations. There are recommendations but not rigid requirements or mandates. We, as a part of the leadership at Hamilton Hills Church, are grateful for the trust that was given to our church and are trying to honor that trust by using God-given wisdom to direct our re-entry plan. [CLICK TO VIEW GOVERNOR’S PLAN]
  3. Another tool we used in devising this plan was from your input from our online survey. We had over 200 responses to our survey! THANK YOU so much for taking the time to take the survey. The results of the survey were extremely helpful in gauging where the church is leaning on this subject. It was clear that most of our congregation would like to return to in-person services in the near future (65%). However, there was also a significant percentage who are leaning toward a slow and cautious progression (20%). When asked about specific precautions we can take as a Church, those dealing with maintaining social distancing were the most popular. Your inputs from the survey were helpful in forming our plan. With this in mind, we would like to explain our goals in this process.

 

RE-ENTRY GOALS

  1. We want to reach a goal of returning to in-person worship services as soon as is reasonably possible. Pastor Mark’s sermon just this past Sunday highlighted a passage that underlies the importance of gathering together. Hebrews 10:24-15 “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  The church in that time had neglected to meet together for fear of persecution, of endangering their lives and yet it was still clear that they needed to meet.  Although the current crisis does not involve government persecution, it has created challenges, in the form of health risks and government disobedience, of meeting together as we believe God intended.  As the verse points out, one of the goals of meeting together is to “stir up… love and good works.”  This can still be accomplished in some ways by utilizing technology that was not available in Biblical times. While our current use of technology allows us to avoid “neglecting” to meet together, we recognize that an online meeting is less than ideal.  It is still just a substitute, although sometimes necessary, for in-person-fellowship that creates easier and more natural interpersonal connections as a church.  When we are physically separated as we are currently, it is easier to remain a group of strangers meeting each week to worship God.  This is part of the reason there is a push by our leadership to return to in-person meeting, as described further below.
  2. We want to keep our most vulnerable members safe while still including them as much as possible in our fellowship of believers. We want to ensure that while keeping these members protected that they do not feel cut out of this re-entry process nor out of our church family.  This is why we, as a church, are making efforts in the near future to improve our technological capabilities for online live service broadcasts.
  3. We want to trust God in all things, including this current crisis. He does not want us to live in fear (2 Timothy 1:7).  We will rely on Him for our safety and health, yet we will do this sensibly.  After all, we all wear seatbelts, use sunscreen, see physicians and take medications and carry insurance policies.
  4. We want to follow our government’s lead on this subject. Although we do not rely on government for our safety or security, we are commanded by God to obey their laws and guidance as long as it does not interfere with His commands.  (Romans 13:1-5)
  5. We want to focus on unity for our church. We understand that not all of you will agree with our recommendations, but we are trying to reach a reasonable consensus that has been obtained through prayer and a plea for God-given wisdom.

 

 

REMOTE WORSHIP WILL CONTINUE

  • While this crisis has been difficult, it has also been a blessing in many ways as it has given us a perspective and revealed deficiencies. This is uniquely true for all of us as individuals, but it has also helped us as a church family.  One area that was clearly deficient was our online service technology.  This has led our elder team to upgrade those capabilities and will allow us to deliver actual live online services, once the new equipment arrives and is installed.  This is the reason that as we begin to return, we plan to schedule in-person services on days other than Sunday in order to continue to stream our “live” services as we have been doing each Sunday.
  • Before listing any specifics of the plan to return to in person meeting, we want to make clear our first recommendation: We HIGHLY encourage those in the high-risk categories to continue to worship at home with the online option.  If this recommendation is declined then we would recommend that the person follow ALL of the other precautions such as social distancing and wearing a face mask.

These high-risk factors are:

  • Obesity (> 40 body mass index (BMI) [BMI Calculator – LINK]
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic kidney disease requiring dialysis
  • Liver disease

 

CONNECTION GROUPS

Connection groups can begin to meet once again starting now.  Per the Governor’s recommendations, gatherings such as these are to be limited to 25 people which should include all of our connection groups (starting May 24 this number increases to 100 people in a group).  Please check with your small group connection leader as to their plans for meeting and what precautions they plan to implement in terms of distancing or wearing masks, etc.  We are leaving those choices up to the individual group members and leaders.

 

 WORSHIP RE-ENTRY

Beginning on Sunday, May 24th, we will conduct an in-person service with 50 team members. This is designed as an initial trial run so it will be limited to selected team members only.  We will slowly expand this in-person service in terms of size and worship elements on a week-to-week basis.  At the May 24th service the team members will be separated by family units and seating will be spaced approximately 6 feet apart.  This first in-person service will be a great way to test our social distancing methods and hopefully will reveal any problems that can then be remedied as we move forward under this plan. At this meeting the following precautions will be available.

  • There will be a sign up for worship service of team members only
    (initially no more than 50)
  • The Sunday service message will be a repeat of the sermon that was recorded earlier in the week.  That recording will still be aired as usual on our Sunday morning online service
  • Seating based on distancing family groups by 6 feet
  • Worship team will not be used at this service
  • No coffee/food
  • Greeters will be used only for holding open doors
  • Arrival will be orderly and require staged waiting areas prior to seating
  • Dismissal from service will be orderly and directed by ushers
  • Hand sanitizer stations will be at various locations in the church
  • Physical contact (e.g., Handshaking and/or hugging) will be highly discouraged
  • There will be more in-depth cleaning and disinfecting of the sanctuary and restrooms after each in-person service

 

CHILDREN’S PROGRAMS (YOUTH, HH KIDS, CHILDCARE)

For this initial installment of our re-entry plan we have decided as a team that these programs will not be addressed in detail.  Our tentative plan is to introduce youth group after May 24 when the limit for social gathering is raised to 100 people. Prior to this first meeting Pastor Ty Hill will be distributing our recommendations regarding the issues of social distancing, cleaning and sanitation, as well as food and snacks.

The Indiana Revised Guidance for Places of Worship recommends considering waiting to open preschool and children areas until schools re-open.  We are not committing our church to this recommendation at this time, but will continue to discuss this subject. Until a decision can be made, Hamilton Hills is committed to providing weekly resources for our families to utilize at home. When we decide it is prudent to re-introduce these programs, we will have guidelines addressing:

  • Parent pick up and drop off
  • Social distancing concerns
  • Cleaning and sanitation
  • Food and snacks

 

CONCLUSION

The COVID 19 crisis seems to have created controversy and some polarizing viewpoints in our communities and no doubt this includes within our congregation.  As one church body, we need focus on unity.  With this in mind, we, as leaders in the church, are trying to navigate and find the best balance between returning to corporate worship and the mission of our church, while maintaining the safety of our congregation and community.  Please understand, if these steps appear too fast for you individually, there is no pressure to return until you feel comfortable in doing so.  Also understand that should you choose to return, we all need to have hearts that seek compassion and understanding rather than judgement and shame.  There are those that see people wearing masks and wonder why they venture out and those that see people with no masks and wonder why they are careless with other people’s health.  We are asking for all of us to recognize these tendencies and seek an understanding heart within ourselves. Philippians 2:4.

This plan is not complete.  It is not meant to be static, but dynamic, and we will continue to review recommendations and will revise the plan as needed.  We will make these decisions thoughtfully and prayerfully with open debate within this team and with final approval from our Elder Team.  We ask for your prayers for wisdom in making these decisions.

John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”        

 

In Christ,

 

THE RE-ENTRY TEAM

John Aoun
Rachael Hiday, PharmD
Jeb Rice, MD
Thomas Salsbury, MD
Rick Terry
Matthew Thistle
Randall Waller