People have asked me from time to time what’s the hardest part about digital worship, and for me, the answer is very clear: I’m preaching to a camera instead of to people in the room.

I don’t mean it’s hard technically. I’ve had media training and feel comfortable talking to a camera, and I have a pretty vivid imagination so I can actually visualize all of you on the other side of that lens, making eye contact with different people through the service and the sermon the way I normally do in person.

Which is also why it’s hard; the challenge isn’t one of technique, but of energy. I’m at least twice as tired at the end of the second service on Sundays as I would be after in-person services, because I’m having to do all that visualization as well as the normal things. So while I am 100% in agreement with the Session’s decision not to worship inside the building anytime soon, I am VERY excited about seeing at least some of you “in the flesh” during our special outdoor combined worship service this Sunday
at 10 a.m.!

For this to be safe and successful, though, it’s going to be absolutely crucial that we abide by the protocols that the Worship Committee has established for us to gather outdoors. So I want to walk you through what will be necessary this Sunday so there is no confusion.

First, if you have not already done so, please send in an RSVP (via this online form) so we have both a sense of how many people will be there and a head start on gathering contact information for all attendees (see below). If you have previously told us you were coming but will not be, please let us know at info@fpc-bethlehem.org so we can plan accordingly.

Please remember that the CDC, and therefore the Session, continues to recommend that people with one or more conditions that make you a high risk for contracting COVID-19 not attend large gatherings (please check it here). This is why we will continue to offer the livestream on Facebook Live this Sunday, as we have for months, for anyone who needs to stay at home or simply prefers to do so.

And just a note that we are watching the weather, and will make a decision on Saturday if we need to postpone the outdoor service. That information will be on our website, Facebook page, church phone message, and sent via email to our newsletter mailing list.

As you make your plans for Sunday – deciding whether you will attend in person or watch from home – please note that everyone needs to bring their own chair(s) and be able to carry them and set them up yourselves; we will not have any chairs available from the church, nor will volunteers (or bystanders) be able to assist you because of physical distancing protocols.

Similarly, if you have physical limitations and need assistance, you will need to arrange for anyone providing assistance to come with you; it is unsafe for both you and our volunteers for them to help you physically. We will have disability parking reserved in the South Lot closest to the worship area for anyone who needs it (please let us know at info@fpc-bethlehem.org).

When you arrive on Sunday morning for the 10 a.m. service, plan to come a little earlier than you normally do, because it will take longer for you to get settled. When you drive in, volunteers will direct you to a parking space, ensuring that there are empty spaces between cars to provide distancing.

Volunteers will be wearing yellow safety vests for easy visibility. Once you are parked, everyone should remain in your car with their masks on until a volunteer approaches you; those masks must stay on at all times until you are back in your car and ready to leave.

The volunteer will check you off the RSVP list and/or ensure we have your contact information; this is required for contact tracing purposes in case any attendee tests positive for COVID-19 within the next two weeks. The volunteer will then give you a card assigning your household to your own personal “pod” (seating area) and a worship bulletin. FYI, both the cards and bulletins were copied three days earlier and set aside in a secure area until Sunday morning, and volunteers handing them out on Sunday will be gloved, so virus transmission risk is at an absolute minimum there.

In addition to your chair(s), you may also bring your own water, umbrella, bug spray, sunscreen, etc. into your pod. You will need to remain in your pod at all times until you are dismissed at the end of the service (see below); please do not “mingle” with others. If you have any trash for whatever reason, you are asked to take it out and dispose of it at home; there will not be trash cans available.

Restrooms are available in the North Link and near the South Entrance, should you need them. A volunteer can direct you if you are unsure where to go, but please remember to maintain 6 feet of physical distance in talking to them and/or waiting in line for the restroom.

During the service itself, you will continue to wear a mask at all times; worship leaders will do so as well except when they are actively speaking or singing. As for singing, only the worship leader will sing; it will be tempting to sing along in a low voice, but please do not give into temptation! Singing is one of the most dangerous activities possible in the COVID era, so sing with your heart and spirit but not with your voice. We will pray the Lord’s Prayer together aloud, but please do so softly, as even normal conversation levels bear a degree of risk.

At the end of the service, volunteers will dismiss you by pod number to ensure physical distancing on the way out. This will obviously take a little longer than a pre-pandemic exit, so our musicians have a short postlude to conclude the service, and then will continue to play as pods are dismissed.

Again, I am delighted we are moving forward with this experiment in outdoor, physically distanced worship. If you have comments or feedback after the service, please send them to
info@fpc-bethlehem.org and the Worship Committee will review them as they consider future plans.

See you on Sunday!!!

Grace and peace,