Friends, we hear you. We miss being in church. We miss being together in-person. We miss so many things right now, and the fatigue of almost a full year of pandemic-related changes and disappointments can be overwhelming. We all look forward to when we can be back in-person more regularly. The Reentry Task Force met earlier this month to discuss whether it is safe for re-entry under current pandemic conditions. We discussed new developments and changing needs regarding how we continue to connect as a community, worship together, care for staff, and keep one another safe.
Although Governor Murphy recently announced that places of worship can operate at up to 50% of their capacity, this does not change the 60-person indoor capacity for PCCT. We still have to maintain social distancing of six feet between household units, which means seating in every third pew and at separate ends of pews. The maximum number of people that can safely socially distance in the sanctuary ultimately depends on how many from each household are in attendance and how they are spaced out in the pews.
While COVID numbers are (thankfully!) continuing to improve in the community and around much of the country, we are still not yet at a place where our Presbytery deems it safe to worship in-person. Recommendations from Presbytery remain unchanged: “if your county or region is orange or higher OR a CALI score of 3 or more OR has a positivity rate of more than 5%, then worship services and other in person activities need to remain virtual.” The most recent numbers for the CALI score for the Northwest, which includes the counties of Morris, Passaic, Sussex and Warren, were listed as “3: High Risk”. [See nj.gov/health/cd/statistics/covid for more information]. We will continue to monitor these numbers and use them to determine when we might be able to return to worship in our sanctuary. We all hope that is soon.
This Easter, there will be one in-person service and it will be held outdoors. We encourage you to join in a special 7 am in-person “radio church” Easter Service in the PCCT parking lot with trumpet and traditional singing of the Halleluiah Chorus. Our 10 am service will be live-streamed from inside the sanctuary without congregants in the pews. Although local infection rate data and numbers may indeed shift and change in the next three to four weeks, our plans for indoor worship for March and Easter are based on current data which indicates our community continues to be in the “high” to “very high” risk for COVID-19 infection.
We know this may be disappointing, but we need pandemic conditions to improve before we re-enter the sanctuary together. The goal PCCT has been keeping at the forefront is based on Jesus’ mandate to “love our neighbors as ourselves,” and these plans are based upon that directive.
In the meantime, we continue to adjust and adapt as new needs emerge, and invest in technology to try new ways of worship. Drive-in / Radio Church was well-received on both Christmas Eve and on Ash Wednesday with 60 to 100 attendees at each service. Live Streaming continues every week. We are grateful for the gifts received from our members that made the purchase of these technologies possible so that we can continue to worship together, even if in new and distant ways.
As the objective data evolves, the Reentry Task Force and staff will continue to review and discuss it at monthly meetings. They will make recommendations to Session. Any recommendation to return to worship in person must first be approved by Session and then by our Presbytery. We are all anxious to return to church, and are prayerfully looking forward to a time when we can announce that it is safe to do so. Thank you for your patience, your dedication to supporting PCCT, and the kindness you share with others in the community.
Faithfully yours, The PCCT Re-Entry Task Force
Scott Heller, Colleen Markley, Peter Meyers, Jenee Moore, and Evan Skinner with pastoral advisors Rev. Dr. Ellen C. Clémot and Rev. Thomas A. Brown