REHOBOTH CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH AND COVID-19

Up-to-date information about the church's response

During these times of uncertainty and rapidly changing information and circumstances, we have put together a resources containing all of our communications to the congregation regarding our response to COVID-19, as well as links with many ways to access our virtual worship during this time of social distancing.

The most recent communications are on the top.

Currently all in-person worship is suspended. Some in-person programs and activities are happening, at the discretion of the Executive Board with strict social distancing protocol in place. 

Please contact the office (508-252-4545) if you need to speak to a member of the staff. For the most part, they are working remotely.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Grace and peace, members and friends of the Rehoboth Congregational Church,

It has been 11 weeks since I wrote with any updates regarding our congregation and the suspension of in-person worship, activities and programs due to COVID-19.  To be honest, I had a hard time sitting down to write this one – it certainly is not the update I want to give.

The Rehoboth Congregational Church will not be resuming in-person worship in the fall.

I wish I had better news.  Unfortunately, in order for us to safely resume in-person worship right now, we would have to sacrifice much of what we love and is meaningful to us about worship. 

We would not sing hymns, say prayers in unison, share peace or hold hands for the benediction.  We would not gather for fellowship after worship.  The choir would not sing.  In order for us to adhere to state requirements that mandate a 50% occupancy rate in our sanctuary, we would need to have multiple services and require reservations ahead of time.  We would put six-foot markers outside the building to ensure people maintain social distancing when they arrive and rope off pews, not allowing anyone who does not live under the same roof to sit together.  Masks would be required and the cost to clean and disinfect in between services would be exorbitant.  Even with all of that, there would still be a risk in gathering.

I know everyone wants to resume in-person worship.  I certainly do!  But as long as we are living with covid, the version of in-person worship that we would return to is not the one we remember and love.

I am so sorry.

That being said – I have a few announcements to make with regards to our church and covid-closures.

1. I do not know when we are going to resume in-person worship. Quite frankly, at this point, I have stopped speculating. So, for the time being, I am going to focus less on when we will resume in-person worship and more on making the most of – and improving – our virtual worship. 

We have made small investments in microphones over the past few weeks that have helped with sound quality.  We may look into purchasing a camera that is better designed to stream and record (or at least upgrading my old iPhone) and increasing our internet speed.

One thing I do know for certain – I do not want to stop streaming once we are worshiping in-person again.  Not only are members of our community who would have been unable to join us in person due to sickness or travel able to tune in and worship, so many people have joined us from outside of our area.  It is amazing to think that, in a time when our building is closed, our church actually has a wider reach!

For those of you without internet access, in addition to mailing you hard copies of my sermon every week, we will soon be making our worship services available on DVD so you can view them at home.  Please contact the office and let Kathy know if you would like to start receiving DVDs!

2. While the weather allows it, some outdoor in-person activities and programs will resume, with strict safety measures and social distancing protocols in place. This may include, but is not limited to private baptisms, weddings, movie nights and drive thru events (including drive thru communion services beginning in September, which I am really looking forward to!). In the event that the need for a funeral arises, we will work with families to determine the safest way to say goodbye and honor their loved ones.

Please note that every activity that takes place at the church must be approved by the Executive Board, who reserves the right to say no at any time.

3. Several people have asked me how the church is doing financially. I don’t have an answer to that question, however – I will get one! Look for a financial overview in the next couple of weeks.  In the meantime, thank you to everyone making an effort to stay current on their pledges.  And thank you to everyone who participated in the Stay-In-Your-Own-Yard Sale Fundraising Campaign!

4. For the time being, we are just going to do church a little bit differently – and we will figure out how to do it by trial and error. This means I do not have all the answers right now – and we will likely change and adapt as time goes on.

We will finish last year’s confirmation class – it is just going to look a little different.

There will be Church School in September – it is just going to look a little different.

We will kick off our 300th anniversary celebration – it is just going to look a little bit different.

Missions will host fundraisers and continue to serve the community – it is just going to look a little different.

We will have a bazaar – it is just going to look a little different.

Homeless Awareness Weekend will happen – it is just going to look a little different.

Bible Study will resume – it is just going to look a little different.

Our work, as a church, continues – for a moment in time, we are just doing things differently.  And that is okay!  One day we will look back on this time and realize that some of the changes we were forced to make were, ultimately, for the better – and that our time of covid made us see just how strong our church is.

5. I love you all. And I miss you dearly. I cherish my phone calls, text check-ins and driveway chats.  I love seeing everyone’s names pop up during nightly prayers and worship.  Seeing everyone at the diaper parade at my house brought me so much joy – it is one of the main reasons I am so committed to hosting drive thru communion.  I want to see your (masked) faces!

Friends, we will get back together – I really do believe that!  We just have to be patient, trust that science is moving as fast as it can and, in the meantime, do our best to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our community.

Love God.  Love people.  Wash your hands.  Wear a mask.

With love and angeltude,
Rev. Sarah

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Grace and peace, members and friends of the Rehoboth Congregational Church,

It has been seven weeks since I wrote with any updates regarding our congregation and the suspension of in-person worship, activities and programs due to COVID-19.  Truth be told, there simply has not been much to update.  We have settled into a routine with our online worship and nightly prayer sessions on Facebook, hoping and praying for a miraculous return to “normal”, while also starting to think about what it might mean to “do church” if the need to social distance continues long term.  John Haynes put a note in last week’s Epistle on behalf of the Executive Board, talking about the different ways people have been connecting – we urge you all to continue to think creatively about new ways to connect, as well!

This past week, Governor Baker announced that churches will be included in phase 1 reopening for the state of Massachusetts.  Despite this news, however, I am writing to let you know that the Rehoboth Congregational Church will not be resuming in-person worship, activities and programs yet.  The Executive Board met via Zoom on Tuesday night and, at the recommendation of the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ, voted to continue the suspension of in-person worship, activities and programs through the end of August. 

Several factors went into our decision.  First and foremost, Governor Baker has (rightfully so) put very heavy restrictions on how churches will re-gather.  Some of these restrictions include limiting capacity during worship, creating one-way aisles for traffic, roping off pews, prohibiting fellowship and childcare, not allowing shared plates (which, for us, would include communion and offerings) and cleaning and disinfecting in between each service.  Additional regulations have been outlined if someone who has been in worship tests positive for COVID-19.  We also read recommendations from the American Choral Directors Association strongly discouraging congregational singing, as the droplets that spread the virus carry further through the air when we are singing or shouting. 

As much as it hurts me to say this, the things we love most about church – singing together, eating together, hugging one another, holding hands, sharing sacraments, etc. – are still too dangerous. And if we were to gather, we would not be able to include everyone – we would have to limit the number of people in worship. Without childcare, our younger families likely would not come to worship and, even with these regulations in place, particularly vulnerable populations, such as our elderly members, are still encouraged to stay home. Right now it makes more sense for us to utilize our resources to make the most of our virtual gatherings so everyone can participate in worship safely and also find safe and socially distant ways to reach out to and support members of our community in need. 

We will continue to monitor the situation throughout the summer.  While we do hope to gather in-person in the fall, we will only do so if it is safe, includes everyone and doesn’t compromise what we love most about church.

One final thought … according to the Massachusetts website, churches are “permitted to reopen May 18, 2020.”  Well, I would argue that we never closed in the first place.  Yes, we stopped meeting in our building, but the Rehoboth Congregational Church is not defined by its building – we have proven that over and over again throughout this pandemic  As a church, we are still very much open, thriving and changing lives as we tell the story of God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining love.

We are just writing a new chapter.

Sending you all socially distant hugs as we continue to write this story.  I love and miss you all.

With love and angeltude,
Rev. Sarah

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Grace and peace, members and friends of the Rehoboth Congregational Church,

It has been 12 days since I wrote to you with an update that the Executive Board voted to extend the suspension of our in-person worship, activities and programs through Sunday, April 5, 2020.  We knew when we made this decision that this would likely change as we approached this date.

It will come as a surprise to no one that we have re-assessed the situation and extended the time frame for our suspension once again.  This time, however, we are not giving an end date.

Yesterday evening, the Executive Board voted to suspend all in-person worship, programs and activities until it is deemed safe by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Center for Disease Control.

This means that everything that was scheduled for us to do in-person is currently on hold.  I would encourage staff, committees and groups that had events scheduled to consider an online/virtual alternative or to simply resume planning when it is safe for us to gather in person again.

While I am not a scientist, my guess is that this notion of “when this is over” is not going to be a switch that is flipped where everyone instantly returns to their “normal” lives, but a slow progression where restrictions are gradually lifted and permanent changes are made to ensure everyone’s health and safety.  I would love to create that moment in the meme being shared on Facebook where we pack the church for the first time since all of this started while I skip down the aisle high-fiving everyone (in heels, of course).  In reality, however, I think it is more likely that we will re-enter the world of in-person church in reverse of how we exited it – slowly and in stages.

And that is okay.  Our church was never defined by our building.  These past 2+ weeks have proven that to me.

With that being said, what I, personally, cannot put on hold or consider an online/virtual alternative to is the fact that I am less than three weeks away from my due date.  First of all, thank you to everyone who continues to mention and hold us in prayer – we feel every single one of them.  For those who have asked, we are doing okay right now!  Bruce’s company is considered essential, but he is taking some time off of work to minimize his risk of exposure and we are beyond grateful for the kindness of a dear friend who is intentionally quarantining right now so she can come stay with Harrison when I go into labor.  Beyond that – we don’t have much of a plan because of how quickly everything changes on a daily (hourly!) basis.  We are confident in our medical team and the decisions and recommendations they will make when I go into labor.

What I do know is this:  I do not plan on going completely off-line when the baby does come.  Truth be told, right now my family needs our church just as much as you all do.  Do to the unpredictability of a newborn’s schedule, I will hand Sunday morning preaching duties over to my dear friend and colleague, the Rev. Greta MacRae.  But you will still see me popping onto the Facebook group, posting our story times and helping to get all of our online worship up and running.

Please know that I might not be able to respond to calls and messages right away.  If you have questions someone else can answer, try them first!  There aren’t rules when it comes to taking a maternity leave in the middle of a pandemic, so, like with everything up until this point, I am going to take it one day at a time and adjust as I go along.

Thank for your love, support and prayers.  Thank you for “doing church” in a moment in history where the church is needed, more than ever.

With love and angeltude,
Rev. Sarah

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Grace and peace, members and friends of the Rehoboth Congregational Church,

It has been one week since I wrote to you all to let you know that, out of growing concern of COVID-19, all in-person worship, activities and programs were being suspended through the end of the month.  In many ways, it feels like that was yesterday – in other ways, it feels like a lifetime has passed since then.

We are slowly moving to a more virtual way of “doing church”.  We held a virtual worship service last Sunday in our Facebook group and then uploaded the text, audio and video in various places afterwards so those not on Facebook could still access it.  We have begun evening prayers in our Facebook group.  Every evening at 9PM, one of the Deacons or I start a live video and invite people to share their prayer requests, offer prayer and then close with the Lord’s Prayer.  The Executive Board met by email on Tuesday evening and voted to sign the church up for Zoom, an online meeting platform that will give us ways to gather as committees and community during this time of social distancing.

I have said this to my friends, colleagues and members of this church – this is a marathon, not a sprint.  We do not have to have all of the answers right away and we can adapt as we go along.  The most important thing for us, as a church community, to do right now is to stay connected, reach out to those who may feel isolated, care for the vulnerable in a way that is safe and lean into our faith for strength, endurance and comfort.  A few weeks ago, I preached on Jesus’ time in the wilderness and reflected that God is with us when we find ourselves in the wilderness.  I want to remind you that the same is still true today.  God is with us in the COVID-19 wilderness.  We are not alone.

You likely saw that Governor Baker issued new orders last Sunday, March 15, 2020 prohibiting gatherings of over 25 people throughout the Commonwealth, including faith-based events, from Tuesday, March 17, 2020 through Sunday, April 5, 2020.  With these orders, the Executive Board has voted to extend the suspension of in-person worship, gatherings and activities at the Rehoboth Congregational Church through Sunday, April 5, 2020.

Much is still up in the air.  The CDC has recommended a longer timeframe to suspend larger gatherings and the President has recommended gatherings be limited to ten people or less.  The Executive Board agreed to extend this suspension knowing that we will reassess as the new date approaches based on the different recommendations and likely adjust again.

I have created a page on our website with all of our COVID-19 updates: http://rehobothcongregational.org/covid-19/

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.

With love and angeltude,
Rev. Sarah

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Grace & Peace, Members and Friends of the Rehoboth Congregational Church,

I spent the afternoon on a video call with the three conference ministers for the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ, as well as clergy across MA, RI and CT, regarding the COVID-19 Coronavirus.  With the rapid spread of COVID-19 happening in the northeast right now, the conference is recommending that all churches in the conference suspend in-person worship and activities for at least the next two weeks.

Shortly after the call, I spoke with John Haynes, chairperson of the Executive Board.  At that time, he and I made the very difficult decision to suspend in-person worship and activities at the Rehoboth Congregational Church until the end of March.

We will reassess the situation at the end of the month and then discuss what to do about Palm Sunday, Holy Week & Easter.

What does this mean?  This means that, moving forward, all worship services and group activities (bible studies, movie nights, rehearsals, suppers, etc.) scheduled in March are currently suspended.  We have made a few exceptions for small group activities this weekend with the expectation that all precautions – maintaining safe distances from one another, hand washing, disinfecting surface and using hand sanitizers – will be taken. All in-person visitation has been suspended (but will still happen through phone calls, text messages and emails).  All committee meetings will happen virtually or by email.

Will the office still be open?  Kathy and I will continue to work – both in the office and at home.  If you need to stop by the office, please check to make sure that one of us will be there first.

Will you hold some sort of virtual way to worship?  Yes!  I will offer an opportunity for worship through our Facebook group on Facebook live.  I have no idea what this is going to look like yet, and I imagine it will evolve over the next 2.5 weeks.  I will continue to upload the audio of my sermons to my podcast feed and post them to my blog for people not on Facebook.  We will mail hard copies of my sermon to anyone without access to them online if they would like to read them.

But wait!  Can I still pay my pledge?  Okay, okay, so I am not sure if anyone is actually asking this question!  But cashflow is a concern, as we need to continue to pay our staff and bills.  For those people who use electronic giving, you are all set!  Withdrawals will come out as usual.  If you do not use electronic giving, please consider sending your weekly offerings in the mail – our deposits might not happen weekly right now, but we will greatly appreciate everyone doing the best they can to stay caught up!  If you would like to donate through PayPal, let me know and I can send you a link – that donation WILL get credited to your account for tax purposes.

Please know that this is not a decision that John or I came to lightly.  In the spirit of vulnerability, I will admit that I wept at my desk when I heard the recommendation to suspend in-person worship and knew the decision I had to make.  I have never experienced anything like this before, and pastoring through a pandemic is certainly nothing they ever taught us about in seminary.  But I do believe that to stop the spread of COVID-19 we need to be proactive before we are forced to be reactive and, for the time being, practice social distancing and reduce large gatherings.

I promise to be in touch frequently with information about virtual worship and any other updates.

Friends – thank you for your wisdom, grace & flexibility.  Despite the chaos of the world right now, I still believe in the Lenten promise – that resurrection is coming.

Pray.  Wash your hands.  Stay safe.

I love you all.
Rev. Sarah