Church Opening and Protocol

Greetings, church family!

We know this finds some of you reading the subject and sighing, “finally!” and others saying, “I won’t be around for quite a while.” First let us say, wherever you’re at we totally understand the need for each of us to make wise decisions for our families. We love and respect you and we’re so glad to share in this church family together, even as we have been physically apart from one another in an effort to love our most vulnerable neighbors. That is, after all, at the center of the gospel’s call.

In this time apart, we have tried to learn from all the resources available so as to make the wisest choices for our community, including resources made available through the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. We were so fortunate to have direct access to learning from Dr. Frederick Southwick, former Chief of Infectious Diseases for the University of Florida and a professor of Medicine and Molecular Microbiology. As a Christian, a scientist, and a United Methodist seeking to equip local churches in this difficult time, he provided two interactive webinars to give guidance around what provisions should be prioritized as churches consider when and how to reopen. We HIGHLY suggest everyone watch this webinar. You can access it here:

We’re writing to notify you of the leadership team’s decisions, as well as the process and timing for the resumption of church activities. As you likely have seen, Florida has quickly seen a rise in the number of cases of Coronavirus. Because churches have unintentionally been hot spots for the spread of the virus in a number of places, we have sought to be wise and to always be guided by our three Wesleyan rules: Do no harm. Do all the good you can. Stay in love with God. With those rules, Dr. Southwick’s advice, and the guidance and requirements from our Conference in mind, the leadership team has decided:

We will begin abbreviated in-person gatherings on Sunday, July 19th. 

  • This service will take place at 9 am and will last approximately 30-35 minutes. Whether the 19th will be inside or outside is not decided at this point since the level of risk goes up with indoor gatherings and we are currently in a peak. Eventually, as the numbers plateau, we will continue to hold this service indoors weekly at 9 am for the foreseeable future.
  • Masks will be required for all attendees and if you do not have a mask, we’ll have some available for you.
  • Hand sanitizer will also be available and the sanctuary will be marked off so as to ensure folks have adequate space between seats.
  • We won’t have any congregational singing in these in-person gatherings at the advice of Dr. Southwick, Emory University Healthcare, and considering much of the research that’s coming out about communal signing. We can, however, exit the building and sing the doxology on the steps (spaced apart) as our parting blessing (so start working on those epic harmony parts now!)

We will continue to broadcast the live-streamed service (a full service which will include music and last approximately one hour) at 10 am since we anticipate that this will be the primary mode for most of the congregation [& just as importantly, folks who have not previously been part of the congregation] for a while. In reading the congregational survey, we learned that there are many who are not yet comfortable with attending so we want to maintain the full-service live stream for those who will worship from home.

Small groups will be able to reconvene on a case by case basis as they wish and in consultation with Leadership. All small groups, if meeting indoors, will have to comply with the mask mandate and should take all the precautions necessary including no group singing and maintaining an appropriate distance. Now is also a great time to start new digital small groups for those folks who have wanted to connect but who might have restrictions about driving at night, being available during kiddos bedtimes, or dealing with work schedules. If you’d like to start a new small group, email us!

While there may be some of us who would prefer fewer stipulations for gatherings, we must remember that there may be folks who would like to attend groups or worship but will only do so if the space is safe. Our efforts to work together, take all precautions and consider those at highest risk are both a matter of hospitality and care for our neighbors. May we, in all we do, remember these words from Philippians:

In humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of human beings. 

Grace & Grits and Picnic Project will continue to collaborate on providing maximum food in the form of groceries to the community, likely for the remainder of the year. We are so grateful at how supportive all of the Sanford community has been. Folks who do not go to church, and other churches wishing to support, have reached out and provided assistance in these endeavors through PP and G&G. Folks can receive groceries on either Friday from 10a-12p or Sunday 1p-3p, every week at the alleyway entrance. We are currently seeing about 115 unduplicated families every week and because of PP’s partnership with Second Harvest, they are able to purchase 5-7 days worth of groceries for a family of 3 for less than $6. We also have had an incredible group of church folks who have stepped up to (safely) help sort groceries, glean fresh produce available from local farms, and drive all over the tri-county area to pick up available items when they are free, like milk and eggs. THANK YOU! We see about 10 new families each week, many of whom are folks who have never needed grocery assistance before. Please know to all of you who have helped, donated or just cheered on the work that this has been an incredible opportunity to share God’s love and abundance with our Sanford community. More information will be provided in a couple of weeks about a conference-wide initiative called Fill The Table to engage 100,000 Methodists and provide 3 million meals in Florida. This partnership between the UMC and the AME churches is an excellent opportunity for us Christians to live out God’s love in tangible ways together.  

Friends, we know at this time that it feels like there is more uncertainty than firm ground to stand on. And yet there are a few things we can always count on: God has not abandoned us. We are wholly loved. We are called to love in all we are, say, and do, at all times and in all places. And, God will work all things for good, even when they aren’t quite good yet.

We love you and we are always grateful to be your pastors. We are also extraordinarily grateful for the work of the Leadership team in this time. If you think about it and know them, send a thank you the direction of Carole Pegram, Larry Kozak, Sue Eppard, and Dick Willink. They have worked at odd hours and on all sorts of platforms to try and find the best way forward for us as a congregation.

Here is a link to a PDF document that outlines in detail the opening plan and protocols:

Opening Plan and Protocol for Congregation

Grace and Peace,

Pastors Meghan and David