For the first time in months I walked into the lobby of the coffee shop and heard the baristas exclaim, “Welcome in!” Tears of joy came to my eyes.
Even though they’ve probably been coached to say that by a manager, it sure felt good to be 'welcomed in' instead of feeling pushed away.
There have been so many moments in the last few months where I have been unsure of my welcome.
Are they smiling at me behind that mask?
Are they afraid I’m going to embrace them like I would usually do?
Are they afraid of contracting a virus from me?
There’s a part of me that wants to click my heels three times and wake up back in a place we call 'normal.'
That place where people aren’t afraid to...
...stand close to each other and talk.
...hug each other as they leave.
...be right next to someone without feeling like I’m dishonoring their 'safe space.'
I miss those parts of what I took for granted as 'normal' prior to this time of physical distancing.
As much as you may be tempted to deny the fact that everything might change again, I’m sorry to tell you that it definitely can, and it has. We learned after the Camp Fire, that whatever 'normal' was, it was gone forever and it made way for 'the new normal.'
We are once again in that place – but this time the new normal will extend much further than the Northstate area ravaged by the effects of the devastating fires.
Finding Our Way Forward
I am encouraged that we are finding our way forward to mitigate risk and provide something more than streaming digital services.
Yesterday, Butte County Sheriff, Kory Honea, talked about what steps churches will need to take as they prepare to reopen. We know that there are risks to meeting in any size group.
Earlier this week I talked with the Butte County pastor who opened his church on Mother's Day, resulting in making national news because one of the attendees tested positive with the virus the very next day.
I have been meeting with Chico pastors and government officials regularly as we seek to find the very best ways forward. Every church at this point needs to put together a master plan for how they will best keep their people safe as they endeavor to gather people together for worship.
Neighborhood Church has started outlining our master plan
Depending upon what guidelines the county will give us to mitigate risk, church may not feel like church. There is no one way to do this and no clear path or timeline. So, we are making plans that are flexible and allow for a slow reentry so that we can provide different levels people can be comfortable with and stay safe. I wanted to share some of the thoughts and ideas we have.
First off, we recognize the need to continue offering online services. We will continue to stream worship and the message each Sunday morning. The recordings will also continue to be available.
We also realize we may need transition steps before holding services in the Dome. Outdoor services are also an option we can consider as a transition step before holding services in the Dome. The huge blessing of our drive-in Easter Service proved that this is a positive alternative. Services on the Island are another possible alternative.
Multi-family Watch Parties held in homes where people worship together could also be a blessing in this season. I want to maximize smaller groups meeting together for church and hear the stories of these groups taking communion together, praying for each other and discussing one question around the room.
When we are ready to move back to regular services, the large size of the Dome is actually our friend in these days – approved social distancing in the Dome is easier than any other church north of Sacramento, which can solve the distancing issue for most people.
For those of us who are considered high risk and are more vulnerable, we want to offer creative ways to engage, worship and socially connect with others, but still feel safe. One idea is to have a signal that all of the congregation is aware of and can choose to use. For example, we will have Hawaiian leis available for people to wear as a signal that they need extra distance and consideration. This festive statement will remind others not to just run up and embrace someone. Even when we are back in the church, there will be some staff members and greeters who won’t touch anyone while they are wearing leis as well.
One of our hopes is that when we do return, our experience will feel like 'Neighborhood Church' because we are all back together as family.
No matter what happens, it is not likely we will 'return to business as usual' right away. We all must begin to accept the reality that honoring and loving one another will call for changing how we proceed.
As we move forward, we also want to hear from you, our church family. Our goal is to put out a survey in the next week that will give us an idea on how you are feeling about attending services.
I want to encourage you today. We are getting one step closer to saying, "Welcome in,” as you walk through the door.
In the meantime, make sure you join us for our Sunday morning livestream at 10:30am on our Neighborhood Church of Chico Facebook page and YouTube channel. Our current series "50 Days to Love," taught by Gaylord Enns and myself, is key for us moving forward as a church.
If you missed last week’s message in our 50 Days to Love series, click her to listen to the podcast or watch the video.