June 2, 2020
Dear UCC Missoula Family and Friends,
We always hope that you and your loved ones are well and safe, but no more so than during this time of the COVID-19 global pandemic. As we cross the threshold of over 100,000 American lives lost in the last four months, we are looking ahead at what the gradual re-opening of our nation looks like over the next several months. Know that your Cabinet is constantly in communication with each other, pastors, and staff about all of these decisions.
In this letter, we wanted to share with you that, at the recommendation of the Worship and Spiritual Life team and church staff, the Cabinet voted to EXTEND THE CLOSURE OF OUR BUILDING UNTIL EARLY SEPTEMBER. The reasoning that formed that decision is included in the body of this letter.
1) “In-Person” Church is High Risk. The most common form of transmitting the novel coronavirus that results in COVID-19 comes from longer-term or close exposure (times and distances depend on the activity) to someone who has the virus (and may be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic.) Our regular church activities, worship and small groups, center around just such gatherings.
2) A Large Number of Our Congregation is At-Risk. While we UCC’ers are feisty, social, and very active, we also trend toward the “at-risk” categories for adverse outcomes from COVID-19. At-risk populations include anyone over 65 or who has underlying health conditions including heart disease, respiratory disease, diabetes, or immune-compromising conditions or treatments.
3) Summer Tourist Season and Phase 2 Are Upon Us. Travel and tourism, the end of the 14-day quarantine for entering the state, re-opening of businesses that increase exposure (gyms, fitness centers, etc.) are creating a high level of uncertainty about how the virus may spike. It will take several weeks or even months to see how these new conditions will roll out.
4) Our Building Is Tricky. We love our building so, so much, but COVID-19 gives us some lenses to see some challenges. First, our administrative offices are far from the main doors. We cannot see or control access to make sure that no one who might be ill, or who fails to follow sanitizing protocols, might be present in the building. If we block off the main doors to send everyone through the administrative office space, our basement location prevents the kind of ventilation that would ensure the safety of our staff. As soon as we open the building, our staff become front-line, essential workers exposed to anyone from the public that enters. Additionally, our church staff has expressed concerns about putting themselves, their families, and others at risk.
5) Online church is still church. It’s not the same as being there, we know. We miss “in person” church, too. However, our online Sunday worship is getting an average of 180 views per week. “Views” include couples, families, and people watching late at night on their phones. When we translate that into people, we estimate 210-230 people per week participating in online worship, or double our normal attendance this time of year. Small groups and committees are meeting over Zoom; three times a day prayer offerings and story times are opening up participation from as far away as Saudi Arabia. Going forward, we now understand we must maintain some online and in-person worship and we’re excited for that next step. We are working hard to reach friends and members who need help accessing our online offerings.
6) Finances Are Okay! You continue to be so faithful with giving and supporting our church. You will see more detailed information at our Congregational Meeting on June 28 after worship on Zoom, but even with increasing Pastor Laura’s hours to full-time and with loss of building rental income, our income is ahead of expenses at this time. We are so grateful.
7) Other Churches Like Ours Are Making Similar Choices. You might see other churches around town or the state already open for worship, singing together, etc. We pray for their well-being. Our larger UCC churches are tending toward being much more cautious about opening their doors. Our UCC church in Great Falls has decided to keep their building closed until the first Sunday of Advent. Mayflower in Billings may open to some form of in-person worship in July. While comparisons may inform our decisions, in the end, we are doing what we think is best for our church family, who routinely fill our pews to near capacity.
8) We are Discussing Outdoor Opportunities. We are looking at creating some kind of outdoor “Prayer and Share” circle gatherings in the courtyard once the state declares we have entered Phase 3 (the phase when “at-risk” people are able to move freely), also likely in July. According to experts, we put ourselves at least risk when we are outdoors, social distant, not singing/hugging/holding hands, and together for a short period of time. We are also planning a big, outdoor celebration when we can gather together again safely.
We all hope and pray that vaccines and effective treatments to end the threat of COVID-19 worldwide will emerge soon. In the meantime, although our building will remain closed for the time being, we are and will continue to be a connected, thriving church proclaiming the never-ending love of God through Jesus Christ.
If you have further questions, please contact our Moderator, Melanie Brock, email@example.com or Pastor Jennifer, firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about in-person worship risks, see: