8 Reflections on Returning to an In-person Worship Service

For the first time since COVID began, Pam and I returned to a Sunday morning worship service yesterday. We were out of town, and we decided to visit a church with friends who live in that area. Here are my thoughts:

  1. It’s just great being with God’s people again. It really is. I had forgotten what it’s like to worship with brothers and sisters around you. In fact, I’d probably taken it for granted prior to COVID.
  2. At least from this example, churches are taking precautions seriously. Pam and I are old enough and careful enough about COVID that we asked questions before we decided to attend the service in person. This church requests folks to wear masks, had hand sanitizer throughout the building, monitored social distancing in the worship center, and moved to two worship services to provide needed space. And, the pastor encouraged us to continue to follow the guidelines to protect ourselves and others. I was grateful.
  3. I did catch myself thinking about the spread of COVID while gathering together. Nothing the church did created this anxiety; it was just my anxiousness after dealing with some health issues over the last year and then not being with larger groups over the last several months. For many of us, gaining comfort with gathering again may take some time.
  4. It’s definitely harder to connect with people when you’re practicing social distancing. That’s just reality. It’s tough to greet others, learn others’ names, or spend much time together when you’re wearing a mask, standing feet apart, and quickly and carefully entering and leaving a building. Connecting can happen, but it takes more intentionality.
  5. Singing together matters more than I might have thought. I’m not a musician. As a church consultant, though, I have a tendency to evaluate worship services even as I’m part of them. The singing portion of the service yesterday was quite good, and I loved not only hearing others sing but also watching others worship.
  6. It’s not my preference to sing with a mask on, but it does work. I kept my mask on the entire service, and doing so didn’t hinder my worship experience. It got hot, but I’ve worshipped in places around the world where sweat poured down my face the entire time—so a little inconvenience to worship with God’s people is okay.
  7. We need reminders to give. Many of us have moved to giving online now. I like this trend, but I honestly didn’t think about the offering yesterday until the pastor mentioned other options for giving without passing the offering plate. Most of us probably need regular reminders to give.
  8. Small groups—even ones that connect only digitally still—are even more important these days. When it’s tougher to connect on Sunday morning because of spatial distancing, multiple services, and still-sporadic attendance, connection must happen some place else. So, I encourage pastors to be sure to tell attendees each week how they might connect with a small group if they wish to do so in these crazy days.

Just my thoughts . . . . What might you add?  

1 Comment

  • Robin G Jordan says:

    Chuck, visiting a church that one does not normally attend is a great opportunity to function as an impromptu mystery visitor and to size up the precautionary measures that a church is taking to protect its congregation and its community. I have a number of questions.

    Did the church require pre-registration or booking for its services?

    The church in question requested that attendees of its service wear face masks. Did all attendees comply with this request or only some? Did the church issue face masks to those who did not bring them? Did staff and volunteers wear face masks? Some of the time? All of the time?

    You state in the article that social distancing was monitored. How? Were attendees required to sit in household groups at least six feet apart with an empty pew or row of seats in front of them and an empty pew of row of seats behind them. Were attendees required to maintain six feet between household groups when standing, walking in and out the building, etc.?

    How large was the room in which you and your wife worshiped? Was it well ventilated—windows and doors open to admit fresh air from the outside of the building and electric fans circulating the air in the room in order to prevent the buildup of concentrations of airborne COVID-19 coronavirus particles as well as drawing fresh air from the outside and exhausting stale air to the outside.

    Did people lower their face masks while singing, attendees as well as those on the platform? How long did the singing last? Was it early in the service? Was the singing loud/strong (not amplified but due to deep breathing and voice projection)? Loud/strong singing has been implicated in the spread of the virus. It not only increases the exhalation of airborne virus particles but also their inhalation. Airborne virus particles have been found to linger in the air for as long as 30 minutes. When standing six feet from the person to whom they are talking some people are apt to raise their voices. Loud talking has also been implicated in the virus’ spread.

    Did the vocalists on the platform have Plexiglas or perplex shields in front of them like those typically used in front of drummers? Were the lyrics of songs projected on screens? Did the church make use of pre-recorded music? To what extent?

    Did the preacher lower his face mask or remove it when he was preaching? Did the pulpit have a Plexiglas or perplex shield in front of it.

    Did the church discourage staff, volunteers, and attendees from sustained contact before or after the service even at an appropriate social distance?

    How did the church handle the use of restrooms? Did it limit the number of people in a restroom at one time? Did it sanitize the restroom after each use? Did the toilets have lids? Were people directed to close the toilet lid before flushing? Restrooms used by infected people have been found to have high concentrations of airborne COVID-19 particles due the confined space, poor ventilation, and the human body’s shedding of virus particles in urine and feces. When toilets are flushed, they produce a toilet plume, a column of air that bears these particles. One way to prevent a toilet plume is to close the toilet lid but the restrooms of churches, offices, and other facilities may not have toilets with lids.

    How did the church handle the presence of young children? Were they required to sit with their parents? Did the church hand out busy bags for the children to occupy them during the service and to take home afterwards?

    Did the church ask attendees to report the development of symptoms or a positive COVID-19 test to the church within 30 days of attending a service?

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