Dear Members and Friends of Shepherd of the Mountains Lutheran Church,
I know we long to return in person for worship in our sanctuary. At the same time we understand we must consider our most vulnerable members and guests as we contemplate returning to worship at our church facility. We must reasonably ensure that our worship experiences are welcoming, safe, accessible, meaningful and sustainable for all people. The choices we have made and continue to make reflect our faith, our values and our priorities. We have not and will not succumb to outside pressures to open in an unsafe time or manner.
I have said it before: I believe we are called to model safe and healthy behaviors…especially during worship gatherings. Especially during this time of the Covid 19 pandemic. Especially during this moment when we all are experiencing “Covid fatigue.” Especially at this time when we begin to see the “light at the end of the tunnel.” Especially at this time we would rather sprint, than thoughtfully and prayerfully pace ourselves to the finish line. Still, I believe we have common sense. I know we will continue to approach the end of this part of our faith journey safely.
With this in mind I share the following from Bishop Gonia who with the approval from the Rocky Mountain Synod Council has made this recommendation for our navigating the next chapter, as he artfully puts it, in our pandemic landscape:
Beloved in Christ in the Rocky Mountain Synod,
We have entered a new phase of pandemic church life, a phase that is at once hopeful and highly complicated. The hope comes from current efforts to vaccinate as much of the population as possible, which should eventually inhibit the ability of the virus to spread quickly and minimize risk of contracting COVID-19. The complexity comes from a combination of factors including:
1. the emergence of variant strains of COVID which are shown to spread the
virus more easily and might prove more deadly;
2. uncertainty about how best to navigate in-person gatherings for
communities in which not everyone is vaccinated;
3. the impact of growing pandemic fatigue leading to non-compliance with
protocols that keep the virus from spreading;
4. the many unknowns that still remain about the virus itself as well as
uncertainty about the long-term impacts of vaccinations.
The following recommendations do not pretend to cover all the issues facing our synod’s congregations and members with respect to this next phase of the pandemic. The CDC, local public health officials, and credentialed epidemiologists such as Dr Michael Osterholm remain your best source of information and guidance with respect to the science of the pandemic. The goal of these recommendations is to offer some broad, common sense guidance for congregations and rostered ministers alike as we seek to navigate the coming months together.
Given the information currently available, it seems reasonable to assume that the rate of transmission of COVID-19 will continue to diminish over time as more people are vaccinated and if we continue to observe protocols related to public safety during a pandemic in the face of new variants. It is important to keep in mind, however, that while current trends of transmission have already decreased in most places since the end of last year, current rates are still generally much higher than they were during much of last spring, summer and early fall. Decreasing rates can give us a false sense of security if we are not looking at the full picture. Perspective matters and caution must be advised. Contracting COVID-19 at any time always carries the risk of serious illness, hospitalization or death.
At this time, many congregations are in conversation and discernment about gathering for in-person worship and other congregational events. While it is too early to speak with any certainty about when in-person gatherings, especially those inside buildings, will no longer pose a major risk, it would be wise to plan for no earlier than the end of the summer or the start of the fall. Recognizing that with this virus there is always risk involved when we gather in person, the specific timeline for in-person gatherings that pose less risk will depend upon many variables, some of which are not in our control.
From: Bishop Gonia, Rocky Mountain Synod, ELCA
In light of our context and the realities of offering worship in our congregation, as well as being mindful that the pandemic situation is fluid…after prayerfully reviewing Bishop’s Gonia’s recommendations as well as consulting Summit County, State of Utah, and CDC guidelines; the Shepherd of the Mountains Health Team along with the Worship and Music Team have made the following recommendations regarding in-person worship at Shepherd of the Mountains which have been approved by our Church Council:
Shepherd of the Mountains plan for resuming in person worship:
Our plan represents a balance between several values: desire to worship together as a congregation, desire to protect our congregation from infection and desire to be good citizens and examples for our community. The Health Team plan is based on recommendations from the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) and the CDC, as adapted for our individual congregational needs.
Conditions under which in-person worship will be held
SOTM will begin conducting in-person worship when the “percent test positivity rates” for Utah statewide AND Summit county are below 5% for two consecutive weeks. A percent test positivity rate below 5% indicates low community transmission of the virus. If the percent positivity rate increases above 5% two weeks in a row for EITHER Summit County or Utah statewide, we will return to Zoom only worship until it falls below 5%, again for two weeks in a row. We are using a statewide measure due to the large number of people outside Summit County who attend our worship services. We will continue a single service every week for now. We will always have a Zoom option.
Opening up in-person worship
We request that people over age 16 only attend in person worship if you are vaccinated. Stay home if you or anyone in your household has any symptoms of illness, or if you are waiting for a result of a COVID-19 test. This applies to both vaccinated and unvaccinated persons. The church will create a reservation system on the website (Sign-up Genius). There will be reservation spots for 25 people. Please remove your reservation if you find that you are unable to attend so that others may take your spot. Any decision on changing between Zoom only and in-person worship will be communicated by Friday each week.
Safety measures for worship
- Masks are required at all times in the building. Children under 2 are the only exception.
- Household groups will sit together. Each household will maintain social distancing of 6 feet at all times from other individuals and households. Please follow the ushers’ instructions for entry and exit.
- Sanitize your hands frequently before, during, and after worship.
- For communion we will use individual pre-packaged communion kits. Please pick these up from the front table in the narthex before entering the sanctuary.
- We will not have beverages or snacks. Please bring your own beverage container if you like.
- Please limit movement around the building. You should go directly to your seat and remain there for worship. Please supervise children and keep them seated with your family group.
Reference for 7-day percent positivity test data:
Select Trends tab.
Scroll down to 7-Day Average Percent Positivity by County and select Summit County and Statewide.
We will use the Person/Person graph, not Test/Test.
Hover your cursor over the end of the graph to read the most recent numbers
My friends, I suspect this is good news for many of us and news that many of you did not want to receive…but at the same time are not surprised to hear. At the same time, some among us receive it with a sense of relief. Yes, we will begin our transition to in-person worship knowing that as fluid as this pandemic situation is, we may at any time need to return to only a digital presence on Sunday mornings.
I, for one, am grateful for all the care and work our church leaders do on our behalf. I pray you are as well. From my heart I thank them and all of you for your efforts at continuing our best as well as safest worship practices in these coming months.
I am grateful that Jesus Christ walks with us on this journey. I am grateful that we are held in God’s hands. I am grateful that the Holy Spirit strengthens us and enables us to faithfully continue as a people gathered by God for Christ’s sake as Shepherd of the Mountains Lutheran Church. People God gathers in the Mountains, and throughout the nation, for Good.
Christ’s Peace, Pastor Steve