Beloved Epworth Community,
Grace and peace to you in what continues to be an extraordinary and challenging time. I pray that you are well and am grateful for your perseverance and faithfulness. That is not to say that it is always easy or even possible to be consistently “up,” productive or even optimistic. But our hope is built on the body of Christ that endures. If you are or someone you know is in need, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Financial assistance (including gas and grocery cards) is available through Epworth’s COVID-19 relief fund, our prayer chain is active and our Stephen Ministry remains a vital resource for spiritual accompaniment. If you need help with errands or meals, the Do Good team is available. We are here for you, we are here for each other and we are here for the community.
Epworth’s Do No Harm team met again on Friday to review the plans and timelines for re-opening that I previously shared. The team affirmed Susan Jardin’s extensive preparation for camps with consideration of every aspect of health and safety as well as current guidelines. We have also received tentative approval from our District Superintendent and are waiting on final approval from the conference. We hope to be able to continue with limited camps in the first and third weeks of July.
As I write, case counts of COVID-19 in California and in Alameda County have escalated to the extent that Alameda County has decided to pause it’s reopening. The conference has released an extensive set of guidelines and protocols for reopening. If you are interested in the full document, it can be found here. As of today, Bishop Carcaño has asked us to keep our buildings closed. No in-person worship is allowed until the county moves into Phase 3. We are currently in Phase 2. Previously I had written that we would not return to in person worship before August 16. The Do No Harm team now believes that even that date in unclear.
We will continue to follow all available guidance from the state, county, city and conference. We are blessed as a congregation to have persons with expertise in metrics, data and public health on our team, and feel that in some cases, an even more conservative approach than what is allowed by government entities is warranted.
In the meantime, we know that our virtual worship service, ministries and groups are not only being well-received, our reach is extending. The Do No Harm team has recommended that we keep focusing on doing virtual ministry well, and even expanding what we are offering. How can we use the non-physical and non-geographical nature of our current ministries to reach new people and include them in the vital and life giving community at Epworth?
Thank you for your faithfulness. May God bless and keep you,
6/23 Financial Update: https://www.epworthberkeley.org/post/update-for-extraordinary-times-6-23-2020
OUR PRIORITIES AS SHELTER-IN-PLACE RESTRICTIONS EASE
Beloved Epworth Community,
As municipalities and counties around our state begin to re-open and even restrictions in the Bay Area are loosening somewhat, I want to update you on the ongoing work of the Do No Harm team. The Do No Harm team focuses on issues of health safety and risk for our congregation during this pandemic. It includes our lay leaders, myself, Merrie Bunt as Director of Building Operations and Communications, LeRoy Howard as Chair of Trustees and two persons who bring particular expertise, Melani Gantes (biochemical engineering) and John Murphy (public health physician and also on Trustees.)
Each time we meet, we review data from sources such as John Hopkins, Alameda County, the City of Berkeley, and California-Nevada annual conference as well as listening to the professional expertise and wisdom within the group. We strive for consensus decision making, recognizing that physical health is only one kind of health. We are aware that even if we were able to meet the basic physical requirements and protocols for reopening, there is a point at which worshiping, praying and caring for each other is so compromised in a re-opened environment that spiritual health could be impacted.
In our meeting last week, we came to consensus on the following:
Summer camps for elementary age children and middle school youth, currently set for July.
After health and safety concerns, mission must drive our decisions. There are many impacts to COVID beyond just health—financial, convenience, and social to name a few. What we know is that children and youth get as much spiritual and faith formation in one week of camp as in a whole year of Sunday morning education. As a congregation that highly values and loves our children and youth, we are moving forward with these camps as the highest priority for re-opening at this time.
Susan Jardin, Orion Lacey and I have kept abreast of the latest guidelines from Alameda County and the City of Berkeley for camps. With this counsel in mind, a five page protocol for Epworth camps is in place. The protocol covers issues such as group size (no greater than 12), mask wearing by all, sanitization, and temperature checks each day. At this point, Alameda County is allowing camps for all children and youth. Even with all of this, we are aware that the camps may not take place and are monitoring changing information closely.
We are in communication with parents directly with more detailed information about camps. If you are interested in enrolling your child(ren) in camp, please read more here.
Worship, to begin no earlier than August 16.
Our summer camps are set to end July 26. At that time we would want to do a thorough re-sanitizing of the entire church and put at least two weeks of space between the end of camp and the next use of the building. If we are able to do the camps, we will likely learn how to be even better in stewarding use of our building during this time of COVID-19. When we return to worship, we are looking at the possibility of having two worship services on Sunday morning and potentially using both the sanctuary and Fellowship Hall spaces to achieve social distancing. We will not be able to have a communal coffee hour with food and beverages for some time.
We know that online worship has brought us together in new ways, introduced new people to Epworth and that some persons may want to continue worshipping online. We are looking at how to produce a higher quality livestream and maintain a virtual coffee hour to support that way of being present.
Use of the building for Epworth and outside groups.
Throughout a typical week, Epworth hosts many groups. Some of these are particularly for the Epworth community, some are for the general public and some are mixed. Our sense is that groups Epworth sponsors or facilitates have effectively gone online and are continuing quite well. For groups open to the general public, we are concerned about the ability to contact trace, particularly for groups that require a degree of anonymity. The Do No Harm team felt that reopening for groups requires a level of adeptness with safety protocols of a highly complex nature.
As with everything in this environment, all of what is stated above may change or become moot. Alameda County now has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the Bay Area. As I write, new cases in the County have not decreased over the last week or decreased significantly since we began sheltering in place. Our hope in providing the above information is to keep you abreast of our discussion and present what is really a best case scenario at this point.
We are also hoping to host a town hall forum on Zoom for discussion and Q and A. We welcome your thoughts, and very much appreciate everyone’s support of each other, the staff and pastors, and continued deep engagement with the ministries of Epworth at this time.
Past Updates for Extraordinary times
April & May Updates: