August 25 Update
An Update on Re-opening
"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." — Hebrews 11:1
A few weeks ago, the Asbury First Re-Opening Task Force released our "Stages of Re-Opening" plan. Since the beginning of July, we have been operating at Stage Two. With approved safety protocols in place, some of our long-term building occupants have returned to campus, our outreach programs have begun to re-open in modified forms, and the church staff has been welcomed back into the office building at less than 50% capacity. While much of this work is on-going (not all of our outreach programs have re-opened nor have all of our campus occupants returned), we believe we are ready for the next stage.
Stage Three will allow limited small groups to begin to meet on campus with safety protocols in place and upon specific approval by both the Re-Opening Task Force and that group's staff liaison. Outside groups are not yet allowed. Our strong recommendation is that groups continue to meet virtually. However, those groups that are ready to meet on-campus will be asked to put together a safety plan that includes, among other things, plans for social distancing, mask-wearing, and a strategy to include those who are not yet ready or able to meet in person.
Every individual will be asked to abide by a Covenant of Risk (forthcoming) that outlines personal responsibilities as well as commitments from Asbury First. Groups wanting to meet should be flexible in meeting time and location as we attempt to limit overlap and areas of potential contamination on campus. If your group is interested in meeting in-person, the first step is to contact your staff liaison.
As we have said from the beginning, our first priority is the health and safety of the entire congregation. This has been a hard time for so many, but we are finding our way together toward who God is calling us to be. I have been so proud of the ways in which Asbury First has continued to live out its mission and vision as a congregation during this strange moment.
We are all looking with hope toward that day when we can gather again fully for worship and fellowship. Until that day, let us continue to walk alongside one another in prayer, in support, and in love.
Grace and Peace,
June 22 Update
An Update on Re-opening
Sometimes I wonder if the Hebrew people knew it would take forty years when they began the journey to the Promised Land.
As New York State has slowly begun to re-open over the last few weeks, many have naturally asked when we can expect to return to in-person worship. While the short answer remains, “We do not know,” the longer answer is more complicated. As stated in a previous missive, returning to in-person worship will come as one of the final stages of our re-opening as it is in the fourth phase of the NY State guidelines. To that end, the Asbury First Re-opening Team has put together a basic outline of the Stages of Re-opening that we plan to follow. As always, the safety of our entire community remains our primary concern.
Many have heard that the governor recently began to allow houses of worship to operate at 25% capacity for religious services. While this was particularly important for those churches who have been unable to transition to an online model, it presents some challenges for us. The first value we hold up as a congregation is that we are “Open to All.” In order to allow only 25% capacity into our sanctuary, we would have to restrict access—either choosing who should be allowed in advance or turning people away. We do not believe this to be conducive to the call of Christ. Second, due to the added restrictions on singing, communal responses, mask-wearing, and social distancing guidelines, beginning in-person worship now (inside or outside) would fundamentally change the nature of our service, both for those in-person and those who continued to watch online.
Although all of us would love to be back together in person, the truth is that our worship has not stopped. It is not ideal and I personally miss seeing you all. However, until we can return in such a way that welcomes all, that ensures the safety of our entire community, and that maintains the sanctity of the worship experience, we will persevere as we are. With that in mind, we do not expect to worship in-person again until the fall at the earliest.
I also want to update you on two important events:
- Vacation Bible School: For safety reasons and because we believe turning children away to be untenable, we have decided to shift our summer Vacation Bible School to a “Staycation” Bible School. While it will not be in-person, we will maintain the “Camp 1820” theme with activities for children and families to do at home. Please look for more information soon.
- Bicentennial Gala: With a heavy heart and for the safety of all, we have decided to postpone the Bicentennial Gala that was scheduled for September 19. I am grateful to everyone who has worked so hard on the planning and am confident that we will find a way to mark this auspicious occasion, even if we do it sometime down the road. Who says we can’t celebrate our 201st anniversary?
Finally, I want to say thank you. This has been a hard moment for everyone, but over and over again—through your prayers, your care for one other, and your support—you have reminded me that the true Christian community is not limited by distance.
I don’t know if the Hebrew people understood how long the journey would be as they made their way through the wilderness, but I do know that God did not leave their side. I don’t know how much longer this journey will last for us, but I know that God is with us, too.
Grace and Peace,
May 21 Update
How is it with your soul? When the Methodist movement began, every small group that met together started with that simple question. Somehow, it seems more appropriate now than ever. How is it with your soul? Are you staying healthy? Are you staying connected? Are you staying at home?
We have been meeting together virtually for over two months now. While I much prefer seeing your smiling faces on Sunday mornings, I will forever be grateful for the hard work of our tech team and staff members who helped us transition to the virtual world so gracefully. It is certainly not the same, but it is a true gift to be able to connect through worship during this strange moment. Similarly, I am indebted to all who have enabled us to continue our care for the most vulnerable-in a modified way-through the Dining and Caring Center.
Many have been asking when we will be able to worship together again in person. The short answer is that I do not know. Houses of Worship fall into phase four of the governor's plan for re-opening the state and each phase is contingent upon meeting certain regional benchmarks. We continue to closely monitor guidelines from local and state officials as well as the Upper New York Conference of the United Methodist Church and the New York State Council of Churches. The safety of our entire community remains our primary concern and we will re-open only when we believe it is safe to do so.
When we do re-open, we anticipate that it will not be all at once. Just as the state has touted a careful, phased approach to re-opening, so must we. With disinfection and safety protocols in place (including mask-wearing and social distancing measures), we foresee certain areas of ministry opening in modified ways prior to a return to in-person worship.
As the weather finally takes a turn toward the sun (or at least away from snow), many naturally have questions about some of our favorite summer events. Some, like the mission trip and the Storehouse Summer Sale, have already been canceled or postponed. Others, like Vacation Bible School, we continue to assess and hope to make a final determination soon. Looking beyond summer to events like our Bicentennial Gala is even more challenging at this time, but we will keep you informed as decisions are made.
Finally, I want to say thank you. This is such a strange time, but many have expressed that they feel more connected to this community now than ever before. I have so enjoyed hearing the various ways people are reaching out to one another in love. Thank you for keeping our mission and vision alive, even when we are unable to be together. If you know of someone in need, please let us know so that we can do our best to help.
Love is patient (1 Cor. 13:4) and so must we be. Even as the novelty has worn off, even as we are itching to leave our homes, even as we long for the kinds of human connection we let go of two months ago, we must continue to answer that Christian call to sacrifice for the sake of others. We may just find that it is the thing our soul needs.
Grace and Peace,
April 30 Update
As we continue under the shelter-in-place directive from the state, please take some time to read this article about best practices for the pandemic.
March 30 Update
Asbury First is taking the following steps to ensure the safety and well being of both our members and the greater Rochester community:
- SUNDAY WORSHIP: We will hold the 11 am service only and request that you stay home to watch via the live stream or tune into the radio WYSL 1040 AM or 92.1 FM. For more information about how to access the live stream and the bulletin for Sunday, please click here. For help troubleshooting live stream problems, click here.
- CLASSES AND MEETINGS MOVING ONLINE: Until further notice, we are canceling all other meetings and events on our campus. We are now offering online meetings via Zoom for Sunday school, children's and youth ministries, discipleship classes and meetings, and the Bicentennial Bible Challenge. For a schedule, including links, please click here. Click here for instructions on how to join. The office staff is working from home, and we will not be adhereing to regular office hours. Please know that we will be monitoring our messages.
- SUSTAINING OUTREACH: Our Dining and Caring Center has moved to boxed meals only and has been continuing to serve daily with a skeleton crew of two or three intrepid volunteers. For a schedule, click here. All other outreach has been suspended.
March 19 Update
- LIVE-STREAM ONLY WORSHIP: Beginning this Sunday, March 22, we will have only one live-streamed service at 11 am. You can also tune into the radio at WYSL 1040 AM or 92.1 FM. For the health and well-being of the entire community, no one other than the worship staff will be physically present. The livestream can be accessed via our website at asburyfirst.org which will also have the bulletin (with hymns) available. To learn how to watch the livestream on your television, please click here. Last week, we had over 960 unique devices watching the livestream (that's estimated to be around 2000 people)! Feel free to share the opportunity to maintain a worship connection with your loved ones. If you're out there watching, check in through the website or take a picture and post it on social media using #asburyfirstathome.
- CAMPUS EVENTS: Until further notice, all on-campus meetings and events are cancelled. We have already started having a few virtual gatherings and they have gone well. In the coming weeks, we will look for ways to expand these offerings.
- OFFICE: Until further notice, the church office will be closed. Most staff will be working from home and will be regularly checking their voicemail and email. As some staff will have to remain on campus for certain vital functions, we respectfully ask that members honor the "social distancing" guidelines outlined by the CDC.
- OUTREACH: Our Dining and Caring Center has moved to boxed meals only and has been continuing to serve daily with a skeleton crew of two or three intrepid volunteers. All other outreach has been suspended.
- CARE: Many have been asking how they can help to spread a little love in this time. We need your help to check in with members of the congregation via phone, email, text, social media, or written note. Please let us know when you hear of other things that we could be doing and we will keep you posted in the coming weeks on other efforts under way.
March 16 Update
SUNDAY WORSHIP: We will hold the 11 am service only and request that you stay home to watch via the live stream or tune into the radio WYSL 1040 AM or 92.1 FM. For more information about how to access the live stream and the bulletin for Sunday, please click here.
CHURCH OFFICE: The office staff is being encouraged to work from home, and we will not be adhereing to regular office hours. Please know that we will be monitoring our messages.
- The Storehouse is open this week for curent appointments only. It will be closed after this week until the mandates for social distancing are lifted.
- The Dining and Caring Center will be open with some modifications until further notice. We will serve breakfast bags from 7–9 am, and lunch bags on Wednesday from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm. Guests will be ushered out as soon as they receive their food bags and beverage cups. We are suspending hair care, showers, and laundry until further notice, and will not be open on Saturday. Our next Sunday meal will be bag lunches from 12–1:30 pm.
- The the UR Well Clinic has been suspended due to the University of Rochester closure.
March 13 Update
We never know what a day is going to bring, as the last 24-hours have confirmed. We have been closely monitoring the latest developments regarding the spread of the COVID-19 virus in our area. At a press conference this morning, the Monroe County Public Health Commissioner, Dr. Michael Mendoza strongly advised all organizations to consider suspending gatherings of more than 50 people.
To that end, Asbury First is taking the following steps to ensure the safety and well being of both our members and the greater Rochester community:
- CHANGING SUNDAY WORSHIP: This Sunday, we will hold only one service at 11 am and recommend that people stay home to watch it on the live stream or listen via the radio. To be clear, we will still hold worship and will not turn anyone away, but we are encouraging our community to remain home for it, especially if you are unwell. For more information about how to access the live stream and the bulletin for Sunday, please click here.
- CANCELING OTHER EVENTS: Until further notice, we are canceling all other meetings and events on our campus, including Sunday school, youth groups, and mid-week gatherings.
- SUSTAINING OUTREACH: While the UR Well Clinic has been suspended due to the University of Rochester closure, we are working with the Storehouse and Dining and Caring Center teams to figure out how to safely keep these vital on-campus ministries open during this outbreak.
- ENHANCING OUR CLEANING PROTOCOLS: Our intrepid property care team has increased and improved their regular cleaning protocols, paying special attention to high-traffic and high-touch areas.
We continue to hold in our prayers all of those who have been affected by this outbreak. We will continue to closely monitor this situation and consider how we as a church and as disciples of Jesus Christ might continue to love, live, and serve in the midst of it.
Grace and Peace,