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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-openingthat 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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,

Stephen