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New COVID Guidelines May 11, 2021


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Dear First Presbyterian Family,

When Governor Abbott issued his executive order GA-34, lifting the statewide mask mandate and opening Texas 100%, churches, businesses and private citizens were granted the authority to determine the best practices necessary for the health of their communities and personal well-being. On March 15, the Session decided to study the situation and render a response at its stated meeting in May. After weeks of prayer and study, the Session met this past Monday evening, May 10, 2021 to discuss the implications of GA-34 for First Presbyterian Church.

In advance of this meeting, the Session received a number of communications as well as informal input from members of the congregation. The body studied applicable  orders and regulations. We reviewed the policies of both ECO churches and other local churches and considered the policies of local businesses. The Session also received recommendations from various ministry committees of the church. At the March meeting of the Session, the Elders appointed Dr. Walter Walthall and Dr. Dirk DeKoch to advise the Session on the medical issues and information available.

Taking into account both the scientific data and current conditions in San Antonio and Bexar County, the Session has concluded that the best course of action for the church is to relax our COVID-19 protocols on several points. The full ruling of the Session is included below.

The measures below strike a sober balance between caution and courage. Understanding that a “one-size-fits-all” approach is no longer viable for the church, the Session pursued a nuanced update to our current practices. It acknowledges the progress we have made in the face of this pandemic while understanding that increased freedom engenders greater risk.

It also puts the burden of the health of the congregation on members of the congregation.
As the church moves from a posture of mandatory regulations to voluntary responsibility, we challenge the members of the congregation to take seriously the admonitions of Philippians 2:3b-4, which says

3b … In humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3b–4 (ESV)

Such consideration is critical as we fulfill our mission to “love one another” even as we “love Christ” and “love the city.” We must guard and treasure the health and well-being of one-another even more than we treasure our own.


The Session ruling is as follows:

We, the Session, acknowledge that Covid-19 is still present in our community and it remains a formidable and deadly disease to many, especially those who are frail, sick with chronic conditions and those over the age of 65.  We also acknowledge that intelligent and well-meaning Covenant Partners fall on both sides of this debate and we wish to thank all of our fellow congregants who have sent emails voicing their concerns in regards to this matter.  Also, this work would not have been possible without the input of our clergy and staff.

Our primary goal was to find a way in which our Body of Christ at Fourth and Alamo could worship TOGETHER and in a SAFE ENVIRONMENT.  After prayer and discerned discussion, we have approved the following recommendations:

  • 1. First Presbyterian Church will continue to have two Traditional services and one Contemporary service at the current appointed times. Each service will have a well-demarcated section for mask-only members and the remainder of the space will be mask-optional.  In regards to the 11:02 service, the mask-only section will be Covenant Hall, which is currently the overflow site for this service.  The size of these sections in the Traditional services will be determined by the number of Covenant Partners and visitors who wish to be seated in a mask-only section.  The sizes of said sections can be adjusted as needed moving forward.
  • 2. All empty pews in the Traditional service will be reopened and pads placed back for use. Attendees will be encouraged to sit anywhere they like within the section they choose but we will continue to encourage self-disciplined spacing between different parties.
  • 3. Chairs that were removed at the 11:02 service for social distancing will be replaced and Westminster Hall will be mask-optional throughout. Attendees will be encouraged to sit where they wish and space themselves from other groups at a distance they deem appropriate.
  • 4. Covenant Hall will remain a mask-only room for overflow of the 11:02 service since many university students self-segregate there to reduce chances of contracting Covid-19.
  • 5. Bulletins will now be distributed by Ushers and Greeters at services. Since the collection plate is touched by all hands attending the service, it is recommended that this NOT be restarted at this time.
  • 6. All hallways and common areas will be mask-optional. The logistics of making some hallways mask-only and some mask-optional are too tricky and First does not have the authority or people to police congregants traversing these areas.  Nevertheless, as stated below, FPC will ask that as a courtesy to others to please consider wearing masks while walking to your venues and socializing indoors in common areas.
  • 7. First Presbyterian Church will once again open our facility to mission partners and other appropriate “outside groups” for meetings, meals, etc. All groups meeting at First Presbyterian Church will be subject to the provisions enacted by the Session.
  • 8. All Sunday School classes and Life Groups will determine on their own whether or not masks will be mandatory or optional. However, one Sunday school class should be designated, or a new class created, for mask-only congregants not comfortable with attending mask-optional groups.
  • 9. Fellowship Hour may return with both indoor mask-optional areas as well as outdoor areas. Punch may be served by one person utilizing gloves and masked.  This will eliminate the need for congregants touching multiple glasses and the serving ladle.  Cookies inside may be placed on plates.  Cookies outside will be bagged in groups of 2-3 per serving so that those wishing to grab cookies without risking potential contamination may do so.
  • 10. Food Service: Restrictions on capacity at tables for luncheons, dinners, breakfast meetings and all other meal gatherings will be suspended. Attendees can determine for themselves how much spacing they wish to have between diners.  Food will be served by designated staff or prepared volunteers.
  • 11. All committees overseeing the specialized ministries within the church (ie, Music, University, Adult Ed, Young Adults, Children’s, Missions, Keys, KLR, etc.) are to assess their needs for appropriate Covid-19 regulations and submit a plan for Covid guidelines for each department to Session (or the Covid Oversight Committee: see Section 15) for discussion, amendments, and approval. We realize that we cannot cover all areas of the church with a “one size fits all” approach and who better to determine safety guidelines for each area than those committees overseeing each program.  These plans should be completed and submitted for perusal by the next Session meeting.  All guidelines already submitted by committees were approved by Session and shall go into effect as of May 10, 2021.
  • 12. Staff shall not be required to wear masks at all times, unless they are in a mask-only section of the church or participating in an event that requires that masks be worn.
  • 13. NO COVENANT PARTNER, VISITOR, STAFF MEMBER OR CHILD SHALL BE CRITICIZED OR CASTIGATED FOR THEIR CHOICE TO WEAR OR NOT TO WEAR A MASK. When unmasked individuals run into masked individuals trying to traverse the corridors to enter and exit our church, they must understand that these individuals are most likely trying to socially distance as well and efforts should be made to allow them a safe space to move through tight places. Our goal is to allow for both GRACE AND SPACE to all in attendance.
  • 14. First Presbyterian Church will post a sign at all entry and exit points stating: FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH ACKNOWLEDGES THAT WHILE THE STATE OF TEXAS HAS LIFTED MASK MANDATES, THE OPEN TEXAS INITIATIVE AND THE TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES STILL RECOMMEND THE USE OF MASKS IN INDOOR AREAS. WHILE MASKS ARE NO LONGER REQUIRED IN OUR INSTITUTION, FOR THE HEALTH AND SAFETY OF SOME, COVENANT PARTNERS, VISITORS AND STAFF ARE KINDLY ASKED TO CONSIDER WEARING MASKS IN ALL COMMON AND MASK-ONLY DESIGNATED AREAS AS A COURTESY TO OTHERS.  All other signage regarding Covid-19 restrictions will be taken down at this time.
  • 15. The Session of First Presbyterian Church shall designate a small committee of two or three members to continue to assess the Covid-19 trends and threats in our community. Session shall review these policies quarterly and as needed, and default to the least restrictive measures necessary to ensure the safety and wellbeing of this Body of Christ in the coming months and years.
  • 16. There shall be a Metric Default stating that after two straight weeks of the Positive Test Percent rising above the benchmark of 5%, First Presbyterian Church will default to stricter mask standards approved by the Session or the Covid Oversight Committee. As stated above, Session shall authorize only the least restrictive measures necessary to ensure the safety and wellbeing of its Covenant Partners, staff and visitors.
  • 17. These guidelines shall take effect at the moment of Session approval, May 10, 2021.

Specific rulings for Youth Ministry, Children’s Ministry and Worship Ministry/ Choir may be found here.

We give thanks that so many members of our church have received their COVID vaccines and that the infection, hospitalization and death rates appear to be on the decline. The Session will continue to evaluate the Covid-19 situation in our community and to consult with medical professionals and church leaders on next steps. In the meantime we ask everyone to practice mutual forbearance and grace as we seek to love and protect one another.

May the Lord bless you and keep you,
May the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.
-Numbers 6:24-26

 

Grace and Peace,

The Rev. Dr. Bob Fuller                                          Mrs. Nancy Scheifele
Sr. Pastor and Moderator of Session                       Clerk of Session