Published: Nov. 13, 2020
We pray that you are well and safe during this time.
In response to the dramatic increase of COVID-19 cases in Monroe County, New York State has designated our area as a “Yellow Zone” and placed new restrictions on businesses and community organizations. Importantly for us, this prohibits all non-essential gatherings (indoors or outdoors) of more than 10 persons. In compliance with this new mandate, we must cancel the Campus Clean-up tomorrow, in-person youth group for Sunday, and children’s pageant recording this weekend. More information will be forthcoming from those ministry areas regarding their plans for rescheduling or adjustments.
As of this moment, we anticipate moving forward with the Thanksgiving In-Gathering next Saturday (9-3 pm), even if we have to transition to a touchless drop-off only event. Additionally, we plan to continue our outreach ministries for as long as possible.
As we face the uncertainty ahead, let us remember the promise that though we never know what a day is going to bring, we know that we don’t have to face it alone.
God be with you ‘till we meet again.
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,
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:
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,
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,
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.
– COVID-19 Best Practices by Dawn Riedy, MD
Asbury First is taking the following steps to ensure the safety and well being of both our members and the greater Rochester community: