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Dear brothers and sisters,
It has been three months since we were forced to close the doors of our church due to the pandemic caused by COVID-19. During these months we have held virtual services and teleconference meetings every Wednesday. It has been hard work and a lot of commitment from all those who have collaborated in these initiatives. However, we have nothing to complain about because God has guided us and has cleared a path.
Following the recommendations of the CDC (National Center for Disease Control), the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists, the Iowa-Missouri Conference and local authorities (Governor and Mayor’s Office) regarding the number of people allowed inside a religious place, we have contemplated doing a limited reopening of church services. And before talking about it, I want to clarify some ideas as to the present COVID-19 risks. Until today, according to the official figures from the Resource Center at the University of Medicine John Hopkins there are 8,375,368 cases confirmed in the world. Of these, 449,530 people have died. In the US alone, there are 2,163,290 cases with a total of 117,717 deaths. According to the most optimistic forecasts, is expected that the number of people killed to increase up to 130,000 or more in the next month. This has caused the complete collapse of health services worldwide due to the lack of medical supplies to care for such a large number of patients. After the gradual reopening of the economy here in the US, several states ( twenty-three ) are experiencing spikes in the number of infected people, especially because people have decided to ignore basic health recommendations as maintaining social distance and the use of masks.
Even with all this, there are people who still believe and spread the idea that this pandemic is false and that is a government invention to instill fear in people. To clarify any doubts sown by this type of theories, I will mention the following realities closest to us. Pastor David Lincoln (Knoxville, Marshalltown, Newton, and Winterset ) had complications after being diagnosed with COVID – 19. Our Hispanic church in St. Louis, as well as in one of the Pr. Acosta churches, some families were tested positive for COVID – 19. Finally, one of the families in our church went through the sad experience of losing a family member as a result of this unpredictable virus.
Perhaps the most important thing to note is how the Adventist Church has been viewed by other entities during this pandemic. In contrast to other denominations that have negligently ignored the recommendations of the health authorities and consequently have become sources of contagion, our church has been identified as a collaborator both in protecting the health of its members and in supporting organizations, being responsible in all their actions. That is precisely the image we want and must maintain. May our testimony clearly show our brothers and the community at large that they can congregate in our church safely because we are responsible and attentive to the health and well-being of all. Our desire is to follow the example of Christ and not fall into irresponsibility and presumption.
Now, I want to tell you how the reopening process will take place. The first Saturday in which we will have our service of worship in the church, will be this June 20 at 10:30 am. It will be a shorter service than usual as we expect to finish between 12 – 12:30 pm. We will only have a brief review of the Sabbath school lesson for adults, which will be generally followed by the worship service. Obviously the use of masks is highly suggested, not only for your own protection but for the protection of others around you and we must maintain the social distance required by the authorities at all times (6ft) . To achieve this in the best way possible, from the entrance to the church to the exit of the church , the deacons and deaconesses will be assisting us at all times. They will be in charge of opening and closing the doors of both the church and the bathrooms, with the sole purpose of minimizing any possibility of contagion. Upon entering the church there will be a sanitation station with a hand sanitizer for your benefit. At the end of the service, the deacons will direct the exit in an orderly manner, either by family or individually to maintain the correct distance. Both when leaving and entering the church, everyone will be asked to avoid congregating in groups either in the lobby or in the parking lot. Only a maximum of two people will be allowed in the bathrooms. If your children attend with you, they must stay with you throughout the whole service and must not be running or walking either inside or outside the church, and if they need to go to the bathroom they must be accompanied by one of their parents. This, in addition to promoting reverence, is for the absolute safety of your children. Likewise, lunches are temporarily suspended in the church due to an Adventist Risk Management clause.
Among the precautions that have been taken for their safety are disinfecting the entire church building, establishing a safe distance parameter between the front of the platform and where the congregation sits. The chairs will be arranged as usual, but it will be occupied leaving a row in between, in a way that makes it easier for us to maintain the required social distance . After finishing the service, there will also be a process of sanitation of the premise, thus complying with the established rules for religious services.
If you or someone in your family has any symptoms, like fever, shortness of breath, excessive cough, or any other related to COVID – 19, we ask that you please do not attend. We ask the same of those who have recently had contact with people who carry COVID – 19 and who have been ordered to be quarantined for presenting a possible risk of contagion.
For the benefit of all those brothers who can not or do not feel comfortable attending the services during this time , we will continue transmitting the service via the Internet.
We understand that these measures are not the most comfortable and they completely differ with our cultural way of relating , however, they are necessary due to the context in which we currently live. That is why we ask for the respect and consideration for the staff who will be helping and guiding us every Saturday to guarantee the safety of our service.
We thank you in advance for your collaboration in the implementation of these measures and we hope to see you this Saturday to delight together in the adoration of our Creator and to be able to spend time as an Adventist community.
The psalmist tells us “God is our refuge and strength, our prompt help in tribulations, therefore we will not fear” (Psalm 46: 1-2). Let us make this promise our daily medication, exercise prudence and respect for the rules, be considerate of the health of our neighbor, and remember that every action we take or word we say speaks volumes to those around us who are God. who we profess to serve. God bless you my dear brothers. See you this Saturday!
Pr. Abelardo Rivas and Argelia Fagre-Rivas