May 28, 2020
Calvary family & friends,
It’s hard to believe how much our lives have changed since I wrote you on March 12th announcing that Calvary would be closing our building because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Almost three months later, we now know that we’re in the midst of a full-blown global pandemic that will last many months, not just a handful of weeks.
At Calvary, we felt the seriousness of this illness early on, as our own David Farwig was diagnosed with COVID-19. We felt it’s gravity even more as we lost church members and friends because of this disease; we grieve with Sandra Baldridge upon the loss of her husband Sam, and Pam and Rick Chapman upon the loss of Pam’s mom Shirley Mathis. And we give thanks for those in our church family who have recovered from COVID-19, even as we pray for those who continue to serve on the front lines and experience the devastation of the coronavirus firsthand.
And we have all felt the economic, psychological, emotional, and spiritual impact of COVID-19. We miss gathering together. We miss singing. We miss hugging. We miss lingering. We miss seeing smiles and reading body language. We miss the freedom of not having to worry about wearing a mask or being strategic about when and how we’ll get our groceries. We miss the energy of in-person worship. We miss hallway conversations and Bible studies. We miss human, face-to-face connection. We are missing so much and grieving a lot, which means we’re feeling a rollercoaster range of motions on any given day. It is a really hard time.
Acknowledging all of these realities and the additional grief and loss of so many events and plans being cancelled, I have difficult news to share with you: Calvary’s building will remain closed through the summer months - June, July, and August. While we hope to be able to gather in the building in some capacity after Labor Day in September, we will not know that for sure until closer to that date.
I know; this is not what you want to hear. It is not what I want to be sharing with you. I think we all thought back in March that surely by May or June we’d be gathering back together. But after much prayer, thorough research on what we know so far about the nature of COVID-19 and how our human behavior affects its spread, conversations with colleagues, listening to government advice and CDC guidelines, attending church insurance webinars, outlining the plans and procedures for what it would take to safely reopen our building, and envisioning how limited and how different those gatherings would be - we have decided to keep our building closed until we can safely re-open with more of our congregation able to gather than we are able to now.This decision has not been made lightly nor in isolation; it has been an on-going conversation with Council Leadership, the COVID-19 team, and staff. While I’m sure you are hearing of some churches that are choosing to gather for in-person worship already, I can assure you that Calvary is not alone in the faith-based community in Denver in making the decision that we are.
While much has changed in three months and much will continue to shift and change as this pandemic plays out, the values that guided our decision back on March 12th to close our building have not changed. Our life together is centered on the call and love of Christ. When the religious leaders of his day asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was, he told them it was to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” He then added that the second greatest commandment is like the first: to “love your neighbor as yourself.” As a community of faith whose mission is to “be a Christ-like community that experiences and shares God’s love” and whose vision is to be Open to All, Closed to None, we frame our actions and decisions by these two commandments.
With the values of “love of neighbor” and “protecting the vulnerable” in mind, I invite you to consider these points:
- Calvary has always shown a strong commitment to “the common good.” As much as we love our building and as much as we long to gather again in it, we know that our essential nature as a church comes through not whether our building is open but rather through how open our hearts are to the movement of God’s Spirit within us and among us during such a time as this, and how open our minds are to exploring new avenues of ministry.
- Because our essential nature as a church does not depend on a building, even when we can “officially” gather with more than 10 people, or even with 25 people, should we? For the sake of the economy and people’s livelihoods, it is essential for more businesses to open, as we are seeing this week with restaurants opening for dine-in service. By our building remaining closed, we are supporting other businesses who cannot survive without opening their storefront (their physical location) and thus are doing our part to not contribute to additional spread of COVID-19 which could really set us back as a city/state and endanger lives. This is a matter of economic justice as we do our part to support the many Coloradans who need to get back to work, and a matter of protecting the vulnerable, as we lower risk and spread which helps our healthcare systems and frontline workers.
- Even as other businesses do begin to open their doors again, remember that churches are not like businesses. Most businesses that are reopening with success have the ability to serve customers in one-on-one or very small group settings, thus limiting the risk of exposure. Churches do not operate that way. We are about group functions and large-scale gatherings, where the known risk of accidentally spreading infection is exponentially higher. We are relational in our work, not transactional, and this makes a fundamental difference in how and when we can reopen.
- As a community that is Open to All, Closed to None, we make our decisions with our whole community in mind. We covenant to not deliberately isolate people by age group or any other risk factor. In this way, we are choosing to prioritize the community over the individual. The reality is, we all have a different risk tolerance; some of us will be breathing a sigh of relief at this decision and others of us will be frustrated and feel that we are being too cautious. But we are called to have a wider and more inclusive perspective than any of our individual desires. Because we are a multi-generational congregation, it’s important that when we “come back,” we come back together with as many people as possible in our community who can safely gather, without having to enforce additional restrictions on top of the required health-related restrictions and distancing and disinfecting guidelines we will be following.
- Making a decision about summer and evaluating whether or not our building is open on a quarterly basis (instead of waiting week to week for more data and constantly being in “decision-making mode”), allows us to process and accept the reality of what this means for our life together as a community so that we can move forward with more intention and care. It also moves staff from crisis mode into creativity mode, freeing us to focus on what we CAN do instead of focusing on what we CANNOT do and wondering when that may or may not change.
- In addition to the scientific data that shows COVID-19 spreads quickly in large gatherings because it lingers a long time - not only on surfaces but also in the air itself (especially indoor, air conditioned spaces), our habits will be very hard to break in terms of how we gather (which, let’s face it, is very personal and connective). No matter our good intentions, it will be hard to not be able to be close to one another, greet each other, fellowship together, sing, or engage in many of the behaviors that make being together meaningful for us as a church community. While our online experience lacks the relational power of in-person worship, the in-person worship experience available to us right now is far less than ideal and would put our most vulnerable members and guests at risk. Plus, there is also just the bazaar and maddening nature of this disease to consider - that we can carry it and spread it without ever even knowing that we have it. This study by the CDC shows the reality of this fact (see graphic).
- Ensuring the safety of the staff is of utmost importance. When Calvary’s building opens, congregation members will have the option of whether or not they choose to enter the building and gather, whereas staff will be exposed to the most people for the longest periods of time. While we cannot eliminate all risk, it is important for Calvary to have proper disinfectant supplies and distancing protocols and procedures in place before opening the building.
Speaking of disinfectant supplies and distancing protocols, Lori Grohskopf has been working on building re-opening plans for weeks, and the COVID-19 team will expand and intensify these efforts this summer. The logistics of safely opening the building for gatherings are complex and multi-layered. While cleaning supplies were ordered back in March, it is likely that we will not receive the majority of what we need until mid-July. Then it will take several weeks to outfit the building with these supplies, implement safety plans, protocols, and signage, train volunteers and staff on our new ways of gathering together, and communicate these guidelines to you.
In the meantime, know that the staff will be focusing on the ways we can safely gather outdoors in small or larger gatherings throughout the summer. We look forward to sharing those plans and opportunities with you in the coming weeks, as well as ways that we will continue to connect virtually and through other appropriate socially distanced methods. Our virtual worship services - which have more than twice the “attendance” of our in-person worship services - will continue to connect us and share the gospel in powerful ways. It is a spiritually rich time for many as we all search for meaning and hope in the midst of this pandemic. We need God, and one another, now more than ever.
It has been so hard not to gather in our building and yet I have been so proud of how you have truly lived into BEING the church over the past three months, Calvary. You have shown up for one another and yourselves in remarkable ways - writing cards, making calls and deliveries, giving generously, learning new technologies, and supporting staff as we’ve sought to adapt and learn quickly new ways of doing ministry. I could not be prouder than I am in this moment to be your pastor. It is because of how you are already BEING the church in such significant ways that I know we will make it through whatever the coming months hold.
In moments of anxiety and uncertainty in our society, we have the opportunity as God’s people to model another way - a way that leads us forward in faith not fear. We believe this to be Christ’s Way of love and compassion and justice. As we take precautions for ourselves and loved ones, it is our faith and trust in God that brings us comfort and strength.
I offer my deepest gratitude to my staff and colleagues, our Church Council, and our COVID-19 Response Lay Leadership Team for their wisdom and guidance throughout this process and for their support in evaluating our decisions on a quarterly basis as we move forward. If you have any questions or wish to discuss anything in this letter with me, please call (303-884-4475) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I am here for you, as is our entire staff.
As we live through this unprecedented season together, know that you journey with God and with a community that loves you and prays for you.
BEING the Church together,
Rev. Anne J. Scalfaro, Senior Pastor
COVID-19 Response Lay Leadership Team
Sharon Murphy & Rick Breitenbecher, Co-Moderators
Bill Warren, Chair of Resource Management
Jim Comstock, Chair of Safety & Security
Virg Musil, Treasurer & Chair of Finance
Mick Davey, Chair of Staff Relations