June 17, 2020
Redwood Chapel Family,
Proverbs 16:9 The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.
Last week, we were notified that Alameda County would issue a new Health Order on Friday, June 19, which would allow in-person church services to resume but with several limitations modeled after California’s Guidelines for Places of Worship. Importantly, attendance at religious gatherings will be limited to 25% of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever comes first. This Order is one in a series of Orders issued by the Interim Public Health Officer that has moved Alameda County through a gradual process of re-opening [as shown on page 4]. To date, Redwood Chapel has moved at the same pace as Alameda County’s Orders in an effort to help curb the spread of the Coronavirus and because from our conversations with community leaders and Alameda County’s Interim Health Officer, we know that churches and faith based organizations are not being intentionally singled out on the basis of our religious beliefs.
Previously, Governor Newsom issued a statewide Order on May 25, 2020 that allowed for religious gatherings with similar attendance restrictions which would be in effect for the three-week period after the Order’s effective date. After three weeks have passed, California’s Department of Health and each county’s Department of Health will review and assess the impact of these limitations on public health to provide further direction to restore activities on a church campus. As of this letter, we are still waiting on further direction from the State but regardless of those directives, Alameda County has indicated its intent for churches in the near future. When recommendations from the state and county differ, the more restrictive guidelines are the ones that govern an area.
After discussing this new Order and its expected limitations with our staff, Elders, and other Castro Valley churches, Redwood Chapel has decided that it is in the best interest of our congregation as a whole to re-gather as an entire church starting on Sunday morning July 12, 2020 at 11am. However, in preparation to receive the whole church, smaller subsets from our congregation will be invited to on-campus worship on June 28 and July 5 so that we are best prepared for July 12. Invitations for these subsets will be sent by separate email. Online streaming services will continue each Sunday morning at 11am for those unable to physically attend or who are not yet prepared to worship together due to personal health concerns.
Let me explain some of the reasons behind our re-gathering decision:
1) Sunday, July 12 allows us sufficient time to make adjustments to our current operations (e.g., clear communication, new signage, room assignments, and volunteer training) so that our congregation can feel both safe and comfortable when returning.
2) Our current Lifestage curriculum (Romans for most groups) goes through July 5, and we want to give each class the opportunity to finish their curriculum in the current Zoom teaching formats to which people have become accustomed.
3) Summer Electives for Lifestage classes are already scheduled to begin on July 12. As such, we thought it best to introduce all of the changes to our congregational gatherings at one time, instead of incrementally making changes for each of the first three weeks back on campus.
4) Alameda County currently allows people to meet in small “social bubble” groups outdoors (i.e., up to 12 people). As such, to the extent that you’re comfortable, we encourage small gatherings in homes on Sunday mornings to watch our online services until July 12.
5) While the specific details of each church’s re-gathering plan will be slightly different, we have continued to walk in unity with other area churches as collectively we have sought to be both unified and compliant during this health pandemic.
6) We plan to send a short survey to our congregation to assess people’s response to re-gathering. The results of this survey will also help us plan for July 12.
The following is a list of things you can expect when we do re-gather for worship:
1) Expect elements of the service that have traditionally been part of our gatherings: singing, offering, communion, announcements, preaching, and testimonies.
2) Given our congregation size, Alameda County will allow us to meet simultaneously in separate buildings on our campus with no more than 100 people in any given building.
a. We are prepared to utilize the Worship Center, Williams Chapel, Heritage Room, Firehouse, and N-12 (North Campus Cafeteria) as worship gathering spaces.
b. The live service happening in the Worship Center will be shown on video in the other locations starting at 11am. Plan to be here by 10:45am as a courtesy to others in your room.
c. We will utilize an online reservation system to spread people among those rooms in compliance with numerical limitations. More details will come by email as to how to reserve your place.
i. If you have any difficulty with making an online registration, there will be a “Welcome Back” table on the patio in order to assign you to a room with sufficient space for your group.
d. Each room will be staffed with a team who are ready to welcome, assist and encourage social distancing. There will also be a supply of Bibles, connect cards, communion elements and bulletins for use during the service.
3) Given the recent California guidelines for re-opening schools, we will wait to resume RC Kids ministries and in-person child care on Sunday mornings until at least the beginning of the school year in August. Thus, families with children will stay together in one room and Redwood Chapel will plan to have “All-In” services throughout the summer months.
a. The Worship Center Nursery will be open if needed to be used during the service for diaper changes and feeding.
b. We are encouraging families with kids who have a hard time sitting still to reserve space in the Williams Chapel. We hope to reduce noise distractions in the main sanctuary for effective livestreaming of the service.
4) The Alameda County Health Order currently requires masks and they should be worn when arriving on campus unless one of the Order’s exceptions applies to you.
a. We will have a limited supply of masks on campus if you forgot to bring yours.
b. When it comes to people’s decision as to the use of masks on our campus, please remember Paul’s words about avoiding disunity within the body of Christ in Romans 14, and specifically verse 13 “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.”
5) While we want to resume more of our on-campus ministries, presently Alameda County has only allowed church services to resume, but not all on-campus ministries. We will continue to keep you apprised as to when our church office and mid-week activities on campus can resume.
a. Under the current Alameda County Order, a person is allowed to be in a social bubble [one group of 12 people] AND a youth extracurricular activity unit [another group of 12 people]. Thus, small group Bible studies and student ministry small groups have already begun to start meeting.
When we re-gather for services on our campus, please know that we will be prepared to receive each of you safely. To that end, you will notice the following changes:
a) Hand sanitizer dispensers are installed at church entrances and throughout the campus;
b) Offering Boxes in each service location will be used to collect the offering as we will no longer be passing the plates;
c) Individually pre-packaged communion elements will be provided for you to pick up before the service and dispose of at the conclusion of the service;
d) Electrostatic disinfection of all seating, and continued regular cleaning and disinfection of all areas used by those entering our campus;
e) Fewer shared items available (i.e., please plan to bring your own Bibles and writing implements to church)
f) Staff and volunteers trained on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19;
g) Increased signage to remind congregation of how to remain healthy while on our campus;
h) Physical distancing between households for seating and socializing;
i) Doors to our various gathering locations will be propped open as people are arriving and exiting so as to avoid high-touch surfaces; and
j) Restrooms are available, but to the extent that you are able, should be used only if necessary.
This is our plan right now. Yet, because we believe the truth of Proverbs 16:9, we remain ready to alter these plans at a moment’s notice if restrictions change, or if our church leadership is led by God to do so. We will continue to keep you apprised of significant developments by the e-newsletter, our website and social media pages.
Firmly In His Grip,
Jeff Miller Lead Pastor