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Updates from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Summer 2020 | For the Foreseeable Future

Plans for the Foreseeable Future

The following message from the Fourth Church Session was emailed to the congregation on July 27, 2020

In May we wrote to share the decisions made by Session about our life together as Fourth Presbyterian Church and Chicago Lights this summer, decisions that remain in effect through August 31.

As we mentioned then, July is a time for us to begin making plans for autumn. Thus, yesterday the Session and Board of Trustees met to receive a series of recommendations and assessments from a group of staff and congregational leaders representing the diversity of our program areas. This group has been carefully considering how Fourth Church and Chicago Lights might most faithfully live out our call to be a light in the city and a connectional community in the days ahead.

After yesterday’s board discussion of those recommendations, the following decisions were made, to take effect September 1 and to be in place for the foreseeable future.

What do we mean by “for the foreseeable future”? It means that we envision the following decisions guiding our life together until the pandemic situation meaningfully changes, which most likely means until Chicago moves into Phase 5 of the reopening strategy and until there is a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19. This deliberately open-ended timeline recognizes the unpredictable nature of the pandemic and assumes that flexibility will be required to adapt accordingly.

We would like nothing more than for there to be a definitive end or “until” date for these decisions, but while our impatience with pandemic implications grows, the realities behind our current situation remain unchanged. COVID-19 is as present today as it was when we closed the campus back in March; the virus remains as virulent now as it was then; and we have no idea when that might change.

With that as context and with our conviction that our choices and actions are expressions of how we love God and neighbor and how we protect the most vulnerable among us—

Session and Trustees have approved the following for the foreseeable future:

Worship: There will be no in-person worship. We will continue to livestream a service at 11:00 a.m. on Sundays. We are already working to incorporate into those services the helpful suggestions and supportive and encouraging feedback that many of you offered in your responses to the online worship survey earlier this summer.

In coming to this decision, we acknowledged several realities about in-person worship and how it would be experienced during the time of COVID.

  • In-person worship is recognized as a super-spreader event, considered to be second riskiest after bars.
  • We would have to turn people away. Capacity limits as well as safe-distancing requirements mean we could no longer welcome all; we could only welcome some. That means that for those who didn’t know they had to register in advance; who didn’t have the technological access to sign up beforehand; who were visitors; who might have come by on a whim to look for a new church home—their experience of Fourth Church would be one of being sent away.
  • We would have to determine who could—and who could not—be in the Sanctuary on a particular day. Would it be those who could sign up the fastest? Those who have been members the longest? Or perhaps those who are newest to our community? What would we do about people in high-risk categories who wanted to attend? Would every one of our more-than 5,000 members get a chance to attend once before anyone could attend twice?
  • Entry to worship would be procedural rather than a time of greeting and fellowship. There would be the lining up 6’ apart outside the building; verifying those in line are on the “approved” list for the day; completing waivers, health questionnaires, and contact tracing forms prior to entering the Sanctuary; ensuring everyone is wearing a mask; taking assigned seats from front to back—thus passing no one along the way to greet; sitting only with those with whom one is safely sheltering; and being separated by empty pews between those seated ahead and behind.
  • There would be no bulletins, no hymnals, no Bibles, and no opening procession.
  • The worship leaders and preacher would not speak directly to those present but rather to the cameras, through which the majority of the congregation would be joining in worship.
  • There would be no choir, since singing is considered a super-spreading activity. There would only be one soloist, positioned behind the congregation and singing away from them.
  • There would be no congregational singing, unison speaking, or passing of the offering; the congregation in the Sanctuary would be silent observers.
  • Ushers would become not greeters but safety-compliance monitors, having to ask people to leave if they take off their masks or in other ways do not follow safe practices.
  • There would be no time of fellowship following the service. People would leave, pew by pew, back to front, and immediately exit the building and head home. There would be no passing anyone and offering a hello; no standing to chat; no greeting the pastors; no Coffee Hour.
  • In other words, it is difficult for the in-person experience of worship during a pandemic, particularly for a congregation of our size, to be anything but an exclusionary spectator activity that is at once impersonal and isolating. We know that is far from what all of us hunger for in worship. We also know from your survey responses that there are things that we already are and can be doing in online worship to create a sense of intimacy and community, of connection and sacred space, of moving music and stirring word. We are focusing on all of those things in this season as we remain committed to being a welcoming community of faith, ensuring that at Fourth Church everyone who would like to worship with us can actively and meaningfully do so.

Friday Noonday Concerts: Similar to worship, there will be no in-person concerts. We will continue to livestream them from the Sanctuary.

Weddings and funerals: In order to be present in the life-changing moments of our church community, we will host on-site weddings, funerals, and memorial services for 20 participants or fewer (excluding staff) when all agree to abide by Fourth Church safety policies, including wearing face masks and maintaining social distance. We will also continue to livestream these services for families.

While current city and state guidelines allow for up to 50 people to be present for such events, staff determined that 20 people is the maximum number whose safety compliance they can realistically monitor. At the same time, a capacity of 20 expands our current limit of 10 to better enable immediate family members to be present.

Programming: The Center for Life and Learning as well as Children and Family, Youth, and Discipleship and Small Group Ministries are among the areas already planning to offer their programs solely online this fall.

Indeed, apart from the instances listed below, no Fourth Church or Chicago Lights ministry has plans for—or is envisioning offering—programming on site for the foreseeable future.

Thus, on-site programming will be limited to the following, with that limitation reevaluated if the situation changes or new needs arise.

The following instances have been approved for on-site programming because it was determined that not meeting in person would be detrimental to the well-being of the participants. This approval is granted with the requirement of strict adherence to all health, safety, and capacity guidelines.

  • Day School: Since preschoolers cannot reap the same growth benefits through online experiences—and thus not having in-person classes negatively impacts their social-emotional development—and because their class sizes are small, the Day School will resume its program in September within the strict parameters set forth by DCFS, following CDC guidelines, and with the Day School Board’s, teachers’, and parents’ full engagement and support.
  • Chicago Lights Tutoring: While Tutoring will be offered virtually for the fall semester, a small group of students who need extra assistance with language arts may gather at the church for staff-led instruction in order to ensure continued academic success.
  • Chicago Lights Social Service Center: While curbside services will continue along with virtual case management appointments, some in-person case management appointments may be scheduled for those individuals for whom the virtual logistics are impossible, challenging, or not adequately supportive.
  • Replogle Center for Counseling and Well-Being: The option for in-person individual counseling for those clients for whom this is essential will continue. Limited-capacity support groups (such as Grief Group) that have a therapeutic need for being face-to-face can meet on site, based on the availability of facilitators.
  • Individual meetings with clergy: One-to-one or couples pastoral counseling can take place on site when deemed necessary.
  • Volunteer Ministry: Opportunities for virtual volunteering are being developed, as is a protocol for the number of volunteers who might be on site at a given time, should there be opportunity and a programmatic need for such.

Meals Ministry and the Social Service Center: We will continue to meet the emergency needs of our neighbors through the work of Meals Ministry and the Social Service Center: they will provide “grab and go” meals as well as clothing, hygiene, and food items through the outdoor presence that they have been offering since March. Protocols for colder weather will be put in place, and the possibility of safely expanding volunteer opportunities with these programs is being explored.

Warming Center/Day Shelter and Shower Ministry: A task force is being formed to consider whether we might reengage Shower Ministry and whether we might make available and staff a space for a warming center/day shelter. That task force will make recommendations at a later date based on their assessment of both the space and staffing logistics as well as the health and well-being implications for our neighbors.

Outside groups: Building access will be limited to Fourth Church and Chicago Lights programs and staff only. While a number of outside groups typically use our facilities when the campus is open, we do not have oversight or control of their participants’ behavior and activity and thus would be challenged to ensure safety compliance.

Building access: For the sake of safety measures, including contact tracing, it is necessary to know who is in the building and why. That, combined with the necessity for increased sanitation when the building is used and for physical distancing, means that—

  • The building will remain locked, with access limited to the 126 E. Chestnut and 115 E. Delaware Place entrances. These doors will be staffed by church employees and/or volunteers.
  • Use of space will be limited to staff-organized activities as outlined above and with limited room availability and head-count capacity.
  • Preregistration will be required for any non-staff person on site. This registration will be coordinated not by the receptionists but by the staff contact associated with the reason for being on site.
  • Restrooms will be available only to staff and to those persons preregistered to be in the building.

Staffing: Employees who are able to do their work remotely will be encouraged to continue doing so with the oversight of their supervisors. For those staff whose work benefits from being on site, we have been rolling out employee access to the building, with safety measures in place. These include plexiglass screens between work areas, required wearing of face masks, 6' distancing, and continuous sanitizing of office spaces.

· · ·

All of these decisions emerge from our affirmation of the biblical truth that we are the body of Christ and when one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers alongside it.

They also affirm our trust that God’s Spirit is not limited to what happens within the physical structures of a church building. In these recent months of being physically separated from one another we have seen afresh the countless expressions of God’s presence in this community of faith. We celebrate and give thanks for these many ways in which our virtual ministry and mission is thriving, the ways it is connecting individuals, and the ways it is touching people across the city, state, and country.

Witnessing that gives us confidence that while our decisions change some of the ways in which we are church, they do not keep us from being church. While the decisions change the way our life together looks now compared to a year ago, they do not limit our ability to live fully as disciples of Christ or to shine brightly as a light in the city; they simply invite us to explore new ways to do so.

Together we will remain unwavering in our commitment to be a faithful community, caring for one another and the world, welcoming all to worship, lifting up one another in prayer and fellowship, reaching out to one another, supporting mission and outreach, and living out our call to love and serve.

· · ·

If you would like to hear from staff and lay leaders about these decisions and our plans for fall programming, we invite you to join us for an online town hall on Sunday, August 23 at 12:15 p.m. There will be time for questions and comments as well as opportunity to hear more about the ways in which we will be continuing to serve those in need and to build connections with one another during this pandemic.

Watch for more information in the days ahead about the online town hall meeting. We hope you will join us on August 23 at www.bit.ly/fpcprograms for that time of conversation!


Plans for Summer 2020

The following message from the Fourth Church Session was emailed to the congregation on May 23, 2020

At their May 22 meeting Session received recommendations from a group of staff and congregational leaders who had come together to consider how Fourth Church and Chicago Lights might most faithfully move through reopening strategies.

This group of leaders, representing diverse points of view and programmatic responsibilities, took as their initial area of focus the summer months. Deciding what our life together will look like in June through August allows us to launch our plans for summer activities and, having committed to what they will look like, engage in them with full creativity and energy.

In all our planning—to date and as we move forward—we continue to be guided by the recommendations of the CDC and other health agencies as well as our local officials, specifically the outlines for phased reopening in Illinois and in Chicago. From all this we know that masks and social distancing and sanitizing will be a way of life for a while, and it will be some time before more than 10 people will be able to gather in person.

Our planning has also been grounded in a series of criteria against which to assess our programs: Can they only be done on site or can we effectively offer the opportunity online? If we offer a program online, whom are we leaving out? If we were to offer it on site, could we do so safely—i.e., ensure safe social-distancing behavior, take into account safe travel to participate, effectively sanitize spaces between uses, etc.?

Additional guiding principles are our commitment to being consistent across the organization—so that decisions made in one program area parallel those made in others—and to our discipleship call to love our neighbor.

In the Reformed tradition it is the Session that is charged with making decisions about our worship life and our life in community. As the Presbyterian Book of Order explains, the duties of Session are to

    • provide that the Word of God may be truly preached and heard
    • provide that the Sacraments may be rightly administered and received
    • nurture the covenant community of disciples of Christ

Thus, acting on that responsibility and affirming that our decisions are expressions of how we love God and neighbor in our choices and actions and how we protect the most vulnerable among us—

Session has approved the following for summer 2020 (June–August).

Worship: There will be no in-person worship this summer. We will continue to livestream the services at 11:00 a.m. on Sundays, and as soon as the stay-at-home order is lifted, we will livestream them from the Sanctuary instead of from home, with safety protocols in place.

Friday Noonday Concerts: Similar to worship, there will be no in-person concerts this summer, but we will continue to livestream them, moving them to the Sanctuary when the stay-at-home order is lifted.

Weddings and funerals: When the stay-at-home order is lifted, we will be able to host on-site weddings and funerals for 10 or fewer people, with all the necessary safety protocols in place around face masks and social distancing.

Programming: There will be no on-site programming at Fourth Church this summer. This includes Summer Day, Dance Academy, Center for Life and Learning, Sunday School, VBS, and Urban Youth Mission, among others. These programs will instead be offered online.

Outside groups: The Fourth Church campus will be closed throughout the summer, and thus outside groups that typically use our facilities during those months will not be meeting at the church. This includes AA, Lookingglass Theatre, Chicago Humanities Festival, Music Institute of Chicago, and others.

Meals Ministry and the Social Service Center: We will continue to meet the emergency needs of our neighbors through the work of Meals Ministry and the Social Service Center: they will provide meals as well as clothing, hygiene, and food items through the outdoor presence that they have been offering since March.

Staffing: Staff is in the process of assessing who can continue to work remotely for the time being and whose work requires being on site. They are also looking at which staff functions might need to be reconfigured or reimagined to support the online presence this summer. Work has begun on preparing to create partitions between workstations to facilitate safe social distancing, and conversations will continue about how to best support those working remotely while creating a safe on-site work environment.

With plans now in place for the summer, attention will turn to developing scenarios for the fall, with a goal of having plans in place by mid-July—knowing that through all of this things can and undoubtedly will change, as health officials learn more and we adapt to evolving circumstances.

But as we have come to know in the last two months, we are a vibrant congregation well able to adapt and adjust to the unknowns of our time while remaining unchanged in our commitment to be a faithful community, caring for one another and the world, gathering for worship, lifting up one another in prayer and fellowship, and living out our call to love and serve as “a light in the city.”

After all, just because the building is closed does not meant the church is closed! Church is still happening. Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do to as part of that!