Dear Friends in Christ,
Grace and peace to you. I am writing to report on Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church’s plans for Autumn 2020 in regard to worship, programming and building usage. Let me cut straight to the substance of our plan.
The “Coronavirus Task Force” (Greg Dow, Mark Moreland, Dave Roberson, Janeen Sarlin, Charlene Han Powell and me) was unanimous in making a set of recommendations to the Session of the church. This past Tuesday, the Session unanimously approved the following:
- That, barring some significant change in the facts on the ground and government recommendations for large group gatherings, Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church will not resume corporate (i.e., in-person) worship in the sanctuary or the Kirkland Chapel until the Session of the church deems it safe. We will host weddings (currently 10 or less people) and funerals/memorial/interment services (currently 10 or less people) if participants agree to abide by FAPC’s distancing policies.
- That the church offices will reopen in the fall of 2020. Our plan is to have the staff return to working in the church building with heightened safety measures. Individual appointments may be made to visit with church staff for carrying out church business or for talking with the clergy. Distancing rules and mask wearing will be required.
- That the church will not book outside rentals until the Session deems it safe.
- That the Skinner Shelter will remain closed until the Session deems it safe to reopen.
- That the Ecumenical Outreach Partnership—our innovative street outreach ministry which now includes “A Place at the Table” (our Matthew 25 “feed the hungry” program) will be continued and even enhanced to respond to human need in this time.
- That the Session of the church hear regular updates from the Coronavirus Task Force as circumstances change and be prepared to pivot to fully open status in short order. This may not happen until a vaccine is widely available.
On what grounds did we make this decision? The Center for Disease Control and numerous medical experts agree that the most dangerous setting for transmitting the coronavirus is “an indoor location where a large group of people engage in singing, chanting, or cheering.” In other words, second only to a crowded night club, a broad survey of public health experts rate worship services as a “9 out of 10” on their list of the most dangerous settings in regard to transmittal of the virus. Many ecclesiastical bodies (including the Presbytery of New York City) caution against resuming worship at this time. This is, in part, because there are now many documented cases of worship services (in this country and abroad) that have become “super-spreader” events.
We are beginning to see arts organizations, like the New York Philharmonic, make similar decisions for similar reasons. We do anticipate that other places of worship in the city will proceed differently based upon their own unique circumstances and assessments. Our goal is to make the best fact-based decisions we can for the health and well-being of FAPC.
Choosing to pursue this route now (a reversible decision should the situation change) gives your elected leaders (elders, deacons and trustees) and your dedicated staff time to plan for a robust fall of worship (online) and programming (online). We are already planning to host the 2020 Gotto Lecture as a webinar on October 22. We actually expect to have more people than ever participate in this hallmark FAPC event as Emma O. Green opines on religion and politics only a few weeks before a presidential election.
This fall, we will make Sunday School classes available (online) for all ages. You will see more and more FAPC community groups emerge online. Book groups focusing on racism and white supremacy in America, affinity groups like FAPC Moms and our LGBT fellowship, Bible studies like “Brothers of Job,” our FAPC Youth Group, and support groups like the Bereavement Group are all providing opportunities for people to engage each other and their faith in powerful ways. My friends, I actually believe it is possible, during this challenging time, to weave the strands of the FAPC community into even more beautiful patterns.
To do this, we need your help! We want to add your ideas to the picture that is emerging. How can we best care for FAPC’s members, best engage the world, best live out our faith, right now? What do you believe God is calling us to do to draw people deeper into engagement with Jesus Christ and with the gospel that binds our hearts together and gives us a vision for a better world? We want to hear from you! Please email [email protected] with your thoughts and dreams. We also need you to take that next step to participate. Attend weekly worship. Yes! But also, join one of FAPC’s growing list of Community Groups.
If you are having trouble connecting online or if you have no access to online content, let us know. Call the church and reach out to Lance Hurst (212.247.0490 ext. 3007). Lance stands ready to help any who do not have access to FAPC’s online content. We also have youth who want to assist any who are new to online programs like Zoom.
I fully support this direction for our beloved community. In its 212 year history, Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church has faced enormous challenges. At every step along the way, this congregation has figured out how to live out a vibrant faith.
Together, my friends, we will continue this legacy.
With grace, patience, and sturdy hope, we can care for each other and continue to partner with God’s Spirit in healing this troubled world. I am utterly confident we will grow in faith as we go about this work. And I trust that you will do your best to help facilitate FAPC becoming the church God is calling us to be in this season: a resilient community—stubbornly determined to manifest Christ’s light, salt and leaven to the world!
With great affection and daily prayers,
Scott Black Johnston