Our COVID-19 Strategy

Scott Wakefield   -  

Date and time of each update noted below.

Saturday, March 21, 7:45 PM

Total Reading Time: 9m

Can’t Sleep, The Church as The Hope of the World – It’s Saturday morning, I’m awake at 1:45a, after not remotely enough rest, and I cannot for the life of me get back to sleep. Ugh… I was thinking we would all get more sleep during this national quarantine, but for the last couple weeks, the opposite has been the case for me. On top of the normal problems associated with Incessant Pastoral Brain Syndrome, … (I am obviously using the word “normal” loosely here!)… On top of my usual nonstop brain problems, reading and scrolling through news articles and social media posts on the way to falling asleep has become a slightly unsettling mix of watching our world both glibly and militantly divide beyond the usual political pigeonholes, if possible, into more radical extremes of fear-based death-avoidance and brash sophomoric recklessness that apparently elicit far more vitriol than seems needed, to my way of thinking. It’s confusingly hateful. (Wow, it’s taken 18 years, but I think I just unwittingly used “hateful” like a Southerner.) Last week, on the one hand, there was the implication from some that, if we “cancelled church” it was a sign of “lack of faith”, and on the other, I was publicly accused of having others’ blood on my hands if we dared assemble for worship last Sunday. Not only am I watching it online, but I’m living it. So I go to bed feeling like I’m not sure how to feel! Should I be “faithful” and throw caution to the wind or should I become an ascetic who sits at the top of a pole by himself and reads old books? (FWIW, I choose the latter. And what does “feeling like I’m not sure how to feel” mean anyway?! :o) Well, you get the point!) I feel like the world I see online–torn.

Life in the tension of the two poles of the world’s extremes feels intolerable because of the constant glut of information. In case you’re blissfully unaware, we are now swimming in the waters of a nonstop onslaught of algorithmically-controlled and pointedly-mediated sources of information and expertise that come at us with a pace and immediacy that turn personal fears into corporate anxieties. The current infodemic we’re experiencing means that what was once individual anxiety has now become inordinate collective fear and everyone of us is suddenly a prepper. Why merely identify with any one person when I can identify with a whole category of at least many hundreds on my own feed, let alone many millions more on the Google?! Thus I am awake, burdened by everyone’s fears and not just my own.

But, here’s the rub, I think, for us as Christians. The Bible has not changed in the last few weeks. We still live in a post-Genesis-3 world where the absolute best-case scenario for worldwide response is definitively incapable of stemming the tide of a single person’s inner and ultimate fears. Social distancing may stem the tide of coronavirus, but it cannot fix the anxieties and pain we feel because of our sin and brokenness.

An article I came across in the MIT Technology Review, (which I am always reading, btw), said that coronavirus, coupled with regulatory changes and anxiety heightened by isolation, might lead to a game changing “boom in use of mental health apps and teletherapy,” and then it asked, “—but are they good enough?” And then I wondered: “Good enough?! Good enough for what?” To lessen anxiety? Hopefully. To make healthcare more accessible and to provide better metrics? Sure. Those are good things and how cool is it that smart people can use God’s creation creatively, to produce good?! But let’s not kid ourselves. Game changer or not, the medical and technological wake of coronavirus may result in less anxiety and longer life, but that’s all it can offer.

Ultimately, for mankind condemned by rebellion against God, good health is just slower death, and the virus of personal fears and anxieties because of sin will always do more damage than any viral contagion.

Here’s my question… What is the organization responsible for fighting the infodemic of fear born of knowing sin but not knowing God? You are. I am. Gathered or scattered, the people of God are alone on this planet in being called to communicate that the only actual hope possible is found in a Savior we believe has literally defeated death for us.

So since Trump is not going to pass a “Have Godly Courage Bill”, there is no WHO or CDC that fights fear, and there is no vaccine to ward off anxiety and guarantee lasting peace–(coffee is close)–the church is it! As people who treasure life because we know that, in Jesus, we’ve cheated death, we are free to redeem the time by communicating hope instead of despair, calm in the middle of crazy, and Christian courage in a culture stuck in the paralysis of powerless options. I am praying we all find ways to keep Helping People Find and Follow Jesus (Even During Pandemics)!

Quick Friendly Reminder of “Online Church” Plans – For an overview of what we’re doing, so far, to be 100% Online Church for the foreseeable future, (because, remember, we’re assembling this bike as we ride), see What does a “100% online model of church” look like? on the update from Thursday, March 19.

Website Tweaks, Sun Service Livestream, and Creating Online Momentum in the Meantime – A few “online church” tweaks and updates. (And yes, we’re well aware that, Biblically, the people are the church, and that the building isn’t, and that you can’t close it, along with the other half dozen Jesus Juke Memes out there. Sheesh! … Although, now that I say this, there are some legit Christian Coronavirus Memes out there, y’all! If you want some good family time on Sunday afternoon, after you’ve attended our “online-but-not-closed-because-you-can’t-close-the-church… church”, you might wanna sit on the couch and catch up on some good memes. (No, I am not suggesting we do not take this virus seriously. Sheesh, again. Wash your hands. Follow CDC guidelines. Stay home as much as possible. Etc. And please sign this waiver if you’re going to livestream our services.)

Website Tweaks – We’ve tweaked our website a smidge to reflect not only that we are still being the church, Helping People Find and Follow Jesus (Even During Pandemics), but how we’re adjusting. So, on the homepage, www.fccgreene.org, we’ve provided easy and high visible access to our Sun Service Livestream, this Coronavirus Updates page (fccgreene.org/coronavirus), social media for ongoing updates, and an email link for people who need help, as we’ve got a small army of people suited up and ready to roll. (Yes, we are already regularly checking in with those we know who are most vulnerable. See previous update, further down this page, on Thursday, March 19.)

The Sunday Service Livestream can be found on our homepage, fccgreene.org, (click button there, as in it’s patently obvious!, or go to “Stream” menu at top of page), or just go straight to fccgreene.org/live.

Creating Online Momentum in the Meantime – What better time than now to take full advantage of the opportunity to gain momentum by flooding the community with high-quality gospel-centered online content?! Friends, if we can be vigilant about pitching in and paying extra attention to Liking and Sharing the bejeebers out of all our online content, word out online, We’re upping our game by producing some new content, consistently making tweaks and improvements to our website and social media, and bringing important links needed during the Coronavirus quarantine front-and-center. So make sure you’re following us on social media, are signed up to receive our Weekly Emails and Group Txt Msgs (fccgreene.org/info), and help make sure everyone in our community know we are a church that is all about Helping People Find and Follow Jesus (Even During Pandemics)!

Daily “Scott’s Thoughts” Video – Starting this coming Monday morning, March 23, (because I’ve got nothing but time on my hands and am searching for more things to do!), I’ll be posting a quick 2-mins Daily “Scott’s Thoughts” video on our social media outlets that is intended to be an encouragement for the coming day and a smidge of ongoing connection. It will consist…

  • primarily of a brief Scriptural and/or Devotional Thought,
    • that is likely based on previous Sunday’s sermon content,
    • for ongoing application for the day/week, and
    • with a view to life in our new temporary world of quarantine, social distancing, and fear of death, suffering, and the unknown,
  • but will also include a smidge of important programmatic and schedule updates, and other helpful things-to-know. (Yes, I like the word “smidge”.)

Postponement of [email protected] – Sadface, it’s time to officially announce that we are postponing Easter. Well, not really Easter, because, well, you can’t postpone Easter, but we are postponing our plans for [email protected]

In basic terms, we are looking to do some sort of Post-Coronavirus All-Community Celebration Worship Service @ NPAC, (but we’ll whittle down the title to something more manageable than that). So, please be praying with us that God will somehow use that to allow us to reach people in  our community… in the Fall… or Jan 2021?! Who knows?!

Postponing our [email protected] means, sadface again, that we need to take down our [email protected] yard signs and stop giving out Invite Cards! :o( We are already working to take down the 3 ‘permanent’ billboards (that’s not the right word, but I’m so far behind in life-and-all-things that I can’t take time to come up with better) as early as  next Monday or Tuesday, March 23-24, and are going to change the digital board by Walmart to say “POSTPONED” or something like that as early as next Monday. (Sorry to do this in front of everyone… Hey Nathan, we could maybe change the fcceaster.org redirect to fccatnpac.org, or some such placeholder page that morphs as plans emerge, or even make the digital “fcceaster.org > fccatnpac.org” so as to communicate both that we are postponed and that there are forthcoming plans?)

These steps of taking down promotional material are really important as we’ve been receiving some pretty negative community feedback all week long. (Say this with your best inner Rocky Top Redneck voice…) “Wait, you go to that church where they’re going to have over 1,000 people congregating together on Easter when science and medical professionals and the federal government’s already done told us to not meet in groups larger than 10 for the next 8 weeks?! You’re crazy!”

So if you could help us by, sadface yet again, taking down all [email protected] promotional material, that’d be helpful.

Super Quick Catalyst Renovations Update – Renovations have already begun and we’ve only got $1,750 more to reach 100% of our goal! That’s really great! Thanks to the many FCCers who have pursued generosity that reflects the grace of God given to us in Jesus when we didn’t deserve it! To find out more, including how you can help us finish up that last $1,750, go to fccgreene.org/catalyst.

Thursday, March 19, 11:30 AM

Total Reading Time: 7m

In the last couple days, Elders and Staff have met and prayed and talked and researched and planned… a lot… (and in groups of 10ish or fewer that are mostly adequately socially distanced and isolated!) … and the Elders have decided, given the aforementioned advice and guidelines from federal and local government officials and health professionals, that the best course of action for us is to transition to a 100% online model of church until at least Saturday, April 4.

We have studied how churches in our area and region have been responding and are in communication with many different people, inside and outside of our congregation, who have a wide variety of levels of authority, expertise, and know-how, so we feel we’re not only well-informed to make the wisest decision possible, for the immediate future, but that we’re well-positioned to continue making good decisions moving forward. Thank you for entrusting us, as church leaders, to lead well by leading wisely. We’ll be letting you know about Sunday, April 5 and beyond as soon as possible, but we don’t yet want to say anything beyond that, for now.

What does a “100% online model of church” look like? Well, that’s a bike we’re building as we ride, so we’re looking at some version of the following that we’ll roll out and make you aware of as needed.

  • Sunday Morning Services – Starting this Sunday, March 22, we’ll begin to livestream services twice, at normal times, 9:20a and 10:40a, with all the normal elements of our Sunday services, except that, well, we won’t be physically together as a congregation. In fact, we’ll be sharing in a time of communion (around your kitchen table?!), so you may wanna gather some of your own bread and juice! Seriously… If you can prepare for communion, it will be a cool moment for you to join with us to dramatize the gospel “together”, in a way that is both actual and virtual. Also, in case you’re unsure, a “livestream” means that it is happening, uhh… live, as you’re watching it, (if indeed you’re watching at 9:20a and/or 10:40a.) We’ll be livestreaming to Facebook, Youtube, and a new really cool livestreaming platform on our website (and at fccgreene.online.church) that incorporates the Youversion Bible, (How cool is that?!), Sermon Notes and Study Questions (and it saves your notes and answers if you’re signed in with Youversion, in theory–still testing), a comments/chat feed, a private prayer requests chat, and allows us to upload and include links and other such actionable items like the Worship Guide and Connect Card. Also worth knowing is that the stream is being recorded as it is playing, so once the stream is over, it doesn’t just go away forever. It will be viewable, in its entirety, afterward. And don’t you worry, we’ll post the link on social media, send you an email, and shoot out a txt msg blast as friendly reminders about how to watch online, from computers, laptops, tablets, phones, iOS, Android, smart TVs, etc. ;o)
  • Small Groups: Life Groups, Re:generation, and Re|engage
    • Life Groups – If able, will meet online, for ~45-60 mins, from each member’s/couple’s home, logging in through a video conference format. Will pretty much consist of going through Study Questions and time for prayer. (I mean, if you’re game, y’all can sit around and have a video conference dinner, which is pretty weird, but we’ll be foregoing the food-together part for now!)
    • Re:gen, Re|engage, and Foundations – Will be meeting online on Monday nights at 6:45p for Large Group and 7:20p for Small Groups. May be a hybrid of livestream and video conference format. Will letcha know.
  • Kids
    • Sunday Morning Worship Service at 9:20a & 10:40a – We are going to tweak the service to ensure that it’s a smidge more kids-and-families-friendly!
    • Weekly Lesson & Family Resources – For our elementary-aged kids, we’re also developing an online version of the weekly Orange Lesson and Family Resources that will reinforce it throughout the week. We’ll send these out to our Parents Email Lists on Sunday morning. If you haven’t yet signed up for that, parents, click here.
  • 180 Students Weekly Meeting – For middle and high school, we will be doing all the normal stuff, just virtually, with “large group games”, a time of worship, and then breaking off into small groups, each with their own video conference room.
  • Great Questions – I think we’re going to punt on this, for now. While it’s certainly something we could do online, our current main GQ Facilitator needs some extra margin in his life to deal with… life… and Coronaviral drama.
  • Ministry/Service Teams – Be on the lookout for further instructions from Team Directors, if applicable. We’ll give ya more direction about plans for the above ASAP, so be on the lookout for more communication from Staff and Team Leaders.
  • Daily 2-Mins Scott’s Thoughts Video – Starting Monday morning, March 23, I’ll be posting a quick 2-mins Daily “Scott’s Thoughts” video on our social media outlets that is intended to be an encouragement for the coming day and a smidge of ongoing connection. It will consist…
    • primarily of a brief Scriptural and/or Devotional Thought,
      • that is likely based on previous Sunday’s sermon content,
      • for ongoing application for the day/week, and
      • with a view to life in our new temporary world of quarantine, social distancing, and fear of death, suffering, and the unknown,
    • but will also include a smidge of important programmatic and schedule updates, and other helpful things-to-know.

We’ll give ya more direction about plans for the above ASAP, as they emerge, so be on the lookout for more communication online, and from Staff and Team Leaders, for those helping with execution.

What are we doing to help those who are most vulnerable? We’ve organized some of the FCC troops and have already been in contact with many within our congregation, asking about how they need help and what we can do. If you’re willing to drive someone somewhere, pick up something from the store, and be on-call to help, please just email us at [email protected] or call 423-639-0126.

How did things go Sunday, March 15, when we had a hybrid of both in-person and online options available? We had two-thirds of our normal attendance, in-person, and about one-third online. We had signs posted everywhere about what was our strategy for that day, so those who served did a great job of being extra careful, cleaning and disinfecting well, etc., and everyone who attended was careful about social space, sitting far from others in the service, etc. Things went really well. It was a good run-through of what hybrid in-person-and-online may need to look like for a week or two as we are coming out of this.

Are we meeting Sunday, April 5? As the situation develops and details continue to emerge each day, we will make a wiser decision about whether to meet for a worship service and what that might look like as we get closer. Most likely, congregational worship services will look a little different for a week or two toward the end of our current quarantine by implementing the kinds of social distancing, contact-free greetings, limiting germs, etc. that we already did this past Sunday, March 15. But, we’ll determine and communicate all that closer to Sunday, April 5 and let everyone know more then.

Why aren’t you answering my calls, emails, texts, messages, etc.? Because I cannot keep up. I’m sorry. Also, Staff are doing the best they can, so be please be patient with… all this. We’re trying to manage a total reorg-in-a-week.

Offices Closed – Until further notice, we’d like to ask that FCCers limit personal contact by not coming to the offices at our Greeneville campus in person unless it’s needed and brief. (Speaking of exceptional reasons why you might need to come into the office…)

Giving – If you haven’t yet set up recurring online giving, this would be a great time! Just click on “Give” above, or give by texting “Help” to 84321 for instructions. If you need to bring your check into the office, there’s a locked black box on the wall next to the Main Office door that says, “Offering” (I think). Just put it there.

[email protected] – We are well aware that we may need to change our Easter plans, but we’re going to wait until we can make a better decision with better information as we get closer. So we are operating under the assumption that we are still on for Sunday, April 12, at 10a, continuing to promote accordingly, until we decide differently. We’ll soon begin looking into alternatives like online church from NPAC on Easter, postponing to a later date for a “Post-Coronavirus Community Worship Celebration”, or a “Come Out of Your Homes Celebration”, or something like that. Who knows?! Just pray with us that God uses our plans and change-of-plans to further reach our community for Christ!

“Should churches cancel events because of Coronavirus?” – I’m (trying) to work on an answer to this and related questions that I hope will bring some needed balance to current responses, whether it’s Christians eating each other alive online, or conservative-conspiracy-theorists who feel like we’re being unfaithful for temporarily going 100% online, or true-love-is-total-isolation-and-social-distancing hippies who feel like being faithful means going 100% online for the next 8 weeks since the CDC-and-science say we should. Am working on it today, while trying to manage a total reorg-in-a-week and put together a bike we’re riding. So… Maybe done tomorrow? Maybe done never?

Monday, March 16, 8:45 PM

Total Reading Time: 3m30s

We’ve been having lots of discussion among church leaders, so I figured I’d apprise you of the latest and how we’re working to adapt to emerging guidelines, think through things, etc.

  • Last Thursday, Governor Lee declared a state of emergency statewide and gave guidelines for no gatherings of more than 250 people. We decided, before this past Sunday, that as a multisite church with 4 services in 2 locations, we’d have no problem submitting to those guidelines and maintain proper social distancing guidelines! But earlier today, Lee “urged” that all school districts should close until at least the end of the month, President Trump gave guidelines for no meetings or groups larger than 10 people, and locally, both Greeneville and Greene County School Districts are closed until at least Monday, April 6. All over East Tennessee, many schools, colleges, stores, restaurants, and workplaces are closing, gathering spaces, limiting access, and taking other such drastic measures. The overwhelming consensus on the best strategy, nationally, including from advice we’ve received from local medical professionals and government officials, is to limit contact by discouraging large gatherings. While we’re well aware the state and federal guidelines are “recommendations” and not mandates, these aforementioned directives, even just today, pretty drastically change things for us. So we cancelled re:gen, Re|engage, and Great Question tonight, the Elders and Staff are meeting tomorrow to talk through our ongoing strategy, and we’ll let you know about other decisions and changes as we make them.
  • I’m working on a short biblical response to the question of, “Should churches cancel events because of Coronavirus?” that will be published in the next day or two. Hint: Submission to the governing authorities is a Christian conviction and there’s a difference between being told we shouldn’t gather for worship temporarily and being told we cannot gather for worship permanently.
  • Btw, fccgreene.org/covid19 and fccgreene.org/coronavirus both get you to this page. Come back occasionally for updates!
  • We’re talking about how to organize to help care for our seniors, the immunocompromised, and others in our community in need of help and supplies. We’ll let ya know how you can step up to the plate and help soon.
  • This past Sunday, we flipped the switch on beginning to livestream our entire service, which is something we’ve been planning on doing someday soon anyway. We got some great feedback from those who were able to join online. Basic estimates are that we had around 150-200 people who joined us online this past Sunday, which is great! (We had 80 different “viewers”, which means 80 different devices watching the stream. Most churches that have long had livestreaming often count 2-3 times the “viewing” numbers because many of those actually represent couples, families with kids, etc. (And we know that many of you families out there have a bajillion kids!) And no, we are not counting those as having “attended worship”. Just letting you know how many joined us online.
  • If you weren’t able to make it Sunday, please consider giving online. Just click “Give” on the top menu bar. If you’re not, this would be a good time to set up regular online giving.
  • Here are a few questions we’re talking through tomorrow in Elders and Staff Mtgs as part of our emerging strategy…
    • How are we as a church uniquely positioned in our community to help, fill gaps, etc.?
    • What does being well prepared to fill those gaps look like?
    • What does a comprehensively engaging online church strategy look like for the coming weeks that will…
      • serve our highest priority ministry areas as most helpful and feasible,
      • stay after the Coronavirus scare is over, and
      • set the standard for our entire community?
    • How do we do these things in a way that means that we actually grow, from where we are now, a church that may or may not be ready to launch a public campaign for a 3rd campus as early as Fall 2020, to one that must launch that campaign by Fall 2020 by the time this Coronavirus is over?
  • We’re praying for you! Stay healthy and safe! Please be praying with us to continue to be laser-focused on Helping People Find and Follow Jesus Even During Pandemics!

The above graphic is a summary of the main steps we are taking, as a church, to address the coronavirus pandemic, for Sunday, March 15 only.

Saturday, March 14, 5:30 PM

Total Reading Time: 11m

Here a few items of note with regard to our strategy.

  1. We absolutely mean the very first line of our strategy above, While in Christ we have no reason to fear, that doesn’t preclude wisdom and prudence!” Will the overwhelming majority of us contract the virus or even know someone who does, let alone be touched by death because of it? Who knows? That question is unanswerable. But, and I’m choosing my words carefully here, while at this point in time, the answer is likely that none of us has yet been so affected, that is not good reason to be careless, as many of us could someday be so affected. The bottom line here is this: While no one knows the future except the God of the Universe, the unknown is not a reason for stupid “courage” any more than it is überinformed fanatical “care” resulting in paralysis.
  2. Parenthetical clarification about the basic difference between “pandemic” and “epidemic”. “Pandemic” = “worldwide”, which is not the same as “epidemic”, which speaks of the situation being out of control. Pandemic is more of a quantitative term speaking primarily of the extent of the virus and not its severity. It’s a way to say that it’s beginning to affect “the world”, which, at time of writing, means 136 of 195 countries, 70% of the world. Epidemic speaks more, not just of extent, but also of being “out of control”, whether it’s within a certain population group or beyond. So… even though things may feel like they are at epidemic level because of the constant proliferation of information in our modern world that is intuited as authoritative by default, (i.e., everything liked and posted and shared by your friends on social media feels valid simply because it’s there, regardless of whether it’s true), … things are not at epidemic level, and we’ve likely got a good long way to go before that. So as a church, we are currently addressing COVID-19 as a pandemic, not an epidemic.
  3. These steps are not remotely intended to address every circumstance but are implemented with a view toward our local church context. They are our strategy for our context. If you want more information about how to be an incessantly anxious germaphobic crazy person who can’t function because of the unknown, the internet would love to feed your fears. Is it clear enough yet where some of my thoughts are headed?! :o)
  4. An underlying assumption is that we will not be cancelling corporate worship until the situation quite obviously merits the practically apocalyptic fear that many are currently exhibiting. In practical terms, we will continue to seek alternative strategies for corporate worship, as the pandemic develops, that allow us to safely maintain our mission of building strong Christians and proclaiming the gospel without putting FCCers or our guests in danger.

While the above steps and strategy will likely serve us quite well, for now, I thought I’d go ahead and give a few additional thoughts to fill in some gaps and answer some questions some people are asking. (Note: Any COVID-19 specific numbers, statistics, and data used below only apply as of Saturday, March 14, 2020.)

  • Are we still going to meet corporately, as a church, on Sunday, March 15? As my Northern kin say, “Yep. You betcha.” Fear of the unknown, centered around a pandemic virus that has hardly meaningfully threatened our daily way of life apart from having to wash our hands more often and being unable to buy as much sanitizer and toilet paper as our hoarding hearts would like (because we’re used to the delusion of total control), is not a reason for us to stop gathering to worship Jesus. (You may need to reread that last sentence because “fear of the unknown” and “is not yet a reason” have a lot of words between that are sorta functionally hyphenated as one big parenthetical concept.) Now… Does this sentiment fall into the aforementioned category of “stupid courage” that pretends there isn’t a real problem? No. To say that “fear of the unknown… is not a reason… to stop gathering to worship Jesus” isn’t mutually exclusive with caution because of fear of the known. This is a cautious posture we are clearly taking, as evidenced by our strategy noted in the graphic above and a number of things I’ll be pointing out in the answers to these questions. We are taking reasonable steps to be cautious. In fact, we have long had a culture of serving on Sunday mornings where people show up early and stay late to clean and prepare well. As a church, we are fairly fanatically dedicated to doing whatever is needed to remove obstacles to people hearing the gospel. So we are stepping our game even here! But cancel our worship services?! No(t yet.) As the situation develops, we’ll adjust by increasingly crossing that bridge while we’re walking on it to provide alternative strategies that we believe are a wise balance of safety and mission.
  • What about congregating in large groups like in worship services? Isn’t this violating “social distancing” recommendations? These are obviously similarly valid concerns and questions. Two brief responses… (1) Re “congregating in large groups”, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee issued a statement last evening, Friday, March 13, at 5:45 PM, saying, “While at this time, mass gatherings such as conferences or other large social events remain at the discretion of the organizer, we strongly discourage events of 250 people or more as an important step in limiting exposure to COVID-19. (In the previous paragraph, “mass gatherings” includes churches, as also evidenced by the section header, see https://www.tn.gov/governor/news/2020/3/13/governor-lee-issues-guidance-for-mass-gatherings–schools-and-state-workforce.html.) Well, being multisite, at two locations, with 4 services, not one of which has averaged anything remotely close to 250, we aren’t anywhere close to violating that “guidance”. (Long parenthetical thought… For the record, Governor Lee’s statement is not an order. The press release makes that clear in its title and first sentence. And while there are laws that allow the authorities to “ban” public gatherings, and some in other parts of the country have issues such “bans”, truth is that, on Constitutional grounds, (to be said with your best inner Rocky Top Tennessee redneck twang), “cain’t nobody order or force us to not gather for worship!” Now, for those of you worried I’m just unnecessarily being a political spazz, or am looking to get in trouble for being a cause for religious liberty and civil disobedience, you can relax, (though I’m game). Not only is it highly unlikely we’d try to legally challenge the State of Tennessee, because who’s got money and time for that?! … (Though I kinda hope some church somewhere does!) … I’m also well aware the stakes in this do not remotely parallel colonial America! Anyway… Where were we?) … So, being multisite, and given our regular attendance being spread over 4 services at 2 sites, we are in no danger of coming anywhere close to violating Governor Lee’s guidance. At Afton, we are averaging 90 adults first service and 105 adults second service. At Greeneville, we are averaging 125 adults first service and 130 adults second service. Kids environments are way smaller than that. (“Let’s hear it for multisite!”) This kind of flexibility, (“Yay multisite!”), with multiple services over multiple campuses, is one of the main things I’m talking about when I’m referring to providing alternative strategies for meeting for corporate worship. We can also eventually do crazy stuff like ticketing to a certain campus and service to limit the number of people per service, or add another service per Sunday, etc., to maintain standards set by the authorities. (2) Re “social distancing”, not only are we going contact-free, but we’re going to be implementing a seating arrangement tomorrow, at both campuses, that creates that distance between people. It’ll probably look like asking you to sit every other seat within each row, and to sit diagonally with reference to the person in front of or behind you, so it kinda looks like a checkerboard if you’re looking at the congregation from the front or back. Hope that makes sense! :o) Crazy ideas?! Yes. Worth it to accommodate peoples’ ability to worship safely during a COVID-19 pandemic?! Sure hope so, because we’re trying it tomorrow!
  • What are you doing to help reduce transmission of germs? The above graphic is a good summary, as all 4 strategies address this concern. We are asking you to stay home if you’re actually sick. And if you’re over the age of 60 or already immunocompromised, you should probably stay home, too. We have been cleaning toys once weekly, as a policy, for a long time, but we’ll take extra care now. We have a full-time Housekeeper at our Greeneville location. There are full-time Custodians at our Afton location. They do a great job keeping things clean, but we’ll also be disinfecting door handles and other oft-touched surfaces every single Sunday morning. We also have many places where you can actually wash your hands. They’re called bathrooms! Just use a paper towel to open/close the door on your way out, if needed. (Btw, for years we’ve been putting trash cans by the bathroom doors, as you exit, for exactly this reason. You’re welcome, germaphobes.) We are not passing Communion or Offering plates. For Offering, the usual buckets-at-the-door will work. For Communion, we will be having everyone walk to one of 4 stations, each one with a tray of double-cupped servings of both bread and juice–bread in bottom cup, juice in top cup–that will be handed to you by one person who will have on gloves. We ask that you then take a few steps, eat and drink right then, and drop the trash in the bucket of the next person you’ll encounter. Sound complicated?! Yeah, we know, it is a bit convoluted, but after we explain it during the service, and you get a week into it, it’ll be easy. So, don’t breathe on people, (which, if you regularly do, you need to know that you’re too awkwardly close to others and you’re making them uncomfortable!), make sure to maintain physical distance of 3ish feet, and use the contact-free greeting—no fist bump, no elbow bump, no breathing on others, no creepy close-talker distances, etc. Feel free to use the slightly socially awkward method of your choice, whether the “Smile-And-Wave-From-Afar”, the “Hey Buddy! Pistol Point”, or the “Manly Wink & Nod”. And as for the “3ish feet” thing, we’ll have Guest Team Members walking around with yardsticks and tape measures to help maintain appropriate physical distance and mildly shame close talkers! :o) If we need to continue to tweak things to create contact-free worship possible, like hand out masks and gloves… (I’m kidding. We couldn’t buy them now anyway!) … we’ll continue to consider such measures as needed and suggested by federal and local health and government professionals.
  • Is this all a conspiracy? Is China trying to reduce its aging population? Did you see that meme about how something like this happens every election year? Isn’t this all media hype? I mean, do you know one single person who has COVID-19? And don’t you think the Trump administration and our corrupt capitalist system is woefully unprepared to respond to things like this? Relax, spazz. You don’t seriously think I’m going to answer those questions, do you?! :o) While they are interesting to think about, and I’ve got certain socio-political leanings, (okay, really they’re more like freakishly immoveable boulders than they are “leanings”), I am amazed at how much wasted time, effort, and money are spent trying to answer questions like this that, in my view, are literally unanswerable. This isn’t an argument for holding no one accountable, not trying to find answers, or laissez-faire disengagement from the world, but it is a call for greater focus on joining with what God is doing in the world, to recognize more fully the truth underlying the question that starts Psalm 2, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” The ultimate truth is that God is doing something in and with the world, and He has called His people to submit ourselves to that mission and His plans. Did China start it? Is COVID-19 a political ploy and/or media hype (and is there any difference between the two?!) Who knows? I know that God has called us to remain focused on our mission of Helping People Find and Follow Jesus Even During Pandemics and He’ll continue to reveal to us as we are faithful to Him and His Word. Let’s pray… (J/K. Just felt like the end of a sermon where I’m supposed to close in prayer.)
  • How do we know we are living from Christ-centered courage or out of fear and the threat of the unknown? Good question. I think this gets at the crux of what many are trying to figure out right now. Turns out, we are going to punt on Ephesians for a week (fccgreene.org/ephesians), and we are going to provide a biblical answer in tomorrow’s worship services in a sermon tentatively titled, “Christian Courage in a World of Coronavirus”.