Operations during COVID-19

11/24/2020

IN-PERSON WORSHIP (CLOSED)

Your Session and Pastor Drew have spoken and prayerfully considered our current system of in-person worship. While we have an excellent and safe system, the safest system yet is to not have a group of unrelated people in the building on Sundays. One less location where spread can occur and also making a visual statement to the community that we believe people need to remain in their homes to help get this massive spread under control.

Therefore, effective immediately, in-person worship is suspended until January 2021 and we will return to virtual only until that time. This decision will be re-evaluated by the Session during their regularly stated meeting of January. (Yes, this includes Christmas Eve).

Please understand that we are not trying to be mean or harsh. Trust us, ALL of us want to be together on Sunday. ALL of us want to celebrate Christmas Eve together. However, as Pastor and as Session Elders, we are charged with doing all that we can to protect you all.

We realize that some will be angered and upset by this decision. However, looking to what we know about this latest wave we must exercise extreme caution. We are seeing over 100 new cases daily; models predict that by December, Pennsylvania will be realizing 22,000 cases per DAY; Dr. Levine stated just yesterday that we will be out of ICU beds by NEXT WEEK. Right here in Erie County there are currently over 80 people hospitalized with COVID-19; 41 of them requiring intensive care treatment (that, by the way, is an increase from 10 as of Friday).

If by some quirk of fate these numbers were to drastically reduce, your Session would make the decision to re-open to in-person worship. However, since that most likely will not happen anytime in the near future (especially with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years right around the corner) we will most likely need to stay away from in-person for an extended period.

Please understand these decisions are made prayerfully and with your best interests truly at heart.

Worship staff will be drastically reduced to Pastor and workers only (4 in total). Those who are reading for the Advent Wreath will also be permitted to attend when it is their Sunday to read. Any special music will need to be arranged well in advance to keep numbers in person as low as absolutely possible.

Again, these decisions are meant to protect as many people as we can from this horrific virus. Thank you and stay safe & Healthy! Blessings to you all.


11/16/2020

WORSHIP

The Session met last Wednesday evening and agreed that for the time being, worship would remain in its hybrid form (online and in-person). However, with the COVID-19 case counts going up rapidly, your Session will be discussing this matter again and trying to make the most wise decisions to protect people.

Remember and adhere to these general safety tips before deciding to come to worship in person:

  • If you have travelled outside of Pennsylvania in the last 14 days, please do not attend worship in-person for at least two (2) weeks;
  • If you have been exposed to anyone who is known or suspected to be infected with COVID-19, please do not attend worship in person for at least two (2) weeks and contact your medical provider;
  • If you have attended a high-risk exposure event (large crowds, poorly ventilated space, limited mask wearing, lack of social distancing), please do not attend worship in person for at least two (2) weeks;
  • If you have pre-existing medical conditions that affect your heart, lungs, or ability to fight infection, please reconsider attending in-person worship at all;
  • If you have a dry cough, fever, new onset of the loss of taste or smell, please do not attend worship for at least two (2) weeks and contact your medical provider.

Also remember that if you do plan to attend worship in person, to please do the following:

  • Make a reservation prior to the Sunday you wish to attend;
  • Wear a durable mask (cloth, surgical, or the like) at all time when inside the COTC buildings; please refrain from “Neck gaiters” as these have been proven by scientists to be highly ineffective (and even make aerosol dispersion worse);
  • Wash hands or use alcohol based hand sanitizer (multiple stocked stations are available);
  • Remain in your seat after arrival in the worship area;
  • Refrain from socializing inside of the COTC buildings (especially in close proximity to one another);
  • Please refrain from physical contact (hugging, shaking hands); please instead use an elbow bump or friendly wave.

Attending worship is a deeply important thing to all of our lives of faith, I can understand that. But please think first about your sisters and brothers as you make decisions about whether to attend in-person or online. We must protect one another. Remember the teachings of Christ: love of our neighbors needs to be our chief concern.

These are certainly difficult times for us all. But, hope is on the horizon. Just this morning, Pastor Drew saw on the New York Times website that another vaccine has early reports of efficacy of over 90%. While it will take time to get these vaccines all rolled out, we now have more weapons in our arsenal to fight against this horrible illness. It will take good decision making, calm heads, and following the recommended steps until the vaccines are fully available. So please remember to:

  • Wear a mask when you are outside your home;
  • Wash your hands often with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds;
  • Stay at least six (6’) feet apart EVEN WHEN WEARING A MASK;
  • Obtain your flu, pneumonia, and shingles shots (as directed by professional medical advice);
  • Continue to follow updates and recommended actions from federal, state, and local public health officials and the advice of your personal medical professional.

Together, we will get through this; together, we will see a return to life as close to normal as possible. But it will be an effort that involves all of us to get there!

OFFICE HOURS

The hours in the office will remain as they have throughout 2020 and we will re-evaluate in 2021 based on the situation in the community and the life of the church.

Monday thru Thursday: 8am-1pm
Friday: 9am-1pm

You can always email, call and leave a voicemail (please select which staff member you’d like to speak with on phone menu), or stop by (masks are required) if you have questions or something that the office can assist you with.


9/28/2020

SUNDAY WORSHIP
Beginning this Sunday (October 4th), the Session has permitted a return to in-person worship each week. If you need a hard copy, we can print one for you in the office and you can pick it up. If you have any questions regarding the plan, please contact me directly.

YOU MUST HAVE YOUR RESERVATIONS TURNED INTO TAYLOR OR MYSELF IN THE OFFICE NO LATER THAN 12PM THIS THURSDAY. If you have verbally spoken to Pastor Drew, send an email or give Pastor Drew or Taylor a ring to confirm your name is on the reservation list.

A few highlights of the plan:
  • Must enter through Worship Area Door (even if using the elevator).
  • You must stop in the Welcome Area to have your forehead temperature checked and sign a COVID-19 waiver (if you haven’t already done so).
  • Must have a mask on at all times you are in the COTC building (if you do not have a mask, one will be provided for you at no charge). The Session has decided there are NO exceptions to this rule.
  • There is to be no out loud singing of the congregation; please feel free to mouth the words, tap your foot, clap your hands, or in some other way make a joyful noise.
  • There will be no bulletins; communion elements will be in Celebration Cups (a single use/single user format) which will be provided for you.
  • Please remain in your assigned seats until dismissed following worship.
  • Tithes and offerings can be placed into the stationary offering plates as you enter OR exit the worship area; these plates will not be passed during worship.

Live Stream worship will continue to be available on both Facebook Live and COTC.org for those who cannot or chose not to attend in person.

OFFICE HOURS
These continue to remain reduced to keep operations costs as low as possible to be good financial stewards. We will look to return to full-time hours at the start of 2021:

Monday thru Thursday 8am-1pm
Friday 9am-1pm

Financial contributions may be mailed to the office or dropped off during regular business hours; they may also be brought and dropped on Sunday mornings in the stationary offering plates.

FOOD AND FELLOWSHIP/DRIVE-THRU PRAYER
Both of these opportunities will continue into October as long as the weather holds out (a light jacket will be considered acceptable weather).
  • Food and Fellowship begins at 11am in the COTC Parking Lot following worship (bring a chair, mask, and lunch)
  • Drive-Thru Prayer is Wednesday mornings from 10am-12pm in the COTC Parking Lot

9/17/2020

Return to In-Person Worship

Your Session met via Zoom on September 9th and decided after careful prayer and discernment to allow a return to in-person worship beginning Sunday, October 4th. As part of this return, they have approved a re-opening plan (Read the Plan) that MUST be followed. Further, they have made the decision that all who return to in-person worship must have a COTC COVID-19 waiver signed and on file in the COTC office prior to attending worship (this can be accomplished when you enter the building for worship on a Sunday morning or please contact the office to receive one virtually.)

Online virtual streaming worship WILL continue as we have been doing since March to accommodate all those who do not feel it safe to return to a group setting.

A few highlights of the plan:
  • Must wear a mask throughout your entire time in the building
  • There will be one way in and one way out of the building (unless you need to utilize the elevator)
  • There will be NO corporate singing of hymns or songs (or spoken prayers such as the Lord’s Prayer)
  • Worshippers will need to stop in the Welcome Area to have your temperature taken, sign-in, and utilize alcohol-based hand sanitizer

You must call prior to 12 noon on the Thursday prior to worship and speak to Taylor or Pastor Drew to make a reservation for the following Sunday’s worship.

COTC GYM:
Will remain closed to the public for September – October. Session will meet again and determine the gym’s status for November at a later date.

FOOD AND FELLOWSHIP HOUR:
These events, starting at 11am each Sunday, have been a wonderful break from our COVID isolation and so they will continue so long as the weather cooperates. We will keep meeting each Sunday following worship at 11am. Bring a chair, mask, and lunch and be prepared to socialize and catch up with one another.

If it is raining, we will NOT hold this event. However, even into the fall, we will continue to meet until it gets too bitter cold. Stay tuned for when we decide to discontinue this event.

DRIVE THRU PRAYER:
Like our Food and Fellowship Hour, this too will continue until the weather becomes too bitter cold. This time for prayer is available Wednesdays from 10am-12pm. Pastor Drew and the Elders are available to pray with and for you; just drive up, pop on your mask, and receive prayer!

Please view September Newsletter for more information. Also, follow us on Facebook for updates!

Update as of August 12, 2020

In-Person Worship: After a robust discussion, the Session has decided to withhold a return to public worship. They all deeply expressed a desire to be in person again. However, they looked deeply at the status of the Erie Community, the wise words of doctors and public health experts, and prayerfully decided that they feel it appropriate to protect all worshippers by withholding public worship until a later date. They will again re-visit this issue at their September Session meeting.

Gym: The Gym is to remain closed. There is to be absolutely no activity of any kind. Any violation of this policy will be considered trespassing.

Fall Rummage Sale: Due to logistical issues and the need for health and safety, the Session has decided NOT to hold a traditional rummage sale. However, they have decided that there are many worthwhile items which have been donated to this purpose and so we will be partnering with social service agencies in Erie County to donate these items for their use.

The Session believed that the Rummage sale is for Mission and that the items donated are for that same purpose. Therefore, by donating the items to local agencies, the spirit and desire of the sale will continue to be met and we will be able to bring joy, relief, and comfort to those in need in our own backyards. Any items not taken by the agencies this fall will be stored for a possible Spring Rummage Sale.

The Spring Rummage sale will be looked into next year and a decision will be made at that time.

If you have items for the fall rummage sale, you can still bring them to the church and know that they will be given to those in need. Once the donations have been given, I will inform the congregation of which agencies benefited and from what types of items they most found useful.

Office Hours: Monday-Thursday 8am-1pm. Friday 9am-1pm.

Please see our monthly newsletters for more updates and information about events, the church, celebrations, etc. Also, follow our Facebook page @COTC.erie.


7/24/2020

Session has decided that we still have not entered safe enough territory in the Erie region to responsibly and wisely return to in-person worship in the month of July. However, they have decided that if the case “curve” for Erie County is able to demonstrate a stagnation or reduction in August, they will agree to begin a gradual return at that time.

COTC now has a COVID-19 legal waiver form created by Tom Pendleton. “Effective 7/1/2020 (and in effect until suspended by their action) all persons (including members of the Church) will need to have a signed COVID-19 waiver on file in the office to be authorized to enter and utilize the buildings and grounds of COTC for any purpose.”

COTC Gym: There is to be absolutely NO ACTIVITY in our gym during this time. This includes basketball practices, personal use, or any other unspecified activity. Any violations of this policy will be considered trespassing. We appreciate your cooperation.


5/29/2020

  • Church workers have returned to work for half days. You can reach someone in the office from 8am-1pm. Voicemails are now answered in the span of one day wait time.
  • COTC’s Gym remains closed until the green light is given by Governor Tom Wolf. There is to be no gym use of any kind.
  • Please continue to mail in your contributions.
  • We are still practicing social distancing.
  • Worship is still online only.
  • Wednesday evening: adult study via Zoom. Thursday evening: fellowship time also via Zoom. Email pastor Drew for more information on either of these opportunities.

3/31/2020

A NOTE FOR THIS SUNDAY’S WORSHIP (and Sunday’s after):

Since the Governor’s order has been extended to the end of April, we will continue to worship at a distance as we have these last several weeks.

That means Easter worship will be held on Facebook live.

Also, for this Sunday (which is Palm/Passion Sunday) we WILL celebrate communion. (How? you ask). SIMPLE! Have some bread or cracker with you along with juice (grape, apple, tomato…doesn’t matter). When it’s time, I will lead us in a liturgy of the table and you will help out wherever you are. Communion is about the visible presence of Jesus and the action of God’s Holy Spirit; you don’t have to be a pastor to celebrate communion…and we don’t have to physically be together to do it either.

Distance will not stop God from communicating love, grace, and power to us. So, as we worship together this week, celebrating the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, we will gather around many tables and be brought together as the one and whole people of God…no matter where we are.

God bless you all; stay safe, stay inside…WASH YOUR HANDS!

Peace and Joy,
Pastor Drew


3/24/2020

In accordance with the County Executive’s order today there will be NO in person worship on Sundays until April 6.

Please tune in to our Facebook page on Sundays at 10am for live streamed worship. It will also be posted to cotc.org.

Stay safe and stay inside.

Pastor Drew


3/23/2020

Friends, although religious organizations are exempt from the Governor’s order, we have decided to close the office for the foreseeable future. We will let you know when operations are back to normal.

The Office Administrator and Pastor will be making random trips to the church for administrative operations. However, there will not be anyone consistently at the church.

If you have an EMERGENT need, please contact the Pastor on his 24-hour line: 814-580-9215. Emails and voicemails will be returned when able but will be highly delayed.

Please take care of yourselves and stay safe; stay home.

-Pastor Drew


3/16/2020

Dear Friends and Family of Church of the Cross,

These are uncertain, unforeseen times in our common life together as a church community and as a broader world community. Never would we have anticipated something so small (fractions of the size of a human hair) bringing the entire globe to a virtual standstill. But here we are. The church universal has a long, long history of facing widespread illness. The Plague, the flu pandemic of 1918, and any number of other outbreaks, regional and worldwide, have been part of our corporate memory. And each time, we have been able to survive and continue our holy work of ministering in the name of our Christ.

That said, we need to take precautions. We must think not only of ourselves but of those most vulnerable in our communities, both faith and geographic. While a good many of us, even if we contract this illness, will do just fine, there are probably an equal number for whom this illness could be life threatening and deadly. And it is for those who can be most affected that we must focus our attention. According to the latest expert information, those 60+ (especially those 70 and 80+) and those who have pre-existing heart, lung, and immune system disorders are most disadvantaged by this virus. It is for those that we must take the most abundant of precautions.

That said, we will continue to meet on Sunday mornings for the foreseeable future (unless a clear order to quarantine and shut down operations is handed down). However, our time together will be modified to limit risk and exposure.  I have detailed the modifications below:

  1. We will gather at 10am; education and formation for all ages has been suspended.
  2. Our time together will last roughly 30 minutes; it will be a time to center on the words of Scripture and to pray together both silently and out loud.
  3. Our time will be heavily informal; no need to wear your Sunday best; jeans and comfy clothes are encouraged.
  4. There will be no fellowship time; please bring your own coffee and snacks if you wish (this helps to limit shared containers/food which can lead to the transmission of illness).
  5. Please refrain from touching one another; a friendly wave or a word of hello is sufficient to share love.
  6. Please keep the appropriate distance of 6 feet at all times. I know this is hard for a people who love to be together but it follows the most expert advice on limiting transmission.
  7. We will not be passing the offering plates; they will be stationed in fixed positions and you’re asked to simply deposit your tithes and offerings in the plate.

If you feel that you are vulnerable to being in a group setting, you are under no pressure to attend. If you do not feel well (especially if you are experiencing flu like symptoms) PLEASE stay home. We will be working to provide these gathering times either via next day video delivery on cotc.org or Facebook Live video (or both).

As strange as this request is, please consider it prayerfully. While the church may be limiting our contact with one another to address the present state of affairs, we still have financial needs. Our staff still need to receive their salaries and benefits; our utilities still need to be paid. So, please, remit your tithes and offerings to the church office either in person on Sundays or please mail them in. Please keep your pledge commitments as these allow for the church to continue operating through this modified time and to be prepared to return to life as usual once this outbreak has been contained.

Consider these pieces of advice as well:

  1. Check on your neighbors, especially those who are elderly. Give a call; stop by (keeping 6 feet of distance). Make sure they are safe and healthy.
  2. WASH YOUR HANDS! Sing the first verse of Amazing Grace once or Happy Birthday twice while using warm, soapy water (20 seconds or longer).
  3. Stay out of public spaces unless absolutely necessary (doctor; pharmacy; basic grocery shop).
  4. Do not hoard any supplies; think of others; get only what is necessary.

Friends and family, we will get through this together. With faith, hope, and love, we will persevere. If you are feeling completely overwhelmed, scared, and anxious, do not hesitate to call the church or contact me directly. I am ready and able to provide pastoral care via phone to you.

I love you all. Be well; be safe.
Peace and Joy,
Rev. Drew Himes