The Covid Response Team of Foley United Methodist Church met on Sunday, January 10, 2021, to review the church’s current response, review current Covid data and information, and adapt our policy as needed. The team celebrated the fact that even with Covid cases rapidly spreading in our community and the local ICU at above capacity, we know of no known transmission that has happened through the church facilities or at an in-person church activity. The team is grateful for the way our people have embraced and abided by our existing policy. One of our overarching desires through the pandemic has been to act in such a way that we would not become the origin of virus spread or be the reason that Foley needed to lockdown again. We want to love our neighbors and care for the community, particularly the most vulnerable around us. Thankfully, because our people are adhering to policy, we can cautiously continue with gathering for some in-person events.
Here are some notable changes that came out of our meeting on Sunday:
- Beginning January 17, reservations will no longer be required to attend the 11:00 in-person worship service. All worshippers will be checked-in upon entry (to ensure proper contact information for contact tracing) and be expected to adhere to face masks, hand sanitizing, and social distancing protocol. Greeters will monitor attendance and the service will be closed when the room reaches 60 people in attendance.
- While the facilities will remain closed, we are now permitting use of the Spirit Center Great Hall and the Well on Wednesdays and Fridays. All use of either room must be reserved through the church office prior to the event. Events will be spaced at least two hours apart, and attendance in the Well may not exceed 20 people. Keeping accurate records of all who attend events and submitting them to the church office is required.
- There are a few exceptions to the above directive that have been approved by the Covid Response Team (e.g., choir and handbells meeting on Monday evening, hurricane recovery work at various times). Any events outside of the scheduled Monday and Wednesday times must be approved in advance by the Covid Response Team.
- People attending events inside of Foley UMC facilities are expected to wear a mask covering nose and mouth at all times, use hand sanitizer upon entering the building, and maintain social distancing between members of different households.
- The church is providing containers of wipes in the Spirit Center and in the Well. All groups meeting in the rooms on Wednesday or Friday are asked to clean and wipe all used surfaces before and after your scheduled meeting.
The Covid Response Team has created a comprehensive plan for cautiously reopening our facilities for some limited in-person use. Even with the number of Covid cases continuing to climb and churches being a place that can rapidly spread the virus, the Covid team believes it is possible for us to have some in-person gatherings. Phase 1 (which will include, at least, July and August) will include the beginning of an in-person worship service with numerous safety precautions, the ability for smaller groups to use the Great Hall of the Spirit Center, the office opening with limited hours and access, and new policies for safety inside of Foley UMC’s buildings.
Phase 1 of reopening the facilities will include starting an 11:00 traditional service in our Spirit Center. In order to be safe, to care for our congregation (66% of whom have indicated they are moderate to high risk for the virus) and to limit possibilities of spreading the virus, this service will have numerous requirements for attendance. All the service protocol was endorsed by more than 50% of the congregation in the recent Covid survey. They include:
- Every person attending must register in advance to attend. The service will have a capacity of 75 attenders, and no one will be admitted without prior reservation and printed confirmation. You can visit foleyumc.org/worship to register for any service between now and the end of August. When you register, you can register each person in your household at the same time. If you do not have access to internet but want to attend the service, please ask a friend to assist in registering you or contact the church office for assistance. It is crucial that we have a record of each person in the building in case of someone becoming infected with the virus, and it is crucial that we not exceed the safe capacity for the service.
- Every person will be required to wear a mask the entire time they are in the building. (The only exception will be for persons on the stage actively leading worship.) If you do not have a mask, one will be provided to you when you arrive. Masks stop the spread of the virus, and we do not want to become the reason that Foley must go into lockdown again. Wearing a mask is a demonstration of serving those around us and makes it possible for others to attend the service.
- Every person will be required to use hand sanitizer as they enter the building. The church has made hand sanitizer stations to put throughout the facilities.
- People attending the service will be required to practice social distancing and sit in a socially distanced configuration. Ushers will assist with seating people to ensure that social distancing is practiced. (Members of the same household are not required to sit socially distanced.) We will refrain from handshakes, hugs, and other contact while in the building.
- All people will enter and exit through the main Spirit Center doors. Doors will be propped open before and after the service to avoid contact, and all other rooms and doors will be closed. This is to limit surfaces and door handles that people contact and to limit the amount of sanitation that must be done after each service. The main Spirit Center restrooms will be available.
To create a safe but worshipful environment, the service will be little shorter than normal (about 45 minutes), will have some congregational singing, and will include prayer time, sermon, and special music. We will not distribute a bulletin or use hymnals. All aspects of the service will be projected on the screen in the Great Hall. Hopefully, in August, we will serve Communion using pre-packaged safe Communion elements.
To limit the length of time people are in the facility, we will open the doors to the Spirit Center for people to begin entering at 10:45 a.m. If you arrive before 10:45, we invite you to visit in the parking lot or remain in your car until the doors open. We will not have communal coffee pots, beverages, or food available. If you would like to bring your own beverage, please bring it in a cup that has a lid and plan to dispose of your trash or take your cup with you. We will primarily be using metal folding chairs; if you want a cushion, please bring one and plan to take it with you each week after the service.
During Phase 1 of reopening, we will not offer KidsQuest children’s ministry or nursery (or any other Sunday morning adult activities). Children are welcome to attend the service, but each child will need to be registered and follow the guidelines established by the Covid Response Team. If you bring a child and a tablet or device for them (KidsQuest videos are available via Facebook), please bring headphones so they won’t disrupt other people in worship.
If you are over 65 years old, susceptible to the virus, or have had any symptoms of illness in the prior 14 days it is recommended that you not attend in-person worship at this time. If you, for health reasons or personal reasons, cannot comply with the guidelines that we will be using in Phase 1, we ask you to continue worshiping online or to worship at the Galilean Service. Hopefully, in Phase 2, the requirements for attending will be relaxed and you will be able to attend in-person worship then.
During Phase 1 of reopening, we will continue to host the Galilean Service on the beach next to Gulf State Park pavilion (weather permitting) each Sunday at 7:30. This is, by far, the safest in-person worship option, and there are far less guidelines to follow if you choose to worship at the beach. We will also continue to offer our online services at both 9:30 (contemporary) and 11:00 (live streaming of the service in the Spirit Center). Due to the limited safe capacity of The Well, at this point, we will not open that venue to the public for in-person worship. Family members of persons serving in the 9:30 service will be permitted to worship in The Well (following all the above guidelines). Hopefully, in Phase 2, we will be able to utilize that space for broader in-person worship.
Small group meetings at the church
Beginning Wednesday, July 8, the Great Hall of the Spirit Center will be available for your group to meet. During Phase 1 of our reopening, your group may register at least 24 hours in advance to meet at either 9:00, 11:00, 1:00, 3:00, 5:00, or 7:00 on any Wednesday. (Due to the need to limit contamination and clean the facilities, during Phase 1 groups will not be allowed to meet at other times.) To reserve a time on a Wednesday for your group to meet, please call the church office.
When groups meet, all participants will need to enter through the main Spirit Center doors (which will need to be propped open in advance of your group beginning). All persons will need to wear masks as they enter the building and while they are in common areas, and each person will need to use hand sanitizer as they enter the facilities. Groups may only meet in the Great Hall, and chairs must be set-up in a socially distanced configuration. Once people have been seated in the group, masks may be removed if desired. It will also be required during Phase 1 for any group meeting in the church to keep a record of every person attending the group. Accurate records describing the event, day and time of meeting, and name, phone number, and/or email address of each person attending must be left at the church office when the group meeting is over.
Following your group’s meeting, cleaning supplies to wipe down chairs, door handles, podiums, etc. that have been touched during your group’s time in the building will be provided. It is crucial for the safety of the next group that you clean every surface that anyone from your group has come in contact with before you leave.
No communal food may be served, and no coffee pots or beverages may be set up. If you choose to bring personal food or beverages, please bring them in containers with lids and dispose of your trash when you leave.
Office to open with limited hours and access
Except for the Sunday morning 11:00 worship service and the by reservation group meetings on Wednesdays, our facilities will remain closed to the public. The doors will be locked, and we ask that people refrain from entering the facility. The church office will reopen beginning July 1. During Phase 1 of our reopening, the office will be open from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. Monday-Thursday.
When you come to the office, the facilities will be locked. Please call the office and alert them to your arrival, and they will assist you as needed. If you enter the facility, you will be asked to use hand sanitizer upon entering and wear a mask while you are in the common areas.
Building use policy
In conjunction with the bishop and the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, the Covid Response Team has created building use policies detailing much of what is described above. Policies for Phase 1 building use can be found by visiting the Resource page on the church’s website.
Foley UMC’s Covid Task Force met on June 1 to continue assessing the current pandemic situation and developing plans to open our facilities and resume in-person activities on our church campus. Bishop David Graves has asked United Methodist churches to refrain from gathering for indoor worship through the month of June. Based on his guidance, we will continue with our plan to offer in-person worship through the Galilean Service on Sunday mornings at Gulf State Park beach. We will also continue to host live online worship at 9:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. each Sunday.
The Covid Task Force is beginning to explore the possibilities of allowing smaller groups to gather on campus and evaluating how we will safely be able to gather for in-person worship when permissible. Next week, the team will distribute a survey to the church that will help gather input to make decisions regarding using the facilities for smaller gatherings and what in-person worship might look like when we are able to gather. Please be on the lookout for this survey and offer your input to help them make informed decisions.
Finally, the team is developing guidelines for cleaning and sanitation for the facilities for when groups do begin to use the facilities. Based on CDC and United Methodist direction, we will remove all communal food serving equipment (e.g., coffee pots, shared food containers, serving utensils) and we will create some basic protocol for groups using the facility that include guidelines for providing access to the facilities, social distancing, and adequate cleaning after a group uses the facilities.
Please continue to pray for the Covid Task Force. They are working diligently to make informed and wise decisions for Foley UMC and our community.
Foley United Methodist Church’s facilities will remain closed, and we will not host in-person worship or other events on our campus through June 30. We will begin the Galilean Service at Gulf State Park beach on June 7, and we will continue hosting online worship at 9:30 and 11:00 on Sunday mornings. The Galilean Service will be contact-less (nothing handed out, no handshaking, etc.) and social distancing will be practiced. Members of different households will be expected to maintain a minimum of six feet between other people. In the event of inclement weather, the Galilean Service will be cancelled for that Sunday and not moved to the pavilion. Status of the service will be posted to the Galilean Service’s and Foley UMC’s Facebook page by 6:45 a.m. each Sunday morning.
In accordance with Governor Kay Ivey’s directive, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Alabama Department of Health, we encourage persons over the age of 65, those who are medically compromised, those who are susceptible to coronavirus, and any person who has displayed any symptoms of illness in the 14 days prior to a Sunday morning to avoid attending the service. If you choose to attend the Galilean Service, please plan to practice the utmost safety and precaution for yourself and others as we gather. In making these initial plans for the church and specifically in waiting to gather on our campus, our Covid Task Force has several guiding principles:
1. We want to err on the side of caution. The biggest negative that we see in waiting longer to gather in the manner we are accustomed to is that we miss each other a bit longer and wish we could be together. However, if we open too soon, the potential consequences are that should someone unknowingly carry the virus into our community, we could become the source of a medical catastrophe and be the reason that businesses in our community must close and we must return to quarantine. We also believe that gathering outdoors is much safer than gathering in our indoor worship spaces.
2. We want to actively love our neighbors, especially the vulnerable and those most susceptible to the virus. While some of us may feel completely comfortable gathering in any scenario, adhering to things like social distancing, waiting to gather, etc. serves those who would be severely impacted by an outbreak of the virus and gives comfort to those who are anxious, nervous, or are more susceptible to the virus. The people of Jesus take the posture of a servant (John 13) and allow others to go before us (Matthew 20:16).
3. We cannot close the Church. The Church is a living organism that is the body of Christ manifest in the world. We may take a break from gathering in the manner we are accustomed, but the Church does not close. All you need to do is talk to many people in our congregation who have been serving from home, calling, Zooming, loving, praying, and honoring the Lord in different manners. We will continue to encourage the church to flourish and proclaim the love of Jesus even if we are not gathering on our campus.
All these decisions are fluid. Our Covid Task Force will continue to meet regularly and monitor the situation. They will be actively working to develop a plan for how and when we will be able to safely gather on campus for worship and other events. The Covid Task Force (Kate Norris, Lori Hagle, Ann Johnson, Darrel Edmonson, Charlotte Plumb, Peggy Ratcliff, and Nolan Donald) has researched and read a wide array of including information from the Centers for Disease Control, the Alabama Department of Health, the governor’s office, and our bishop’s office. The United Methodist Church has offered guidelines for their churches to reopen. Those can be read here. Other helpful articles include research on places the virus has been transmitted the most and a theology for Christians to embrace as we consider reopening. We have also consulted numerous pastors and other churches regarding their plans for reopening in a safe manner.
Foley United Methodist Church’s campus will remain closed this Sunday, May 10, and we will NOT have in-person worship on our campus or host the Galilean Service at the Gulf State Park Pavilion.
We will have online services at 9:30 (contemporary) and 11:00 a.m. (traditional). Those services can be accessed by visiting foleyumc.org/live.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closing of our church facilities and the suspension of all activities, our Church Council has been meeting regularly to monitor the situation. Last Monday, at the direction of our bishop, our Church Council created a COVID-19 Task Force to guide the church in navigating how we will reopen our facilities and begin hosting events in a safe and compliant way.
The COVID-19 Task Force will meet next week, and they will take the governor’s most recent update, recommendations from the Alabama Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, and our bishop’s office and craft a plan for reopening that is safe, serves our congregation, and loves our neighbors (especially those who are the most vulnerable and most susceptible to the virus). We will post updates next week regarding future activities and the plan for opening of our facilities.
We will begin to stream our traditional service as well as our contemporary service each Sunday beginning May 3. Join us for the contemporary service at 9:30 from The Well or for the traditional service at 11:00 a.m. from the Sanctuary. Join either service on Facebook Live or at foleyumc.org/live.
We will continue to stream our Sunday morning services on Facebook Live, but it is now also available here on our website at foleyumc.org/live.
Currently, the plan is that we will have online worship services (no services on our campus) every Sunday until the threat of COVID-19 has dissipated and authorities have said it is safe to resume onsite worship. We plan to continue worshiping via Facebook Live each Sunday morning at 9:30.
All church activities are cancelled, and our church facilities will be closed through Sunday, March 29, 2020.
Over the last few days, I have been in constant contact with Pastor John Simonson, the leaders of our Church Council, and a variety of other pastors and local authorities. While it is not a decision that I particularly like or want to make, I believe this is the best action for our church right now for several reasons:
- There is a confirmed case of COVID-19 in Baldwin County. We know that it is an extremely contagious virus that spreads rapidly.
- We can mitigate the spread of the disease by not gathering in groups or creating environments where the virus could be spread.
- As a group of people who take seriously Jesus’ command to love our neighbor, this is a way we can actively love our community. It is especially important for us to do what we can to serve the people who are most susceptible to the virus, the weak, and the vulnerable.
- Within our church, we have many people in the over 70 age range that have a higher risk for severe side effects from the virus. To best care for our congregation, it is important to not put them in danger.
We will have online worship on both March 22 and 29 at 9:30 a.m. We will offer the service via Facebook Live (facebook.com/foleyumc). You do not have to have a Facebook account to watch. See below for instructions.*
Check foleyumc.org/covidupdates regularly for updates and developments.
Our church office will be opened this week Monday-Thursday from 9:00-12:00. Please call 943-4393 if you need to speak with someone in the church office.
Cancelling activities and closing our facilities impacts many events and groups. Suspended activities and programming includes, but is not limited to: in-person worship, Sunday school, Bible studies, book groups, UMW and United Methodist Men events and meetings, Lenten lunches, Wednesday night supper, all children’s and youth events, choir and ensemble rehearsals, any age-level programming, all other on-site events and activities (including external groups that use our facilities). In addition to these cancellations, because our Wednesday night children’s (Trackers of Truth) and youth ministries follow the schedule of the public-school system, we know Wednesday night children’s and youth groups will not meet again in person until at least April 15.
We will continually monitor the situation in the community and update as needed. We plan to determine on March 29 the feasibility of events scheduled for early April (including Holy Week) and make an announcement on plans then. While we won’t be gathering in person, there are multiple ways you can connect with the church in the days ahead:
- You can email prayer requests to email@example.com and our prayer team will pray for you.
- You can continue to practice generosity by giving to Foley UMC at foleyumc.org/give (now would be a good time to automate your giving), by texting foleyumc to 77977 on your mobile phone, or by mailing your offering to the church at 915 N. Pine St., Foley 36535. (Even with us not meeting for worship, we want to be ready to serve our community when the time is appropriate, and there are many expenses that will continue while activities are suspended.)
- Pray for and serve those around you. Check on your neighbors, take supplies to someone who may need them, or call and be a listening ear to an anxious friend.
Finally, we are actively looking for ways that we can serve in our community during this season. God has been leading us to an emerging future, and these days may afford us numerous opportunities to take a step forward into what God desires for the church. I will update you as we learn of needs and find ways that we might serve.
During these days, I also want to encourage you to enjoy this “forced Sabbath” and rest. When we observe Sabbath by stopping, resting, and not producing, we affirm that we have been “called out of a world trying to prove its worth and value by what it does or possesses.” Spend some time enjoying the beauty of your identity that is found in God and not all the busyness that so frequently fills our schedules.
These are unusual days, but as the Resurrection reminds us, “the worst things are not the last things.” God is faithful, and he is calling us to a life of peace. I am eager to see how God will work during these days.
God of Jacob,
when the earth shakes
and the nations are in uproar,
speak, and let the storm be still;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
*To watch the Facebook Live video without a Facebook account, go to facebook.com/foleyumc. Facebook will suggest that you log in or create an account. Click "Not now". You should be able to see the video on our page and click play to watch.
Steps to Prevent Illness – from the CDC
High Risk Candidates for COVID-19 – from the CDC