Message from Reverend Chris Branscomb and The VUMC Transition Team

Update as of June 17, 2020

I know some of you are anxious to be able to worship together as the body of Christ in God’s house at Varnell UMC.  These last three months have been a trying and stressful time for everyone involved.  I know as we are getting close to gathering again for in-person worship, there are many question being asked like “Will I have to wear a mask, even if I don’t think it is necessary?” or “Will I be able to sing again in worship?” or “Will I have to social distance from others even though I feel the need to just hug everyone?”  But even though these questions might be pressing on our hearts, I believe they are the wrong questions to ask first.  If “what’s in it for me” is our first question as we are thinking about gathering again for worship, then our focus is no longer on the worshiped, but the worshiper.

For the last month and a half, the team listed below has been meeting to discuss what Varnell UMC needs to do to safely reopen our church doors to the congregation.  We have been trying to ask the questions that help us focus on not looking to our “own interests, but to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).  We have been trying to determine how we can “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” and “love your neighbor as yourself” in all of this (Mark 12:30-31).  We have been talking, listening to people, praying, reading information, listening to the denominational leaders, and listening to the Holy Spirit for guidance as to what we need to do to once we are able to gather together in person as the body of Christ to worship our God.  We believe we have come up with a plan that will focus on loving God and our neighbor and pray that you will read and listen to what we are asking.

Transition Team

Chris Branscomb, Pastor

Bart Hill, Chair of Finance Team

Pat Henry, Director of Music Ministries

Anthony Hulsey, Chair of Trustees

Joe Sheppard, Chair of Staff Parish Relations Team

Charlie Thompson, Lay Leader

Butch Watson, former doctor

Chip Whitfield, Administrative Council Chair

The Plan

OPENING SCHEDULE

  • The plan is to only open for Sunday morning in-person worship services on June 28.
  • We are asking that other groups (Sunday School, Bible studies, Scouts, children, youth, etc.) not meet in the building at this time and continue to meet how they are now.
  • We are also not going to open up the building for special events such as family get-togethers, weddings, etc.
  • After worship is up and working smoothly, we will slowly begin to open up to the other ministries we hold in the church building.
  • In order to allow us time to transition in and out of the sanctuary, as well as “clean” it between the services, we are changing the times of the worship services.  The times for the two services will now be 8:30 AM and 11:00 AM.  The doors will be opened 30 minutes prior to each service.
  • Due to social distancing guidelines, we are having to limit the number of people in the sanctuary, but we will have an overflow room in the gym.  Thanks to new equipment that has been purchased and will be installed, we will have the capability of broadcasting what is happening in the sanctuary into the gym in real time as well as online.

Parking on the Grounds and Entering the Church

  • As usual, you may enter the church campus by either of the two entrances: Highway 2 or Country Way Road.
  • We are asking members who are comfortable traversing stairs, to park in the west and south parking lots (see graphic 1)
  • Those who are not comfortable negotiating stairs, we are asking that they park in the east and north parking lot (see graphic 1)
  • We are asking everyone to enter the church building through the lobby, which means you will enter the church building through the two side lobby doors (see red arrows in Graphic 1).  These will be the only doors that will be unlocked on Sunday morning.
  • The doors to the church will be opened 30 minutes before each service starts.  No one will be allowed into the building before that time except the staff and those who are helping with the worship services or cleaning.
  • Once in the building you will come to the new Welcome Desk in the Lobby and an usher will direct you to a seat in the sanctuary.  We will need to fill up the front seats first and work toward the back (you may not get to sit where you normally do).
  • Once you are in your seat feel free to talk with those around you, but please do not leave the area of the seats you occupy.
  • If the sanctuary becomes filled, ushers will begin seating people in the overflow room (gym).
  • People will be grouped by families in the sanctuary and overflow room.
  • Once you are seated, we ask that you do not leave the area where you are seated.

Departing the Church

  • After each service, we are asking people to exit the sanctuary and overflow room as quickly as possible so we can prepare them for the next service.  We will depart the sanctuary and overflow room in an orderly fashion by rows, starting in the back first, going toward the front.  We are asking that people please exit the building as indicated by the blue arrows in Graphic 2.
  • The ushers will help with directing traffic during the departing.
Graphic 1
Graphic 2

Preparations We are Doing

  • Each week the church facility we will occupy will be professionally cleaned and disinfected.
  • Between each service, we will disinfect the seats in the sanctuary and overflow room.
  • We have installed hand sanitizer stations in the lobby for your use as you enter the building.
  • We are asking that the church’s bathrooms be used for emergencies only.
  • All materials such as hymnals and Bibles have been removed from the seats in the sanctuary and overflow room.
  • We will not be handing out any materials, including bulletins at this time.  On Friday, we will e-mail out a digital version of the bulletin and Vault to those on our e-mail list.  You can print it out and bring if you desire, but please remember to take it with you when you leave.
  • We will not be providing a nursery at this time.  We ask that all children and youth stay with their families.
  • We will no longer have a pass-the-plate offering during the service.  Instead we will have boxes at the entrances and exits for people to put their offering in as they enter or depart the sanctuary or overflow room.  You can still also give by the following methods:
    • We have a webpage where you give online or set up recurring giving.
    • You can simply text-to-give by sending a text to 833-906-1892 with the amount you would like to contribute.
    • You can download and give through Vanco’s GivePlus Mobile app (https://vimeo.com/262292774) and there are apps for both the iOS and Android platforms.
    • You can send checks in the mail.
    • You can bring envelopes by the church and drop them into the locked drop-box next to the office door (it is checked daily).

For those who will feel uncomfortable attending either of the services, we have installed new equipment in the sanctuary which will allow us to stream on Varnell UMC’s YouTube channel going forward

What We are Asking of You

  • We are asking you to practice social distancing while you are on the church’s campus: remain at least 6 feet apart between families.  This means no physical contact with people other than family members while you are in the facility (hugging, shaking hands, etc.).
  • We are asking those who are most vulnerable to stay home and worship with us online.
  • If you are sick, feel sick in any way, or been exposed to someone with COVID-19, we ask that you stay home and worship with us online.
  • Since singing is the most dangerous activity we could do in church (aerosols created by singing are not stopped by a mask or face shields and project up to 16 ft away), we will not be having congregational singing during our worship times.  We will have a soloist sing the songs for us and the words will be displayed on the screens, but we ask the congregation refrain from singing and even humming.  If you feel you must do something, read the text silently or mouth the words.
  • Because it has been strongly urged by both medical persons and conference leaders (including our North Georgia Conference Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson), we are asking that everyone who attend our services wear masks while they are in the building.  We are asking the congregants to bring their own masks to wear, but will have some available at the Welcome Desk for those who forget.  This is not a requirement for people to attend worship, but we strongly encourage you to do this.

Small Groups

All the small groups that usually meet throughout the week at the church and in homes are not gathering together either. Instead, each group is finding other ways to connect with one another during this time. You will need to contact the leader of the particular group to see if he or she has decided to meet and the way they have chosen to do so.

Food Pantry

The Atlanta Food Bank and the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, of which we are a part of their networks, have been deemed an essential service by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. Because of this, we have decided to continue this vital ministry to the community, especially in this time of need, and we will continue to do so on the first and third Wednesdays of each month as long as we can guarantee everyone’s safety and health. We are doing everything we can to limit contact between people and implement social distancing while everyone is here. Some of the ways we are facilitating this is we are asking everyone to remain in their cars at all times while they are here and we are not allowing people into the church building for any reason.

The following are the instructions for those picking up food:

  • You will need to come onto the church property via the Highway 2 entrance.
  • When you arrive, you will need to follow the car line that has been laid out in the church parking lot. PLEASE, DO NOT GET OUT OF YOUR CAR!
  • When you approach the front of the car line, at the tent, you will be given a number, a TEFAP Sheet, and a personal items paper.
  • Drive your car to the upper parking lot and park in one of the parking spots where you can see the office door area.
  • Fill the papers out in your car, writing the number you were given at the top of each sheet, and place your number sheet on your dashboard. PLEASE, DO NOT GET OUT OF YOUR CAR!
  • Wait until you see your number or hear it called, then drive up under the church portico (overhang).
  • Hand the TEFAP sheet (large paper) to the person taking them up.
    Drive around to where you normally pick up the food and park your car in one of the parking spots next to the building. PLEASE, DO NOT GET OUT OF YOUR CAR!
  • One of the helpers will come and take the personal item paper from you.
  • They will then put your food box, meat, and personal items into your car.
  • You can leave at this point, exiting out the back driveway (you will not be able to go out the front driveway).