COVID 19 update
We’re now reaching the end of September and the mass-social experiment of our ability to live with COVID-19 while returning to some semblance of normality in life is well underway. We are seeing preliminary results of our efforts that are both encouraging in some instances and worrisome in others. At TBC we have increased our efforts to keep you safe while worshipping by being committed to following public health guidance on best practices as they have been presented to us. That includes:
Revamping our physical layout to increase physical distancing between family clusters in worship.
Requiring people to answer questions about their physical health before attending public gatherings.
Keeping track of who attends each service to enable accurate contact tracing if needed.
Discouraging physical gestures of welcome and fellowship and modifying our liturgy (i.e. how we practice communion) to minimize interpersonal physical contact.
Professional COVID-grade cleaning of the facility every week between services.
And most recently the mandate for all worshippers over the age of 9 (grade 4 and above) to wear masks at the worship service.
At the same time, we have worked to build out our capacity for online ministry and worship by investing our time, energy, and resources in producing a top-notch streaming worship service and enabling infrastructure to keep people engaged and connected while the service is streaming. Our expressed goal during this season has been to simultaneously ensure that no one who is unable to attend in person gets left behind and cut off from the community, while incentivizing live attendance where possible by providing in-person experiences that are not available with the online service (i.e. communion, etc.).
This strategy has been working well for us so far as the trend has been moving toward more and more of you returning to in-person worship over the past month, but then on Friday September 25 at the daily public health briefing, Dr. Brent Roussin announced that the metropolitan Winnipeg region would be entering into partial lockdown as a facet of the escalation of the COVID alert level to Orange.
What this means in the broadest sense in that in all unregulated* public spaces gathering sizes are limited to 10 people both indoors and outdoors. It also means that masks are now mandatory in all public indoor spaces. Winnipeg has begun to experience significant levels of community transmission and the goal of these new restrictions is to curb that trend before it gets out of control.
Now as you may have heard or read, these specific restrictions are not applicable to worship gatherings (although that is somewhat inconsistent as it does apply to weddings and funerals which for Christians are fundamentally worship gatherings as well, but I digress…) and churches are allowed to continue to meet in person at the previous restriction of 30% of venue capacity, which for us is approximately 130 people. That means that you have likely already seen announcements on the internet of congregations scrambling to let their people know that the church is still open after September 28th. At The Bridge Church we respect the decisions that other congregations (including our sister congregations within the Alliance) are making and believe that each situation must be handled with specific localized wisdom and discernment, but we have decided to handle this news differently.
Before the announcement was made, our Board of Elders met to discuss the possibility/eventuality that such a change would come. We discussed the precedent that was set in the Prairie Mountain Health Region in August when they had their restrictions escalated and how the restrictions were not extended to worship services and we made the pre-emptive decision that should the same thing happen in Winnipeg that we would choose to abide by the general public health order as it applied broadly rather than in the way that houses of worship are permitted an exemption. Our rationale for this decision was twofold:
First, we believe that from a public health perspective, the advice that is good for society in general is good for individuals in a specific sense. And if it is better for the health and wellbeing of our congregants to limit their exposure in public places six days a week, it is better for them to do so on the seventh day as well. We have a number of immune-compromised people in our congregation who we wish to be diligent in protecting, and likely many others who are connected closely with other congregants who will be forced into making difficult decisions about what level of exposure they are willing to endure to come to worship. We would like to take away this difficult decision and keep the whole community in the same boat.
Second, we believe that this pandemic season is a tremendous opportunity for witness to the watching world. And while some congregations and groups of Christians (such as the 50,000+ who gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. this weekend for the Prayer and Worship Over America March) believe that witness means defiantly continuing physically meeting as long as they legally can (and some even when they can’t), we have adopted the position that our witness is more powerful when we show the world that we love them and care about them by what we are willing to sacrifice for their protection and health.
Now we only have the opportunity to make this decision the way that we have because of the miracles of modern technology and the way that we have been able to extend our community into the digital realm with our online services. And we have made this decision with the knowledge that the public health order lasts for 28 days. Giving up four in-person worship services to protect our neighbours and loved ones seems like a small price to pay. And should the public health order get extended, and churches are still permitted to gather we will re-evaluate our continued strategy at that time. But for now, the bottom line is this: Beginning September 28th, The Bridge Church is closed to public gatherings and events. This includes Sunday morning worship services, small groups, youth events, and the like. The office will remain open, and teams responsible for creating online content for the digital service will follow strict COVID protocols including mask wearing and cohort-centric gathering limits of 10 people. This means that there will be no in-person worship on the following Sundays: October 4, 11, 18, and 25. Everyone is encouraged to join us online at 10:30am those weeks at https://tbcwinnipeg.online.church for our digital worship experience.
We recognize that there will be an array of responses and opinions to this decision. Some of you will be favourably disposed to our approach, and others of you will be less so. We want you to know that we respect your opinions and positions on the matter, but we are nevertheless acting in a way that we feel is best. Thank you for support, and if you have questions or comments please feel free to contact myself, the church office, or any of the elders. We are here for you!
Pastor Chris on behalf of the Board of Elders
*Unregulated refers to industries and groups not governed by other public health orders which supersede this order