Excerpt from November 18th email from Pastor Rob Robertson announcing survey about returning to indoors,  in-person worship in December  at St. Stephen’s

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We would like to get your opinion regarding returning to the St. Stephen’s sanctuary to take part in indoor, in-person worship services this December.

We have created a short five-question survey we hope you will take to give us a better understanding of your feelings about attending in-person, indoor worship this Advent season.

Please be sure to submit your survey answers no later than Sunday, November 29. You can take the survey here.

To read Pastor Rob’s complete email about this survey, please click Pastor Rob Survey Email

Oct. 1, 2020

Regarding returning to in-person worship and gatherings

Dear Members and Friends,

All local churches in the Virginia Conference, including St. Stephen’s Church, have been charged by Bishop Sharma Lewis to establish a Healthy Church Team to prepare for the return to in-person worship and to advise on the use of the St. Stephen’s building and grounds for in-person non-worship gatherings.

Important Reminder from the Healthy Church Team: Anyone planning to attend a church event or anyone who may be visiting the church campus must submit an online Health Acknowledgement Form, at least two business days before the event or your visit. 

Need help filling out our HAF? Watch this helpful video.

Since we first shared this information in June, some of the Virginia Conference guidelines (as well as those of St. Stephen’s) have been updated. Below you will find the updated information which touches on several questions  including :

  • What is the role of our Healthy Church Team?
  • What is the status of in-person, non-worship gatherings at St. Stephen’s?
  • What are the current requirements and the process for attending any gathering in the church or on church grounds?
  • What is the process for scheduling in-person, non-worship gatherings on church grounds?
  • When is St. Stephen’s Church planning to return to in-person worship?
  • We have also introduced an easy-to-complete online Health Acknowledgement for that you will need to complete to safely attend a gathering at St. Stephen’s.

As always, if you have any questions after reading our updated guidelines, you should feel free to contact the church office at 703-978-8724. If you know someone who you think may need a printed version of these guidelines, feel free to alert the church office.

All of the requirements discussed here prioritize loving our neighbors by first doing no harm.

A very special thanks goes to all the members of the Healthy Church Team who have worked and continue to work very hard to address all of the issues the church faces due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As these challenging and uncertain times continue, let’s all be in prayer, asking God to guide us through the days and weeks ahead.

Pastor Rob

What is the  Healthy Church Team ?

The Healthy Church Team (HCT) at St. Stephen’s consists of 10 members, including clergy, staff and laity volunteers. Healthcare and legal professionals also are represented.

Using requirements and protocols established by the Virginia Conference, the HCT is to consult with the leadership teams at St. Stephen’s Church concerning in-person worship services and gatherings and the safe use and maintenance of the St. Stephen’s building and grounds until all restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted by the Virginia Conference.

Should you have any questions, please call the church office at (703) 978-8724.

Starting Sept. 27, 2020, all guests attending St. Stephen’s Church events, (unless they are attending a drive-in event and do not leave their cars) must have their temperature taken before entering the event.

Starting Sept. 27, 2020, all guests attending St. Stephen’s Church events, (unless they are attending a drive-in event and do not leave their cars) must have their temperature taken before entering the event.

Through the “Handbook for the Local Church” (released May 13) and now the Technical Assistance Manual, “TAM” (released June 15 and most recently revised September 10, 2020), the Virginia Conference is mandating a number of requirements and protocols for all local churches to follow as congregations safely return to in-person worship services and gatherings. The Healthy Church requirements prioritize loving our neighbors by first doing no harm.

The Healthy Church requirements prioritize loving our neighbors by first doing no harm.

Backgrounds on timing:  phases vs. stages

The Commonwealth of Virginia is using the term “phases” for reopening.  Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced on June 23 that Virginia would move into Phase III on July 1st. The Virginia Conference instead is using the term “stages.”   Please note : the requirements and the timing of phases and stages are not the same.

Important Reminder from the Healthy Church Team: Anyone planning to attend a church event or anyone who may be visiting the church campus must submit an online Health Acknowledgement Form, at least two business days before the event or your visit. Thanks! View a brief video on how to correctly fill out the form here.

All Stage II requirements apply to all church events held on-site as well as those held off church property, including the 2020 Youth “Masked Mission” held this earlier summer.

The Virginia Conference entered Stage II on June 21st, and as of this writing  no announcement has been made about when Stage III is expected for Virginia Conference churches. Regional, county, or local outbreaks may require some or all churches of the Virginia Conference to delay moving to a specific stage and any outbreaks or other factors may require the return to more severe restrictions for in-person worship and gatherings.

At St. Stephen’s Church, all church property is currently closed to both in-person worship and in-person gatherings, unless an in-person service or in-person gathering receives prior approval by the Healthy Church Team. Individuals attending any approved in-person gatherings must follow required protocols.

What are the requirements for individuals who would like to attend an in-person worship service or in-person gathering that is held in the building, outside on the grounds or offsite at a St. Stephen’s sponsored event?

The TAM addresses the Stage II requirements for both in-person worship and in-person gatherings, whether they are in the building, outside on the grounds or offsite at a St. Stephen’s-sponsored event. There are a number of important requirements for everyone who wishes to attend an in-person worship service or gathering, including completing a Healthy Acknowledgement Form.

Completing a Health Acknowledgement Form

First, everyone who would like to attend an in-person worship service or gathering must complete a Health Acknowledgement Form, “HAF”, at least two full business days (Monday-Friday, excluding holidays) prior to the gathering. The preferred means of completing a HAF is to complete the form online at: COVID Health Acknowledgement Form

Anyone who is not able to complete the form online can call the church office at (703) 978-8724 and make an appointment to speak with a pastor to complete the form over the telephone.

Currently, the online HAF asks four questions, and you are required to answer, “Yes”, to all questions in order to submit a HAF and be eligible to attend an in-person service or gathering. A HAF is good for only seven days, beginning on the date that you submit your request. After seven days, you will need to complete another HAF to attend future in-person services or gatherings.

A HAF submitted online will be downloaded, printed, reviewed and acknowledged before the end of two full business days. HAF forms are securely filed and stored. You must receive an acknowledgement in order to attend an in-person gathering.

For more information on filling out a Health Acknowledgement Form, please visit Instructions for completing a COVID Health Acknowledgement Form

How far in advance do I need to submit an HAF?

Please follow the schedule below submitting an HAF for an in-person gathering:  (your form needs to be sent two full business days prior to a gathering; (add additional days in the event of a holiday.)

Other requirements when attending an in-person gathering include:

•  Every attendee should plan to bring and wear the required face covering at all in-person gatherings, beginning before you exit your vehicle,
•  Every attendee should bring hand sanitizer (if they feel they may need it),
•  Every attendee should plan to bring and wear protective gloves (if they feel they will need them).

•  Every attendee should plan to follow the required 6 feet social distancing before, during, and after the event, which includes no hugging, handshakes, or other personal contact,
• Every attendee should plan to bring their own chair for an outside event (if they feel they may need one, as proper socially distanced seating is not available outdoors at St. Stephen’s Church,
• Every attendee should bring their own face covering, water bottle, materials for taking notes, etc. as no hand-outs or sharing of materials or equipment is permitted.
• When leaving your vehicle upon arrival, make sure to wear your face covering and abide by physical social distancing (stay 6 feet or more from others),
• When arriving on the property, please park your vehicle leaving a full parking space on each side of your vehicle, to facilitate social distancing when arriving or leaving an in-person gathering,
• Other requirements are below.

On the day of an in-person gathering, please review and plan to comply with the following:

• Before leaving to attend the in-person gathering, each attendee must take his / her temperature. It must be less than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit in order to attend the gathering. If you are feeling ill, stay home;

Before leaving to attend the in-person gathering, each attendee must take his / her temperature. It must be less than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit in order to attend the gathering. If you are feeling ill, stay home.

• If you develop 2 or more of the following symptoms of COVID-19 after you submitted the Health Acknowledgement Form, you should not attend the gathering:
• Fever
• Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
• Chills
• Persistent cough
• Flu-like symptoms
• Diarrhea or intestinal upset
• Fatigue
• Sore throat
• Headache
• Muscle pain
• Recent loss of taste or smell.

What is the process for scheduling in-person, non-worship gatherings on church grounds?

All gatherings, whether they are in the building, outside or anywhere on church grounds or even offsite at a St. Stephen’s sponsored gathering, must follow the Stage II protocols and requirements listed below in the Stage II In Person Worship Services and Gatherings Requirements.

To schedule an in-person gathering at any of these locations, you will need to complete a Stage II Reservation Form (click here)  and submit other pertinent information via email to the Church Office, so your event can be properly reviewed by the Healthy Church Team.

Attendance Limits during Stage II

During Stage II, regardless of the location, no more than 50 people may attend an in-person gathering and all persons interested in the gathering must register by completing a Health Acknowledgement Form at least two full business days (Monday – Friday, excluding holidays) prior to a gathering.

In addition to following Stage II requirements, organizers of in-person gatherings must promote and help ensure that attendees follow Stage II requirements, including: 6-feet social distancing is to be strictly followed, attendees must wear face coverings at all times, social distanced parking, no handouts or other shared materials, the event and completing a Health Acknowledgement Form, rechecking one’s health on the day of the event, and all other requirements that may apply.

When is St. Stephen’s Church planning to return to in-person worship?

Currently, regular in-person worship on St. Stephen’s property, including worship that would take place outside or inside the building, is not planned until Stage III. The timeline for the beginning of Stage III is unknown at this time.

It is anticipated that when St. Stephen’s returns to regular in-person worship, a weekly recorded or live-streamed worship service will continue for those who are not able to attend in-person worship services.

The decision made by the Healthy Church Team to wait until Stage III to return to in-person worship is based upon a number of factors including strict requirements and protocols for in-person worship during Stage I and II. Below is a more complete list of the requirements for Stage II, and you can review the TAM for more information.

Stage II In-person Worship Services and Gatherings Requirements

• No greater than 50% capacity or 50 people maximum
• Registration required to attend in-person worship service or a non-worship gathering
• Registration required at least 4 days in advance
• Completion and emailing of a Health Acknowledgement for,
• Health Acknowledgement Form – required for ALL in-person services or gatherings
• Strict 6 feet social distancing for seating (except family members living together)
• 6-feet social distancing, when entering and exited the building
• Face covering / Mask (bandana) required, bring a face-covering with you
• Face coverings will not be handed out
• No in-person singing
• 25 feet separation for a soloist at an outdoor worship service,
• Electronic materials only – no handouts
• Children allowed but seating near exit encouraged
• No age limits – but pre-existing conditions discouraged
• No Sunday School
• No coffee or fellowship time, must enter and exit the building social distanced
• Social-distanced Parking
• Playground is closed
• Drop-off offering
• Strict Cleaning Requirement between services and gatherings and more…

Helpful and Informative Links

The Virginia Conference website with materials related to returning to in-person services and gatherings, click here. 

Complete an online HAF form

Instructions for completing a COVID Health Acknowledgement Form

Most current Technical Assistance Manual (pdf version)

Download a Stage II Reservation Form to request an in-person gathering, either in the building, outside on the grounds, or at a St. Stephen’s sponsored gathering offsite.

Should you have any questions, please call the church office at (703) 978-8724.

Bishop Lewis talks with Dr. George Moxley, of VCU Health, about the continuing work Virginia United Methodists must do to manage the effects of COVID-19

This video features Bishop Sharma D. Lewis talking with Dr. George Moxley, VCU Health, about the continuing work Virginia United Methodists must do, such as wearing face masks, as the nation and world continue to manage the effects of COVID-19.

Dr. Moxley is one of the medical professionals on the In-person Workgroup which was formed by Bishop Lewis to oversee how churches in the Virginia Conference could safely return to worship. This video has English, Spanish, and Korean subtitles at https://vimeo.com/444558012. Part 2 of this conversation will be shared next week. This interview was conducted with safety in mind — physically distanced and with the wearing of face masks by on-camera persons and by behind the scenes technicians.