Many are asking when do we get to be back in our church building? It is a question that shows the eagerness to be gathered together as a family in worship and fellowship! I long for that Sunday of great reunion eagerly!
Of course, the decision of when and how Calvary Baptist Church McAllen will return to campus after the COVID-19 pandemic mitigation measures is a complex one. It requires wisdom, prayer and careful consideration of multiple variables. There are some primary principles that guide our decisions.
Safety and Health: We will be diligent about the safety and health of everyone in our congregation, especially children, senior adults and those who are more susceptible to illness. In all of the reports and recommendations we have heard and read it is recommended that vulnerable populations do not gather in large groups but participate remotely!
Purpose and Vision: We will let our purpose guide our decisions. We exist to make disciple-makers for the glory of God among the nations. Furthermore we strive for every believer to be a healthy disciple, for every disciple to be in missional fellowship and for every missional fellowship to make disciple-makers. As much as we love doing worship together, our main purpose is to make disciples! That's something we can always do!
Wisdom of Leaders and Experts: We will seek, and often rely on, the wisdom of leaders in our church, experts in various fields, including medical, business, emergency management, church, denomination, and organizational both locally, at the state level and beyond. The data and trends will affect the timing and steps taken as well.
Thus, in consultation with the pastoral staff, the coordinating council and the deacon body I have enlisted an advisory team to help us make the best decisions for our congregation. It consists of the following teams and individuals.
Returning to Campus Plan Advisory Team:
Pastors and Associates: Julio Guarneri, Paulo Gatan, Chad Mason, Susan Sosebee, Marcus Rodriguez and Julio Varela, Josh Guarneri and Elizabeth Zamora
Coordinating Council: Gene Vaughan (stewardship), Mark Southwell (personnel), Juan Huerta (missions), Tom Boone (buildings and grounds), Polo (Leo) Leal (nominating) and Ruben Rojas (deacons)
Specialists in Various Fields:
- Bob Canterbury (emergency management),
- Steve Ahlenius (commerce),
- Dr. Melinda Rodriguez (higher education/medical),
- Dr. Steve Havener (medical),
- Daniel de Leon (denomination/Texas Baptists),
- Eder Ibarra (communications),
- Kevin Hughes (business),
- Alan Oakley (deacon/business),
- Tom Wingate (legal),
- Joe Forshage (business),
- Chad Gatlin (law enforcement/security),
- Dr. David Heflin (business/student ministry),
- Cheri Huerta (management/children’s ministry),
- Chuck Olson (business/music/senior adult ministry),
- Rosie Wilkinson (non-profit and women’s ministry),
- Connie Garza (non-profit/community),
- Wayne Williams (higher education).
Reference Documents, Articles & Webinars:
Our staff has read the various documents and updates released by the White House, the Texas Governor's Office, and the Hidalgo County Judge. In addition we have read multiple articles from Texas Baptists, Lifeway Christian Resources, Christianity Today and others in regard to "reopening" church facilities.
In addition to several articles and press releases the staff has also attended multiple webinars and zoom meetings by NAMB, Texas Baptists, the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas (Convención), a zoom meeting with U.S. Senator John Cornyn, and other church-related organizations. We have met via video conference with several church leaders in the RGV and with local pastors to discuss this and to compare notes.
- We do not just want to manage a crisis but we want to thrive as a church and find ways to reset for greater success.
- The government directives to businesses and schools do not apply in the same way to churches. Because of religious freedom, the government recommends but cannot force churches to follow their directives. Of course, we voluntarily follow their recommendations for the well-being of our people and our community.
- Although local and state guidelines will supersede federal, and although timelines remain fluid depending on the trajectory of COVID-19 cases, we are in phase 0 of the white house guidelines (Phase 1 of Texas governor’s guidelines began Friday, May 1). Phase 2 of Texas governor’s plan begins in mid-May, depending on the data and trends (White House’ guidelines for Phase 2 may be as late as June). It is too early to speculate on the timing of Phase 3.
- Houses of worship gradually return to some functions depending on the phase in which we are in, on the size of the congregation and groups, and with certain physical distancing protocols. The White House plan, the Texas Governor's guidelines and the Hidalgo County directives all vary somewhat in their recommendations. But Governor Abbott's latest directive exemplifies what they have in common,
"Houses of worship should conduct as many activities as possible remotely, and should follow the minimum health protocols listed in these guidelines when providing services in person."
At this point we do not feel that it is wise for our congregation of about 1,000 people to return to campus. Our campus remains closed until further notice.
Our Phase 1 consists of small steps forward. Phase 2 will be discussed and decided in about two weeks.
Phase 1: May
- Church office opens with limited staff, hours and strict measures. A definite date will be announced later.
- Home fellowships allowed to meet in groups of 10 or less. Maintain social distancing measures. Maintain hygiene measures. Observe self-screening protocols. Be sensitive to vulnerable populations (children, senior adults & ill). Groups larger than 10 are encouraged to divide up and meet at more than one location (home). Home fellowships may continue to use video conferencing to meet. Home fellowships may also opt to meet in groups of 10 to watch the Calvary livestream and then have a discussion and fellowship.
- ABF allowed to meet in groups of 10 in homes. Maintain social distancing measures. Maintain hygiene measures. Observe self-screening protocols. Be sensitive to vulnerable populations (children, senior adults & ill). Groups larger than 10 are encouraged to divide up and meet at more than one location. ABFs may continue to use video conferencing to meet. ABF may also opt to meet in groups of 10 in a home to watch the Calvary livestream and then have a discussion and fellowship.
- All of our Wednesday night programs will conclude the semester remotely.
- Graduate Sunday will take place on May 31st via livestream with an additional celebration to follow in the summer.
- Worship services will continue on livestream for the entire month of May
- Bread of Life ministry will continue in a drive-thru format
- Pastoral Ministry continues to be done primarily through ABF’s/Home Fellowships, deacons and pastoral staff. (FYI: We have established a COVID-19 benevolence fund to supplement needs that ABFs/Home Fellowships are not able to meet)
- Deacons meetings and committee meetings continue via video conference
- Communication will continue via our website, social media, enews, constant contact, blog posts, zoom meetings, etc. in English and Spanish, with specific content for students and children
- Sunday morning prayer via video conference will continue
- Digital connecting point after each of our services will continue
- Continue communication and prayer for our missionaries and seeking ways to meet needs in our community and/or partner with others to do so
- Church facilities will be prepared for the return to campus that will take place in Phase 2
- Church in Conference to be held as soon as possible most likely in a hybrid format (combination of a physical on campus meeting with a video conference option)
Once our advisory team finalizes the details of Phase 2 we will communicate those with you.
In regard to our summer events, please note the following:
- VBS has been postponed for August
- Kids Camp and Student Camp decision is pending
- Fourth of July Block Party has been cancelled. We are encouraging home fellowships and ABFs to have smaller gatherings in homes and reach out to neighbors
- Valley Project decision is pending
None of us at Calvary have ever lived through a time like this. It is requiring the best of our faith and wisdom to navigate these uncharted waters. Nevertheless our confidence is in the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth. He will see us through this and we will be a better church when this passes for the glory of God!
Thank you for your patience and prayerful support!