We eagerly look forward to being together in person in 2021! We miss seeing your faces, hearing your laughter and just being in your presence. We can’t wait until we are able to worship and fellowship with all of you. As we anticipate coming together in 2021, we also want to be wise and safe.
We will not regather in person until the current COVID surge is behind us. We will monitor the situation and give everyone at least a two-week notice on any change to the plan or timing, including when we will begin to regather according to the scenarios communicated below. And if Spring arrives and we still are not able to or feel confident in meeting indoors due to unforeseen circumstances or changes, we will discern whether we would be able to hold outdoor services again which we already have a plan in place for since we did that this past Fall.
With so many unknowns, weighing all of the factors and details has not been easy, and we want to move forward with a strong, cohesive, and comprehensive plan for regathering indoors in 2021 with much wisdom, faith, and hope. We recognize that there will always be risks, but we also want to minimize any unnecessary risks if possible. Therefore, based on feedback from our leadership and our task force, which represented our staff, Elders, Board of Women, Governance Board, a policy expert, and a medical expert, we have developed the plan below which has been approved by the Governance Board.
Why would we want to regather in person indoors?
Our desire to regather in person remains on our hearts, especially after experiencing our outdoor services in the Fall and seeing the positive impact they had on people who opted to participate. We experienced and continue to see several benefits of regathering in person:
- Additional opportunity for attendees, who may not otherwise reach out, to connect with one another for personal discipleship, accountability, and social time
- Newcomers feel more connected and integrated into the church body through in-person services
- Attendees can have individual personal connection needed for mental, emotional, and spiritual health that may be difficult if not otherwise connected
- Theologically and experientially we place high value on in-person corporate worship and community life
- Provides an opportunity for our children and youth to process and explore who Jesus is, and play with their peers (play is the primary way children learn). This in-person interaction will meet emotional and spiritual needs that cannot be met in a virtual environment
- Provides more immediate interpersonal care for people who are struggling with relational, emotional, and spiritual challenges
- Additional opportunity for people to serve by contributing and being connected to the church body
But we also continue to recognize that our decision to regather, especially indoors, brings with it potential cost, and we wanted to share with you a list of some of those concerns:
- Risk of serious illness or death to GCCC staff, volunteers, members, regular attenders, or visitors as a result of increased exposure to SARS-CoV-2 virus
- Risk of contributing to local outbreaks and causing severe illness or death beyond our church community
- Potential for negative perception (e.g., selfish, anti-science) of church from broader community
- Potential for increased expenses and staff and volunteer time utilized to benefit a relatively small group of people gathering in person
There are several reasons why meeting indoors is our preferred method for regathering:
- The uncertainty of the weather, especially the cold and inclement weather during the winter months
- More manpower is required to pull off outdoor and livestream services
- Indoors provides a consistent meeting location given that we are renting it on a weekly basis
- We are able to worship all together virtually and in person since we would stream the indoor service
- God’s Garden is much easier to coordinate indoors
- Our ultimate goal and vision is to get back into the indoor context and remain there if possible
Indoor service location option and mitigation strategies
After doing extensive research and working with a commercial real estate agent to explore other potential indoor locations for regathering, we have determined that Doubletree Hotel is our best viable option at this point.
- It is the most financially feasible rental location that has the amount of space we need to safely meet
- We will be able to stream the service from there
- We have built a strong relationship with the management, and they continue to be very flexible and fair
- It continues to be a strategic location for us in pursuing our mission and vision
That being said, here are the specific risk mitigation measures in place related to meeting at DT:
- Cleaning and sanitizing protocols are in place- see Hilton Clean Stay and EventReady Checklist
- DT will be upgrading its air filters after January
- Bars and restaurants in DT are currently closed
- We will have a dedicated entrance/exit in close proximity to Crystal Ballroom
- Crystal Ballroom is a very large room so we will be well under the capacity restrictions and guidelines, and we will be socially distanced and seated at assigned tables (CB has a “banquet” capacity of 600 people… the most we would have in there according to our phased plan would be 80 people in Phase 3, which is about 13% capacity for CB)
- Our service will be held earlier than normal (10am or 10:30am TBD) in order to avoid potential (though right now unlikely) “high traffic” times in the lobby
- CB will allow for much better physical distancing between worship team members, and between worship team and congregation (at least 20 feet between worship team and congregation)
When might we potentially begin to regather in person at DT?
Again, we will not regather until the current COVID surge is behind us. In addition to abiding by national, state, and local guidelines and restrictions, we have established two possible scenarios that could put our regathering plan into effect when one of them is met.
1. When Arlington County reaches the “yellow” range or below according to covidactnow.org and there is a 14-day downward trend in COVID cases
2. When Arlington County reaches the “yellow” range or below according to covidactnow.org and a COVID vaccine is available for folks who need it most, the vulnerable, first responders, health care workers, etc.
We will monitor the situation and give everyone at least a two-week notice on any change to the plan or timing, including when we will begin to regather. And if Arlington County regresses back into the “orange” range according to covidactnow.org, indicating an upward trend in COVID cases, we will suspend in-person services immediately.
Our priority during this season will continue to be our virtual church life together. While we believe it is valuable and important for us to provide these in-person opportunities for those who desire it, there is no pressure on anyone to participate in these services. We will provide any further details or updates to this plan in the coming weeks. Please continue to pray with us and for us as we navigate these uncharted waters together.
Grace and Peace,
2021 Sunday Service Indoor Regathering Plan
● Service Location– Doubletree Hotel Crystal Ballroom
● Sunday Protocols– Upon arrival we will provide additional guidance regarding checking in, entering and exiting, children, singing, communion, etc.
● Seating– Assigned seating at round tables. Each table will accommodate either 1 family, 2 couples (or 2 sets of roommates), or 1 single and 1 couple in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
● Sanitizing and Masks– The hotel is abiding by strict cleaning protocols, and sanitizing stations will be available in several locations in the hotel lobby and Crystal Ballroom. Masks will be required at all times for adults and children over 2 years old.
● Streaming– We will continue to livestream our Sunday service and plan to stream the service from DT.
Phase 1: Date TBD…
- Risk Level: see scenarios listed above
- Attendance: invite only as a soft launch for key leaders and volunteers
- Cap: 40 people
- Kids: No God’s Garden. Kids may only come if they have been invited. Kids over 2 years old must wear masks the entire time and stay with parents.
Phase 2: Date TBD… will begin after a minimum of two weeks in Phase 1
- Risk Level: must remain at or below where we started in Phase 1
- Attendance: RSVP only
- Cap: 60 people in the main service in CB
- Kids: TBD. See God’s Garden plan and FAQ below. Kids may only come if they are registered. Kids over 2 years old must wear masks the entire time
- Visitors: We will have an assigned table for walk-in visitors
Phase 3: Date TBD… will begin after a minimum of one to two months in Phase 2
- Risk Level: must remain at or below where we were in Phase 2
- Attendance: RSVP only
- Cap: 80 people in the main service in CB
- Kids: TBD. See God’s Garden FAQ below. Kids may only come if they are registered. Kids over 2 years old must wear masks the entire time
- Visitors: We will have an assigned table for walk-in visitors
* Certain details of the phases are fluid and might be subject to change as we continue to discern and consult with our leadership. With so many unknowns we do not feel comfortable or confident in projecting or planning out any further than Phase 3.
- Do I have to wear a mask? Yes, masks will be required while inside Doubletree for both adults and children over 2 years old. Please bring your own mask. We will have some masks available just in case.
- What will the entrance/exit procedure be like? We will have a dedicated outside entrance near the steps leading up to the Crystal Ballroom foyer. Once ready to enter, make your way to the Crystal Ballroom foyer where you will follow colored floor dots/arrows to check in, enter, and then be directed to your assigned table. There will be a large open area at the back of the room marked with floor dots if you would like to hang out there before being seated. At the end of the service you will be dismissed by tables and will follow the floor arrows to exit through the doors at the back of the room. All Crystal Ballroom doors will be propped open to enhance air flow and minimize surface contact.
- How will you arrange seating? We will assign seating at 6ft round tables. Each table will accommodate either 1 family, 2 couples (or 2 sets of roommates), or 1 single and 1 couple in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
- How will communion elements be distributed? You will be asked to pick up a prepackaged Communion cup, which contains both wafer and juice, prior to entering the service.
- Will we collect offering during the service? No, we encourage you to please continue giving online.
- Will there be congregational singing? Yes, we anticipate singing together. You will be required to keep your mask on as you sing, the amount of singing will be reduced, and there will be a distance of at least 20 feet between the worship team and the congregation.
- Will there be social time afterwards? There will be no official social time after the service as everyone will be directed to the exits at the end of the service.
- Can I bring my child(ren)? Children are welcome according to the details laid out in each phase. Children over 2 years old must be able to keep their mask on and abide by social distancing guidelines for the duration of the service. When God’s Garden is not offered
- What steps are being made to clean the facility before and after the service? Doubletree has extensive protocols in place to keep the facility clean- Hilton Clean Stay and EventReady
- Will restrooms be available? Yes, the public restrooms in the hotel will be available for use.
- Will garage parking be available? Yes, all usual parking options are available. However, we encourage parking on the street or at surrounding outdoor lots in order to minimize the number of people using the elevators.
- What if I want to attend but the maximum number of attendees has already been reached? We ask that you do not attend without an RSVP and instead join us online. We also ask that you email firstname.lastname@example.org in order to help us determine whether increasing our service capacity is necessary we will provide disposable supplies at your family’s table that will help your children interact with the service and Scripture in fun ways.
- What if there is a significant spike in COVID-19 cases in the DMV after we have begun regathering for in-person services? As stated above, if Arlington County regresses back into the “orange” range according to covidactnow.org, indicating an upward trend in COVID, we will suspend in-person services immediately.
- What happens if there is a known COVID-19 case among our service attendees/volunteers/staff? We will suspend our in-person service for two weeks and initiate a communication plan based on the contact information collected from all attendees. We will inform all attendees of the positive case of COVID-19 while maintaining the anonymity of the person, and we will ask all attendees to self- quarantine for 14 days.
- Will there be any requirements to be vaccinated or will there be different policies for those that have (not) been vaccinated? No, there will be no requirements for anyone that is part of the indoor service to be vaccinated. All the policies and procedures will be the same regardless of having received the vaccine or not.
God’s Garden Regathering Phases
- Test Group with a max of 5 Families (Kids PreK 4-Grade 5)
- Begins when Main Service Reaches Phase 2
- Volunteers will only be chosen from these 4- 5 families to minimize spread and exposure.
- Gives GG staff and volunteers adequate time to test out what works on a small scale before opening it up to more kids.
- All GG would remain in Wilson/Jackson/Harrison (combined room) for the duration of the service.
- Masks required for all kids/volunteers
- Volunteers (who would also be parents) would provide immediate and direct feedback to GG staff about what is working and what needs to be modified.
- Begin Digital (Touchless) Check in for kids.
- Children would sit in family groups with their parent as their teacher. This helps us test out new teaching strategies, large and small group activities, and classroom organization with immediate parent/volunteer feedback.
- Use sit spots, hula hoops, or masking tape to section off zones for kids/groups to visualize social distancing.
- Volunteers and children would use individual supplies for crafts and activities.
- No snacks.
- Begins after 3 weeks after Phase A.
- ncrease capacity to 50 kids (and 7 volunteers) (less than 25% room capacity). Ages PreK 4 – 5th Grade. All kids must RSVP (via adult procedures).
- All GG would remain in Wilson/Jackson/Harrison (combined room) for the duration of the service.
- Modifications and changes could be added to the above guidelines based on feedback from volunteer/parent feedback from Phase A.
- Based on ages of kids who are coming consistently we will either have kids grouped by families or kids’ ages (whichever helps with social distancing and classroom management more).
- Begins when Main Service reaches Phase 3
- Increase capacity in Wilson/Jackson/Harrison to 75 kids (and 10 volunteers) (less than 37% room capacity)
- Begin using Monroe, Jackson, and Madison (cap at 10 kids each and 2 volunteers… less than 25% room capacity) for kids ages 3-5 as needed).
- All kids would not move from room to room, they would remain in their room for the entire service.
- Modifications and changes can be made as we continue to learn from parent/volunteer feedback.
God’s Garden Regathering FAQ
What ages will you offer God’s Garden for? Initially we will only offer God’s Garden for children (PreK-5th grade). We will continue to monitor the situation and open younger classes as conditions improve.
Does my child have to wear a mask? All volunteers and children in God’s Garden will be required to wear a mask.
How will I check my child in? We will have electronic touchless check-in in the presidential hallway. All children will remain outside in a socially distanced line waiting to check in with a parent. Every child will receive a printed sticker, which parents can grab and stick on their own child. This sticker will include allergy info, parent contact number, and child’s info. (No more clipboards or shared pens.) New families will be entered digitally into the system by a check-in volunteer. Upon check-in, each child will be directed to their class for the day. Every child will be asked a health questionnaire upon RSVPing for GG (same process as adults).
How will the classes be set up? Kids will be assigned a small group of kids (either their siblings initially or kids in the same grade capped at 8-10). Kids will remain in this group during the entire God’s Garden time. They will participate in Large Group and Small Group in this same group.
How will you set up the space? Initially we will use Wilson/Jackson/Harrison as one large room (providing us with a room with a 50% capacity of 115 people). The above phases allow for us to remain below 50% capacity throughout each phase and ensure adequate adult to child ratios (as outlined in our Safety Manual). This would allow us to pursue a variety of options to maintain social distancing, classroom management, and sanitized individual supplies. Volunteers will use fun visual reminders (hula hoops, masking tape, sit spots) to remind and encourage kids to remain social distanced. As we move to Phase C for GG we will open up Monroe, Jackson, and Madison which will allow us to accommodate additional kids within socially distanced guidelines.
Will you have hand sanitizer available? All children and volunteers must use hand sanitizer upon entering their class zone (unless they are allergic-then they will be asked to wash their hands with their parents before entering God’s Garden).
Will you have singing? Yes, we believe worship and singing are integral components of spiritual formation, and like our adult service we will have singing. To minimize risk, we will have the same precautions in place for singing (masks on while singing, amount of singing reduced) as the adults.
How will you run crafts and games? God’s Garden staff and volunteers will work together to plan out socially distanced games and non-sharable crafts to minimize the spread of germs. If kids are doing a craft, each child will receive their own supplies and materials (glue stick, scissors, etc.) that they will use for the duration of the day. (They will not share supplies with other children.) When they are done, all supplies will be moved to a “dirty zone” where they will remain until sanitized properly.
Will you have snacks? No snacks will be served in God’s Garden at this time.
How will you take children to the restroom? We will have a designated female volunteer who will remain “on call” to take children to the restroom in groups of 2 or more as needed. The volunteer will walk children to the restroom and ensure children properly wash their hands after using the restroom. Upon re-entry to God’s Garden, children and volunteers will use hand sanitizer again before being able to join back into their group.
Do you have capacity limits? Initially each group will be capped at 8 kids and 1 volunteer (as well as the capacity limits mentioned above in Phases A-C). This ensures a less than 50% capacity for all God’s Garden rooms, and also ensures adequate volunteers to child ratios as laid out in our Safety Manual.
How will you keep the rooms, furniture, and supplies clean from week to week? All hotel rooms and hotel furniture are sanitized before we arrive (and the doors are locked to ensure other guests do not contaminate our space). Upon entering, all volunteers and staff will use hand sanitizer and then set up the spaces and materials they are using. Throughout God’s Garden there will be clearly marked bins labeled “Dirty” for volunteers to place supplies that a child is done using. All items in these bins will remain there until properly sanitized. One volunteer will be responsible for sanitizing these supplies at the end of the day before placing them back in our storage bins. Each class will also have cleaning wipes and hand sanitizer available throughout God’s Garden to use as needed.
How will you oversee kids being checked out? All kids will remain at their class tables until their parent comes to the check-in table in the hallway. When a parent arrives, those children will be checked out electronically and dismissed to their parent. We will have arrows on the floor indicating separate entrances and exits from each classroom space, and doors propped open.
What happens if a volunteer or a child tests positive for COVID-19? God’s Garden will follow the same procedures communicated in the main Regathering Plan FAQ.