Returning Safely and Keeping the Vulnerable Safe

A Note from Rev. Dr. Tim Hart-Andersen about the Latest Wave of Covid Infections

Dear Westminster friends,

As Covid infections rise in our state and across the nation, I want to reiterate that Westminster has protocols in place that are keeping those involved in church activities safe. Our Responsible Building Use Task Force closely monitors local Covid rates and is confident the church’s approach is serving our congregation well. To our knowledge, in 18 months we have not had a single Covid infection resulting from participation in a Westminster activity.

Those who are vaccinated, wearing a mask properly (closely fitting over both mouth and nose), and keeping a distance of at least six feet from others will be safe in worship at Westminster. I encourage you to join us for worship as we all adhere to the safety protocols.

This latest wave of infection is especially hard on our children and their families. We have had to “dial back” plans to have church school in-person in September. Classes will now be held via Zoom. I am aware of and grateful for the tremendous effort by our staff team, teachers, lay leaders, families, and children to make this pivot. I also know that families face anxiety as children return to school this fall. I urge us all to pray that our children will be protected from the pandemic – and to do what we can to keep them safe.

If you have yet done so, please get vaccinated as soon as possible as a tangible sign of our Christian commitment to those most vulnerable in our midst.

See you – safely – in church.

Grace and peace,
Tim Hart-Andersen

Changes to Westminster’s Current Re-opening the Building Allowances

Westminster’s Responsible Building Use Task Force met this week and reviewed the Covid positivity numbers for the Twin Cities area, community transmission data, and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). After reviewing the data, the task force has decided to return Westminster temporarily to Phase 4 in our re-opening the building plan. This means that:

  • Westminster will no longer offer a mask-optional worship opportunity in Westminster Hall on Sunday mornings.
  • All individuals inside the church building will be required to wear masks, unless they are alone in an office or a room, no matter their vaccination status.

In addition, the task force decided to no longer allow the consumption of food or drink inside the building (except for communion in the sanctuary); however, food and drink outside are still permitted, if served according to earlier safety guidelines.

The task force has also paused the plan to move to Phase 5.0 in September. The group determined that based on the data, the safest course of action is to wait until the surrounding community has a less infectious risk level before expanding capacity allowances in the building.

Therefore, the allowances and requirements in Phase 4.0 remain:

  • Allow groups of up to 250 people to gather in the sanctuary with 6-foot social distancing and masks.
  • Allow outdoor gatherings of up to 150, masks optional for fully-vaccinated individuals, provided the number of people is limited to the maximum capacity with 6-foot social distancing, both on-site and at off-site locations.
  • Allow groups of up to 75 people to meet in the building or indoors at off-site locations, provided occupancy is limited to the maximum capacity with 6-foot social distancing and masks.
  • All occupancy limitations may be increased or decreased by the COVID-19 Response Team as circumstances and regulations change.
  • Masks are required in the building.
  • Allow singing with masks on inside the building and mask-optional singing outside.

The task force will meet again in mid-September to review the data and consider any additional changes.

Continuing with Phase 4.5 through August

The Responsible Building Use Task Force met this past week to review the Covid medical information for Minnesota and consider any changes for Westminster’s current status. The task force decided to continue with our current practices in Phase 4.5, which include masks are required in the church building and a 25% capacity limit for inside gatherings. Masks remain optional only during the 10:30 am Sunday service in Westminster Hall and for individuals meeting inside the church in groups of 30 or fewer if all in the group are fully vaccinated.

The task force will meet again in August and, at this point, is planning to move to Phase 5 on September 1. However, that will be determined based on the Covid positivity numbers for the Twin Cities as well as the percentage of individuals getting vaccinated. Phase 5 would increase inside room capacity to 50%, which would be 600 people in the sanctuary and 150 people in Westminster Hall.

In addition, new food protocols will begin in Phase 5. Food service will again include self-service buffets and potluck options with participants asked to use hand sanitizer before handling the service utensils.

Mask Optional Worship Opportunity Begins in July

The Responsible Building Use Task Force met on June 22, 2021, and has agreed to make a few changes to our current Covid protocols, moving us from Phase 4 to Phase 4.5. Task force members have heard from community members that wearing a mask is a barrier for them to return to worship. At the same time, the task force recognizes that not all members of our community are able to be vaccinated, and making masks optional would likely be a barrier for the unvaccinated to worship in person. Therefore, as a compromise, the task force agreed to invite those who are vaccinated to watch and participate in the 10:30 am worship in Westminster Hall without masks. For those attending worship in the sanctuary, masks will still be required. This change will take effect on July 4.

In addition, masks are now optional for individuals meeting inside the church in groups of 30 or fewer if all in the group are fully vaccinated.

More details about Phase 4.5 changes:

  • Up to 75 vaccinated people can worship together, masks optional, in Westminster Hall, beginning July 4, 2021.
  • Masks must be worn elsewhere in the church building.
  • Singing without a mask on will be allowed in Westminster Hall.
  • Social distancing will still be required in Westminster Hall.

Other Covid protocols remain:

  • Pre-registration for worship no longer necessary
  • Social distancing required indoors
  • Masks required inside the sanctuary for worship
  • Singing allowed in the sanctuary with masks on
  • Masks not required outdoors, even when singing
  • Please stay home if you are not feeling well

Westminster to Begin Phase 4 in the Re-opening the Building Plan on June 1

Data in the Twin Cities area indicate that the positivity rate for Covid cases has decreased in the last four weeks and the vaccination rate (for those eligible) is higher than 50%. Therefore, the Responsible Building Use Task Force has decided to enter Phase 4 in Westminster’s Re-opening the Building Plan, beginning June 1. Allowances in Phase 4 include:

  • Allow groups of up to 75 people to meet in the building or indoors at off-site locations, provided occupancy is limited to the maximum capacity with 6-foot social distancing and masks.
  • Allow groups of up to 250 people to gather in the sanctuary with 6-foot social distancing and masks.
  • Allow outdoor gatherings of up to 150 people, provided the number of people is limited to the maximum capacity with 6-foot social distancing, both on-site and at off-site locations.
  • All occupancy limitations may be increased or decreased by the COVID-19 Response Team as circumstances and regulations change.

In addition to moving to Phase 4, the task force updated the overall Re-opening the Building Plan and phasing requirements, which included addressing specific topics related to re-opening the building:

Mask Requirement

As a church in Minneapolis, those inside our building will be asked to continue wearing a mask, per the city ordinance. This includes those who are vaccinated and those who are not vaccinated. In addition, we encourage those who feel comfortable to continue wearing a mask outdoors at Westminster. However, it is no longer required outdoors except when singing.

Pre-registration No Longer Required

Beginning in June, pre-registration and check-in for worship and other events will no longer be required. However, those attending worship and events in person at Westminster are asked to self-monitor before coming to the church, which means staying home if you are sick. In addition, staff and volunteers will monitor the number of people attending events to ensure attendance remains within the occupancy allowances for Phase 4.

Singing

Beginning with the 10:30 am Worship on May 30, we will begin a phased return to congregational singing, masked and distanced. On May 30 and June 6, we will invite the congregation to join in singing the final hymn. This will allow us to ease back into singing. We expect by mid-June that we will invite the congregation to sing at other points of the service as well. Outdoor worship, beginning with Bluegrass Evening Prayer on June 2, we will invite masked singing through the entire service, and will continue to evaluate this process week to week as we follow Covid positivity and vaccination rates.

Food

Preparing and serving food is now allowed at Westminster. Food can be prepared on the premises, plated, and served to individuals, or food can be brought in and served as individual servings (such as boxed meals or individually-wrapped snacks). Buffet-style service is still not allowed.

Vaccinations

Westminster clergy, staff, and lay leaders strongly encourage anyone coming to Westminster to be vaccinated. If you are able to be vaccinated, doing so provides a way for us to care for each other and our community. For staff and volunteers serving children 12 and younger as well as vulnerable adults, vaccinations are required. A full FDA approval vaccination will be required for Westminster personnel as well.

Care for One Another

As more people begin to attend events and worship again, there will be a range of emotions. Please be patient with one another and remember one person may be feeling excitement while someone else might be feeling anxiety.

Next Steps

The task force will meet again in late June to determine if any additional allowances will be considered and to continue addressing questions related to fall programming. At this point, we expect Westminster to remain in Phase 4 through the summer and possibly move to Phase 5 in September. However, that will be determined by the task force, based on the Covid positivity numbers for the Twin Cities as well as the percentage of individuals getting vaccinated.

This summer will bring more outdoor events to Westminster, including weekly Bluegrass Evening Prayer on Wednesdays in June and July. Please read the Friday emails and Westminster News, follow Westminster on social media, and visit the calendar to find out the latest on upcoming worship and events.

Update from Worship and the Arts

By Amanda Weber, Director of Worship and the Arts

The past two years have been an interim period for the music program at Westminster, following the retirement of Dr. Melanie Ohnstad, the former Minister of Music and the Arts. After engaging in an arts visioning process in 2019 and being stretched by the challenges of 2020, we are moving forward in restructuring Westminster’s music staff to best serve the needs of the congregation and community.

As a part of this restructuring, we have closed Mark Kieffer’s position as the Handbell Director; we extend our gratitude to Mark for many years of dedicated music-making. We are delighted to transition our Interim Organist, Kenneth Vigne into a permanent .5FTE position. As Associate Director of Music, Kenny will share in service playing and further Westminster’s arts engagement, both within the congregation and out into the community.

We will proceed in launching a search for a .75FTE Organist/Ensemble Director, who will collaborate together with Kenny in playing for worship, direct the Handbell Ensemble, and direct the Choristers (grades 4-6). Brad Ollmann will continue with the remaining Children’s ensembles as our Director of Early Childhood Music. I will look forward to adding Youth Music to my position, and my title will change to Director of Worship and the Arts.

I am grateful for a wonderful Organist search team, which includes representatives from both FYC and the Handbell Ensemble. Our search process is launching this week with the hopes of hiring a candidate for an August 1 start date. The shifts in our staffing structure aim to create a more cohesive team that will work together to build an arts program that is creative, inclusive, and accessible for all.

From the Westminster Counseling Center

This month, the Board of the Westminster Counseling Center will convene a joint task force with leaders from Westminster Presbyterian Church to re-imagine a more sustainable model for the Counseling Center. As the leaders of the Counseling Center emerge from the Covid pandemic and teletherapy sessions, they have realized that more long-term changes are needed for the future. Therefore, they are putting together a joint team to examine other counseling center models and propose a plan for Westminster Counseling Center that will move the organization forward for generations to come. Although this decision will likely result in difficult short-term changes, we hope it will ultimately lead to a long-term plan for growth and sustainability at Westminster Counseling Center. 

Continuing with Phase 3.5 through May

The Responsible Building Use Task Force met this week and has decided to keep all current allowances in the re-opening the building plan the same through May. As a reminder, the task force was appointed by Session, is led by Session Clerk Vincent Thomas, and includes medical advisers from the congregation. After assessing current medical information and procedures at church, the task force decided it is best for the community to remain in Phase 3.5 of the re-opening the building plan through Sunday, May 30.

Here are the current allowances in Phase 3.5:

  • Up to 100 people for worship in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings
  • Covid protocols continue, even for those who are vaccinated (single mask, six feet apart, preregister for worship and events, stay home if you’re sick, and wash your hands often).
  • Westminster groups of 15 or fewer allowed to meet at the church between 9 am and 4 pm, Monday through Friday (arrangements through Deb Wagner).
  • Individuals allowed to arrange personal time to pray in the sanctuary between 10 am and 3 pm, Monday through Friday (arrangements through Vanessa Uzong).
  • Groups up to 50 may gather outside on-site and off-site.

At this time the Responsible Building Use Task Force plans to increase allowances in June, including the possibility of masked singing for the congregation, but will meet again in late May to re-evaluate any planned changes. More information will be announced afterwards.

We appreciate all those who have gotten vaccinated. As a reminder, if you are vaccinated you still need to follow the Covid protocols, including registering for events, wearing a mask, and remaining six feet away from those who are not in your immediate household. We are not able to offer preferential treatment for those who have been vaccinated.

We’re grateful for the cooperation of Westminster members and friends as we slowly emerge from the time of pandemic, and begin to meet in community again in our building. While apart, we covenant still to be the church. Thanks be to God!

What is the role of a Re-opening Volunteer?

Re-opening Volunteers will be asked to:

  • Register in advance
  • Arrive 30 minutes before the start of worship.
  • Answer the Covid screening questions upon arrival.
  • Wear a double or N95 mask at all times.
  • Stay six-feet apart from others in the building who are not in their immediate household.
  • Stay home if they are not feeling well.
  • Answer a short survey afterwards about their experience.
  • Consider volunteering in the future at other events.

Also, we want those who volunteer to please remember that the worship experience at Westminster will look different from what they are used to. Currently, worship is broadcast from Westminster Hall with clergy speaking to a camera and the tech team adding videos and offering production cues during the service. In other words, worship might feel a little more like the set of a television show than a worshipful experience in the sanctuary. You may be shown briefly on camera during the service, including the service televised on KMSP. In addition, you will be asked to refrain from singing in an effort to limit aerosols in the space.

To sign up, contact Deb Wagner with the service date and time you would like to attend along with the names of everyone attending together (including children). Registration closes at noon the Friday before the Sunday service.

‘Join Us on the Road to Abundance’

An open letter from the Downtown Minneapolis Interfaith Senior Clergy: 

Join Us on the Road to Abundance

During this difficult year of 2020, The Downtown Interfaith Senior Clergy have renewed and invigorated our commitment to the well-being of our beloved city and all who live here. We work to ease suffering and pursue justice. Our group meets regularly to share life’s journey and plan ways to aid our collective communities. All our houses of worship are in the City of Minneapolis. We are friends and neighbors.

We are a diverse group: we are interfaith and vary in our religious practice; we are diverse in race, gender, age, and sexual orientation; and, we disagree on issues facing the public. But we are bound by the ethical imperatives of our traditions to live out the prophetic voice of Jeremiah every day: “To seek the welfare of the city…..for in its prosperity you shall prosper”(29:4-7). In this moment, our neighbors of color are dying in greater numbers due to the pandemic and inequities in our health care system. In addition, we live in a time of reckoning concerning racial injustice, and we stand committed to truth and reconciliation.

Our common mission has allowed us to keep our commitment to one another, despite historical divides. Each of our traditions instructs us to engage in civic responsibility.  Judaism through Torah calls us to pursue justice, to care for the stranger, the widow, the orphan. The Gospel implores us to serve “the least among us.” The Prophet said, “One who spends the night with a full stomach while his neighbor is hungry, has not believed in me. One who spends the night clothed, while his neighbor has no clothes, has not believed in me.” (Mustadrak al-Wasa’il, v.2, pp.78-79)

We are political but not partisan. For us that means we answer the call to bring a moral voice to the steps of the capitol and influence legislation based on the issues that affect people’s lives.  We believe that our ethical report card is determined by how we care for the most vulnerable in our society.

On November 3rd, our country will go to the polls. We invite you to remember both compassion and justice in the voting booth. For we are taught: “If a person sits in their home and says to themselves, ’What have the affairs of society to do with me?  And why should I trouble myself with the people’s voices of protest? Instead, let my soul dwell in peace.’  If an individual does this, they overthrow the entire world.”(Midrash Tanhuma)

We have a stake in keeping the world balanced by striving for the values all our traditions teach. Join with us, neighbors!

Signed,

Imam Makram Nu’Man El-Amin, Masjid An-Nur

Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman, Temple Israel

Rev. Dr. Tim Hart-Andersen, Westminster Presbyterian Church

Rev. Dr. David Breeden, First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis

Rev. Jia Starr Brown, First Covenant Church Minneapolis

Rev. Kevin Kenney, Pastor, Saint Olaf Catholic Church

Rev. Judy Zabel, Senior Minister, Hennepin Avenue United Methodist

Imam Dr. Hamdy El-Sawaf Islamic Community Center of Minnesota/Masjid Al-Imin

Rev. Dr. Laurie Pound Feille, Senior Minister, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Rev. Peter Nycklemoe, Central Lutheran Church

Rev. Justin Schroeder, Sr. Co-Minister, First Universalist Church of Minneapolis

Rev. Jen Crow, Sr. Co-Minister, First Universalist Church of Minneapolis

The Very Rev. Paul J. Lebens-Englund, Dean, Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, Minneapolis

Rev. Dr. Paula Northwood, Acting Senior Minister, Plymouth Congregational Church of Minneapolis

© Westminster Presbyterian Church | 2021