St. Joseph Island is located in the northwestern part of Lake Huron and has just over 2,000 residents. St. Joseph Island FMC resumed services on July 19th and I spoke with Pastor Adrian Collins to find out more about the church reopening its building.
Q: What was required prior to opening the church building?
A: We received five pages of guidelines from public health regarding re-opening. Our initial focus was on deep cleaning the entire church which took several weeks. Most of the building is closed with only the sanctuary, foyer, and bathrooms open on Sunday morning and those areas are wiped down between services. In the areas that are open, everything is stripped down. The bulletin boards are empty and there are no pamphlets in the foyer, no bulletins handed out, or hymn books in the pews.
Q: Why did you make a video about the building reopening?
A: We made the video to show people what it was going to look like, so they could make an informed decision about whether they wanted to come back or not. We wanted them to know that it was not going to be church as they experienced it the last time they were here.
Q: How many people came out the first Sunday?
A: 45 people came to the first service and 41 to the second service. We kept the service to an hour because we knew there would be families coming with kids. We decided against live musicians and played three Youtube music videos and I kept my message to thirty minutes which is a struggle for me.
Q: Do you continue to offer online services?
A: Yes, I recorded the message and it goes live at the same time as the in-person service happens. Our internet here on the island is unreliable so I also burn CDs and deliver them to whoever can’t connect to the internet.
Q: Are you considering other types of in-person gatherings beyond Sunday morning?
A: People are interested in fellowship and other gathering points, so we are talking about that right now. People have been hunkered down in their homes for a few months now so we are all feeling a sense of isolation. Typically, we are a community that visits each other. Everyone knows everyone and we visit in person a lot, and we haven’t been able to do that. Our poor internet service also makes reaching out via Zoom challenging, so it’s important to find ways to safely connect. We did have one small gathering outside at someone’s house. The chairs were six feet apart, and we all just sat around and chatted, but not everyone is comfortable with that yet. We are encouraging people to stay connected by phone or however they are comfortable. It looks different for everyone, but we encourage people to reach out and love people.
Q: Any advice for other churches as they plan to reopen their buildings?
A: I think it’s important to abide by your local public health guidelines. There is a way to reopen safely, and we need to come alongside the guidelines and be good citizens of our community. I also think it’s important to remember that not everyone is ready to come back yet. That’s why we offer both online and in-person services.
By Alison McKinnon