COVID-19 update (October 30)

Dear Oak Hills Family –

“When are we going back to church??!”
It’s a question I’ve heard again and again. Like many churches, Oak Hills has wrestled with how best to provide for indoor worship while maintaining safety. Our challenges are compounded by the small size of our sanctuary, little outdoor air ventilation, an aging furnace, and the significant number of older members we serve, whose health is of paramount concern. Back in March, we pivoted to pre-recorded worship services via YouTube, hoping the pandemic would be short-lived. Over the summer, as the timeline lengthened, we focused on readying for outdoor worship, investing in our mobile sound system, livestream recording, and a radio broadcast option. We enjoyed three beautiful Sundays of outdoor worship, and would have held a fourth had it not been for wildfire smoke that made outdoor breathing unhealthy. In the windstorm that accompanied the fires, our stage was damaged, making it hard to continue outdoors in the small remaining window of good weather.

At that time our Worship Task Force began to research what it would take to make our sanctuary safe for an indoor gathering. It became clear that our biggest challenge is air purification. CDC guidelines for indoor gatherings include air filtration that efficiently removes the airborne particles the virus travels on, to a size of 0.3 microns. We found that our furnace does not have the airflow capacity to use these high efficiency air filters. So the task force recommended, and session approved, the purchase of four high-efficiency (HEPA) mobile air purifiers, to be positioned around the perimeter of the sanctuary. These units, when used together, will circulate and purify the air in our sanctuary with an efficiency (99.99%) that exceeds CDC guidelines. In addition, our task force has identified the following safety measures for attendees: mask-wearing, temperature taking upon entry, touchless hand sanitizers, physically distanced seating, a single-direction entry/exit flow to eliminate accidental contact, and plexiglass barriers for those leading worship from the chancel.

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, air filtration equipment is backlogged. We expect to receive our four HEPA air purifiers in early December. Therefore we are tentatively planning our first gathered worship services for Sunday, December 13th. We hope to hold worship each Sunday from then on, as well as several services on Christmas Eve. Each service will accommodate about 40 people, or about 18 family/household groups. Attendance will be reserved through the church office. Depending on interest, we will hold one or two services each Sunday. Attendees will wear masks, and music will not be participatory (singing has been shown to carry a higher risk of virus transmission, even through a cloth mask). Anyone experiencing cold or flu symptoms will be asked to stay home. For those not attending, we will continue to livestream the service via YouTube, with the help of newly purchased camera equipment that will be installed in the rear of the sanctuary.

What’s Next? Stay tuned for your opportunity to RSVP for our December services, as well as more detailed instructions for attendance.

Finally, THANK YOU to our hard-working task force members! Cris Wright, Sue Munn, Hank Brown, Tom Heimburger, Tom Miller, Aleksandar Stojanovic, and Christy Polk.

Yours in Him,
Jeremy