JUNE 26, 2020
The Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church has released updated guidelines in light of the increasing number of cases in Florida. A portion of these guidelines are posted below, but you can read the entire post by clicking here.
The latest information shows:
- Cases are rising exponentially in our state. The seven-day average of new cases is up 85% from the previous week (new seven-day average is 4,149) and the last two days have seen over 5,000 new cases each day (Breaking news as we send this says 8,942 more cases were reported today). The CDC and other health experts agree that this increase in cases is not simply connected to increased testing. (To listen to the latest CDC briefing click here).
- Even though the increase in positive cases is among younger people, the spread of the virus is real and dangerous for all people, especially those with underlying health conditions. Yesterday, the CDC updated its list of people at risk.
- We encourage you to look at all the data including: the number of new cases, the infection rate, the positive test rate, the hospitalization rates, and the ICU bed capacity. We have learned that it is not wise to base guidance solely on ICU bed space availability. As one of our health consultants said, “Sadly, by the time ICU beds reach capacity the outbreak will be uncontrollable.”
Based on this information we offer this updated guidance:
- This is not a time to relax any of our previously stated health guidelines, protocols, or FAQ.
- Virtual worship is the safest approach, and outdoor worship is encouraged over inside.
- Churches should consider delaying plans to return to in-person worship. We know some of you have already pushed your return to in-person worship date back in response to the rise in cases, and others of you have met in person and are now returning to virtual-only worship.
- Wearing masks is essential when any group gathers together. We ask everyone to wear a mask and do not consider masks to be optional.
JUNE 22, 2020
We have released our St. Paul return to church guidelines and safety protocols that will be in effect when we return to worship in the building. Click here to read them.
JUNE 11, 2020
We are working with a team of staff and laypeople to finalize a reopening plan. We will make that available as soon as it is finalized, but in the meantime here are a couple things I can share with you:
We will return to worship in the LuAnne Willey Fellowship Hall instead of the sanctuary. We are moving worship to the Fellowship Hall in our Christian Life Enrichment Center because the flexibility of the space and standalone chairs allows us more freedom to configure seating that follows the CDC social distancing guidelines for large groups. The lobby area and bathroom facilities in the CLEC are also larger to allow safer movement.
We don't have a reopen date yet. We are tracking the case numbers in our county every day and the averages every week. We are looking for a sustained downward trend for 14 days in number of cases and percent of positive tests. This will be our sign that it's safe for us to reopen and allow us to set a date. When a date is set, we will share it through email, on our website, in worship announcements, etc. In the meantime we invite you to worship with us online and we are proceeding with setting up our worship space in the hall so we will be ready when it's safe to go ahead.
We have looked at a study by the CDC and other medical studies by epidemiologists which indicate that when people sing in groups, they create a higher risk for transmission of the virus. The findings also showed wearing a facemask does not preclude the risk of spreading the virus when singing. Our team is prayerfully seeking an answer for how we worship if we cannot sing. I ask you to pray about it as well.
Other churches around us are opening, why aren't we? Let me say this, "Churches are indeed essential, but our parishioners are not expendable." Many of the churches that are reopening have younger aged congregants that we do. The average age of a person attending our church is in the upper 60's to low 70's. All reports say this is the most at risk age group, and we want to be careful that our reopening does not put any of you at risk. I hold onto the mandate of Jesus when he said, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Because I and our staff and reopening team love you, we will do all we can to also protect you out of that same love.
When we do return to building worship, we will no longer greet one another with hugs and handshakes. We will find alternative ways to express our love for each other. We will also replace passing the plate for offering with "giving boxes" which will be located throughout the room.
We are discussing having medical protocols as people enter the building, such as temperature checks and wearing face masks. Instead of seeing it as an inconvenience, I ask that we work together and comply to ensure everyone's safety. You may not be worried about the virus for yourself, but by going through these protocols you are also protecting your friends and fellow St. Paul family members. We will also place stationary and mobile hand sanitizer stations throughout the building.
We will comply with social distancing. Our seating will be arranged so that those in the same household may sit together, but those outside the household will sit in seats that are socially distanced 6 feet apart. We are working on a seating plan to allow as many seats as possible while maintaining the safety of social distancing.
As you can see, there is a lot to work through and this is merely the tip of the iceberg on the many decisions that must be made to return to on campus worship during a pandemic. I want to continue to ask your grace, prayers and cooperation as we finalize our plan.
Pastor Bob Martin
MAY 26, 2020
The FL Conference of the United Methodist Church has created a PDF of Frequently Asked Questions regarding reopening church buildings. Click here to view it.
MAY 20, 2020
This is an update regarding our response to the COVID-19 virus and its effect on our return to building worship. Our goal is to offer frequent updates during our planning process so that the church family will be connected to the latest information from church leadership.
WHAT IS LEADERSHIP DOING RIGHT NOW?
A group of staff, lay members (some from the medical field) and clergy have been assembled to put together a plan. They are praying, assessing data, and reviewing scenarios and options to determine the safest way to reopen our campus. The team is utilizing data from the CDC, the Florida Conference of the UMC, and national, state and local agencies who are issuing reports on the coronavirus (COVID-19). This includes a daily trend of infections, deaths, and illnesses as reported by Pinellas County.
Two surveys have been released and almost 200 people have provided input on critical questions concerning our safe return. That data is being evaluated as we proceed in our planning.
At present, Bishop Carter and the Cabinet have asked churches not to hold public worship until after June 15, 2020. See their statement. They review this decision every ten days so this date may be modified based upon infections, deaths, etc.
- We will not return to building worship until we know it is safe to do so.
- We will adhere to the guidance given by authorities on the number of people allowed to gather in a space, as well as social distancing requirements.
- We will continue to encourage online worship and discipleship engagement before, during and after the re-opening of our campus.
- We will review and adjust the guidelines, plans and steps weekly based on updated information from the state and local governments, as well as the Florida Conference of the UMC, to implement new phases as we feel it is safest for our congregation
IMPORTANT THINGS WE HAVE LEARNED:
- The Church is not a building. Since we have been worshiping virtually only, we have increased the number of people in worship.
- The virus caused all churches to expedite innovation. All churches across the globe have discovered the future of the church requires technological advancements and a presence which is beyond the four walls of a physical building.
- We are reaching new people. The task now is to connect them to our church beyond weekly worship through personal connections, discipleship, etc.
- By closing down our buildings, we are able to free up monetary resources for the mission of the Kingdom. Since transitioning to virtual church, questions have been raised about the use of our space and the stewardship of maintaining multiple facilities that are infrequently used.
- People yearn for connections. We have integrated additional "touch points" to accommodate this need. Pastor Bob offers a midweek connection called "Wednesday at 1" on Facebook Live where he shares encouraging words and addresses relevant topics. Our student and children's ministries offer multiple ways for children and students to connect online. Small groups have been using ZOOM for their weekly gatherings and our leadership teams continue to meet monthly using ZOOM.
- Our church family has been patient through this time and continues to overwhelmingly support their church.
- The LuAnne Willey Fellowship Hall will be the primary facility used for on-campus worship when we return due to its flexibility of space, seating configurations, etc.
- A plan is being developed lay out our return to the physical campus in stages. This plan will outline phases and parameters for our transition back to the campus and consolidation into the Christian Life Enrichment Center and the LuAnne Willey Fellowship Hall. Once the plan has been finalized and approved by church leadership, it will be released to you by email and available to read on our website. Again, safety is the primary consideration.
- The results of the surveys are being evaluated and adjustments to worship times, etc. will be considered. Once the worship times have been finalized, they will be released as we continue our planning.
WE NEED OUR CHURCH FAMILY TO:
- Pray for our church pastors, leaders and staff as they work tirelessly to find solutions for this very complex reality.
- Be flexible and understanding that some things will need to change from the way they were prior to the pandemic. We need you to embrace these changes with a positive spirit.
- Support your church's witness and do everything you can to keep the positive spirit of St. Paul UMC in the forefront.
MAY 18, 2020
Based on the linked recommendation from the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, we will continue to worship online through at least June 15. We will continue to monitor the situation and follow guidelines from the CDC and other experts to determine when we can safely resume on site worship.
MAY 13, 2020
We have made the decision to cancel our 2020 K-5 Summer Camp. Click here for more info.
APRIL 16, 2020
Based on the linked recommendation from Bishop Carter, we will continue to worship online through at least May 15. We will continue to monitor the situation and follow guidelines from the CDC and other experts to determine when we can safely resume worship in the sanctuary.
APRIL 15, 2020
Open Arms is set to reopen on Monday, April 20 with new health and safety processes. We will be open Mon-Weds from 1-3 PM with a limited number of volunteers for drive up pick-ups only. Food will be prepacked for distribution so that we can minimize contact and help prevent the spread of COVID-19. For the time being Thursday hours are suspended.
APRIL 6, 2020
The General Conference of the UMC scheduled for this May has been postponed. A new date has not been set yet.
The Florida Annual Conference meeting scheduled for June will meet virtually on Saturday morning, June 6th. Details to come. An in person gathering is also scheduled on Saturday, September 19th in Lakeland to recognize retiring clergy, share in a memorial service, and celebrate commissioning and ordinations.
APRIL 3, 2020
Even though Governor Ron Desantis’s recent executive order lifts the restriction of limited assembly and social distancing, in light of CDC and WHO guidelines, and our commitment to save lives and do our part, St. Paul UMC will continue to hold virtual worship on Sundays and midweek. Most of our staff is working from home, and our church office will continue to remain closed until the time comes when the CDC let’s us know it is safe to return to public worship.
Please join the St Paul UMC page on Facebook live on Sundays, here or on our St. Paul app (for android and apple) for worship at 9 am (hymns) and 1030 am (praise songs like you hear on the radio).
Wednesdays at 1 join us on our St Paul Facebook page for for an uplifting word and study.
Check here additional virtual offerings for children, students and adults.
MARCH 19, 2020
HOLY WEEK & EASTER
Due to CDC guidelines about gatherings of over 50 people, our Holy Week and Easter worship times will be online only. We would love to be able to host these special worship times in the sanctuary, but God is bigger than a building and so is the good news that our Lord is Alive! See our worship times below and plan to join us online.
Palm Sunday—April 5—9 & 10:30 AM
The choir is not able to rehearse so we will not have the cantata at 9 AM as originally planned, but we will celebrate Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem at both worship times online.
Maundy Thursday—April 9– 7 PM
Good Friday—April 10—7 PM
Easter Sunday—April 12—9 & 10:30 AM
You can join us on livestream for all our Holy Week and Easter worship times.
At this time the building is still closed and we are not hosting our normal adult studies. We are working on ways to connect or host studies online. You can find some resources to help you connect with your small group or study by clicking here.
This is a time when many are having a harder time making ends meet and need food assistance. We’re working to reopen Open Arms safely so our ministry can continue to reach out to the community during this time without endangering our volunteers. We will have more specifics about changes in procedures and a re-open date soon.
WAYS TO CONNECT
We’re working on ways to connect with our St. Paul family and for you to connect with each other while we’re practicing “social distancing.”
CHILDREN & STUDENT MINISTRIES
Our children and student ministries are connecting on social media, zoom and more. Find out more about their full online schedule and make sure you're connected to the social media accounts.
FB Group: StPaulUMC
We’ve added a new private group to our Facebook for St. Paul members. This is a place where we can share information and resources. It’s also a place to:
- Reach out with prayer requests.
- Encourage each other and share where you’ve seen God in the midst of chaos.
- Connect with other St. Paul members and keep our sense of community.
FB group: StPaulParentsLounge
We also have a group just for parents, The Parent’s Lounge, where you can get:
- Resources specific to families.
- Support as we all deal with school closures and other upheavals together.
Wednesdays at 1 PM
Pastor Bob is doing short devotionals on Wednesdays at 1 PM starting next week. Join us, comment, and let us know what you would like to see online. A weekly Bible study, a live prayer time, devotionals? Email us or contact us on Facebook to let us know your ideas on we can connect and continue to Grow in Faith together.
MARCH 13, 2020
Dear St. Paul Family and Friends,
Yesterday afternoon we detailed in a communication sent from the church, our plans to continue holding worship in our sanctuary on Sunday mornings. We had encouraged those who were in a group which was at risk, or anyone who was currently sick, to not participate in worship and join us via live streaming as an alternative. Our hope was that being together as a corporate body in worship would help allay the concerns so many of us are experiencing. We had spent the week working with staff and lay leadership on ways to ensure a high level of confidence for those worshiping with us or participating in our ministries.
Today Governor Ron DeSantis and our Florida Department of Education issued a directive calling upon schools to remain closed through March 27, 2020. After consulting with our senior staff and senior lay leadership representatives, our thinking changed (mine included). While there has not been a directive by state health or government officials to limit public worship gatherings, we are concerned about your safety.
For this reason, we will be suspending onsite worship at St. Paul UMC beginning this Sunday, March 15 through the end of the month. We will continue to offer worship via livestream at both our 9 AM and 10:30 AM worship times.
We will continue to evaluate this decision as time goes by. You can stream our online worship by clicking here and participating on your computer, tablet or phone. There is also a link to our stream on the front page of our website.
This decision does not come lightly. It is one that has caused me to wrestle with every emotion. I realize when we gather for worship it is a way of expressing who we are as followers of Jesus Christ. Worship calls us to come and experience God’s presence and, for many, it is the one thing each week that keeps them connected and uplifted. This decision was a difficult one, but it was not made in fear. As the Body of Christ, we are called to not live in fear. Just a reminder, most people who contract the coronavirus will have no health risks or symptoms. Our bodies fight off the virus like all others. For those who do get sick, the vast majority will recover. Not having onsite worship the next few weeks is an attempt to minimize the number who will get sick, to help lower the load on our healthcare system, and protect the more vulnerable minority in high risk groups who may experience more serious symptoms.
In addition, we will be suspending all activities on our campuses through March 29. This includes the closure of Son Kissed Preschool and Open Arms.
If you have a group which meets on campus, please make other arrangements for your gathering outside of our facilities. Our staff will still be working using a modified schedule. Some will work remotely from home and a small number will work in the office. I you have a need, please communicate with us via telephone or email versus coming to the facility. All of our contact numbers and emails are available on our website or you can always email . This will help minimize any potential risk of contracting or spreading the virus. It is so important that we all remain calm in this season and to express grace and understanding as we all adjust to new ways of being the Church.
After much prayer I feel led by the Holy Spirit to move away from the message I had previously planned this Sunday on Matthew 21:12-15 and instead teach from Psalm 46 which outlines how we are to face life’s challenges, and more importantly, what we can expect to be God’s response. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Let me encourage us all to know our Lord will lead us to remain strong as a church and more importantly, as the family of St. Paul.
See you online this Sunday,
MARCH 12, 2020 STATEMENT
Your St. Paul staff takes the spiritual, as well as physical, wellbeing of our entire church family very seriously. I want to update you on what’s happening at St. Paul in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in our area. Like you, I’ve been following this virus as it evolves daily, and I share your concern. I have been in touch with pastors in our area, along with keeping up with reports being issued through our governmental agencies so that a plan can be put together on how we will work with one another to stay safe during this volatile flu season. Let me encourage you to read through this entire post as it contains detailed plans for keeping our campus safe as well as outlining how we will be handling public gatherings in the near term. Most importantly, I am outlining ways you can be part of our solution and how, with your assistance, we can remain safe and strong during this time.
[[Previously shared information about worship has changed, see our March 13 statement above.]]
- In following guidelines issued through health organizations and state and local authorities, we are suspending visitation to hospitals, nursing homes, rehab centers, etc. This is to protect those in the centers, our pastors and our community. In lieu of in-house visits, please let us know of a spiritual need so that one of our pastors or lay visitation team members may contact those in need. You may email a request or contact the church office at 727-584-8165.
How you can help stop the spread of the virus:
- Stay home when you or a family member are sick.
- Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
- Cover your sneeze or cough with a tissue or your arm.
- Get in the habit of NOT touching your face
- Substitute shaking hands at church with a wave or a friendly smile.
- If you or someone you know tests positive for COVID-19, please let us know so we can find a way to help, pray for everyone involved, and take any necessary precautions here at St. Paul UMC.
St. Paul Livestream family:
We are so happy you are connected with us through technology. You are a vital part of our church family, and we wish to remain aware of any prayer needs or health concerns you or a family member might have during this difficult season. You may alert us during worship by using the online connect card or you may email us.
For Families with Kids and Students:
In addition to keeping our campus clean, we will be taking extra care of our Treehouse Children’s Center, Student Room and all spaces used by our young people. Proper attention will be given to wipe down toys and furniture after each service.
Son Kissed Preschool:
Our staff at the preschool are working diligently to promote a healthy and clean environment for our children. Teachers and administrative staff will be vigilant in having the children wash their hands frequently throughout the day as well as clean surface areas and toys. If a child is exhibiting any signs of illness, parents will be contacted immediately so that their child may return safely to their home. We will follow Pinellas County Schools lead on school closures. Beginning March 16, 2020 Son Kissed Preschool is closed through March 27, 2020.
Handicapable Ministry Friends:
Because our Handicpable community is especially vulnerable to the virus due to the underlying medical conditions experienced by many, we are taking extra precautions and suspending all activities related to our Handicapable Ministry. This includes worship and planned Handi social activities. We do not have a date set yet for when Handicapable activities will resume. We will continue to monitor the situation, and tentatively plan to begin meeting again in the fall. Our team leaders are letting our partner group homes and organizations know of this decision and will keep them up to date of changes as things evolve.
Ways you can help:
- Pray - Pray for those impacted by the virus, as well as their families and loved ones.
- Give - In the coming weeks, we’re looking to keep our mission and ministry healthy during this outbreak. Continuing to give and support your church is important so that we may remain faithful to our mission.
- Serve - We will be identifying ways to serve through our local community by helping our neighbors deal with the outbreak. As we receive information on specific serving opportunities, you will be notified.
Do you have questions or concerns?
Our goal is to remain transparent during this time. If you have any thoughts, concerns, questions or ideas, please share them with us. Your input and feedback is vital as we work together to overcome this current challenge. Please email us. As the prophet Isaiah wrote in 40:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”