Last Sunday was amazing as our First Baptist family was able to return to a single worship service and our Sunday School classes. We certainly understand some of our First Baptist family are not yet ready to return to in-person worship so we will continue live-streaming our Sunday Morning Worship on Facebook Live and YouTube Live for the foreseeable future.
As First Baptist continues working through our path to reopening, we are excited to share that we are returning to our regular Wednesday Summer Schedule beginning next Wednesday, July 1. In case you are unfamiliar with our Wednesday Summer Schedule, everything will begin at 6:00 pm. Children will join Adventure Kids led by Rachel Atchison, as she returns to serve as our Summer Children’s Ministry Leader. Youth will join Cory Bennett in the Rock Building for Youth Worship, and Pastor Jason will lead the adults in a time of Bible Study and Prayer.
While we are excited about returning to our Wednesday Summer Schedule, we need to remind you that First Baptist will continue to follow the recommendations and guidelines provided by the state of Arkansas and the Centers for Disease Control. We are asking everyone over the age of six to wear a face covering. Children and youth will be able to remove their masks if and when they are engaged in outdoor activities. We completely understand face coverings can be uncomfortable, but this is for the safety of all our First Baptist family as well as those who may be visiting with us. While face coverings during an Arkansas summer is not anyone’s idea of fun, wearing a face covering a small, personal inconvenience that enables your First Baptist family to worship and “do life” together as we all navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
We love you, and we will get through this together! We look forward to seeing you on Sunday for worship and Sunday School, and we can’t wait to take another step toward “normalcy” next Wednesday, July 1 as we return to our Wednesday Summer Schedule!
June has been exciting at First Baptist as we returned to in-person worship services. Combined with a handful of other events and meetings, it has been wonderful to begin to see life and activity returning to our campus. As you likely know, on Monday, June 15 Arkansas entered Phase 2 of reopening from the COVID-19 pandemic. This change allows First Baptist to enter into our next phase of reopening as well.
Beginning Sunday, June 21, First Baptist will resume our regular Sunday morning schedule. We will worship together in one worship service at 9:00 am with Sunday School classes (small group Bible studies) beginning at 10:20 am. Nursery and preschool ministries will be available for both worship and Sunday School. For those who may not be ready to return yet, we will continue to live stream our Sunday morning worship service on Facebook Live and YouTube Live.
Wednesday evening and Sunday evening activities remain cancelled at this time. Pastor Jason will continue to post a Wednesday Bible Study on Facebook Premiere and YouTube. Cory Bennett will continue with Wednesday Zoom Meetings with students. We anticipate providing you updates on these schedules within the next few weeks.
While we are returning to our regular Sunday morning schedule, we need everyone to understand many aspects of our worship service will remain consistent with our worship services in June. In accordance with guidelines from the state of Arkansas and the Centers for Disease Control, we are asking everyone joining us over the age of 6 to wear a face covering. We completely understand face coverings can be uncomfortable, but this is for the safety of all our First Baptist family as well as those who may be visiting with us. Additionally, we ask everyone to continue to maintain appropriate social distancing between family units. For the foreseeable future, we will not have traditional “Meet and Greet” or “Invitation” times. We will not pass an offering plate. A box is available on the Information table for you to place your offering, in addition to our online giving or text to give options outlined in the bulletin.
While we know many of us are excited about getting to see our Sunday School classes again, we need to share some guidelines with you. Sunday School classes have been asked to apply the same social distancing guidelines in their classrooms to the best of their ability. We fully understand that you may want to stop and talk with friends you have not seen in several months. However, we are asking everyone not to congregate and talk in the hallways. The hallways on our campus are narrow, and it is impossible to manage any degree of social distancing if people have stopped and are talking in the hallways. Feel free to stay and talk in the Worship Center or Fellowship Hall after worship, or in your classroom before or after Sunday School, or simply step outside to talk.
Finally, we must address the difficult subject of coffee. Some of us desperately need our caffeine to function effectively, but there really is no way for our coffee drinkers to avoid touching surfaces that others have recently touched. Plus, it is impractical for the coffee areas to be sanitized after each person gets a cup. Please help us maintain safety of others by observing our sanitation procedures - including not using the coffee stations around the church.
We love you! We have been so excited to worship with you over the past few weeks, and we cannot wait to return to some semblance of normal. We encourage you to seek God diligently this week as we prepare to take the next step in reopening. Pray that God would work out all the details. Pray that God would protect us. Pray that our hearts might be prepared to encounter Him in a powerful way this week. Pray that everything we do would be for His glory and the good of our neighbors! We’ll see you on Sunday!
We are so excited to have the opportunity to worship together physically on Sunday, June 7! We have been praying for this day and eagerly awaiting what God will do as our First Baptist family comes together again! We love you, and that is why we can't wait to see you! Our love for you also means our time of worship together on June 7 and June 14 will be somewhat different as we seek to protect everyone. Please bear with us. This will be a long update with some detailed information, but we need to be as thorough as possible. All of the following information applies to both June 7 and June 14.
In order to maintain proper social distancing, First Baptist will have with two worship services at 9:00 am and 11:00 am. The services will each be approximately 60-70 minutes in length and will be as identical as possible. For those who are not yet ready to return to physically worshipping together, we are making every effort to live-stream the 9:00 am service on Facebook Live and potentially on YouTube Live. We will let you know more information about our live stream or recorded options as soon as those details are finalized. Because we are attempting to live stream, we will begin our services promptly at 9:00 am and 11:00 am.
As we seek to maintain proper social distancing, ushers will be available to help you find a seat for your family. We will begin by seating people toward the front of the worship center. At the conclusion of the worship service, ushers will dismiss everyone row by row beginning from back of the worship center to minimize physical contact between family units. We understand this may seem strange and uncomfortable, especially since you will likely be sitting in a different place than you are accustomed. However, we want to do everything to ensure your safety as we come back together.
While our ushers will do their best to seat people as quickly and efficiently as possible, we need your help! If at all possible, please arrive 10-15 minutes before the worship service begins so we can seat everyone with the least amount of stress possible.
In accordance with the guidelines from the state of Arkansas and the Centers for Disease Control, we are asking everyone joining us in worship over the age of 6 to wear a face covering. We completely understand face coverings can be uncomfortable, but this is for the safety of all our First Baptist family as well as those who may be visiting with us. We encourage you to bring your own face covering, but if you forget, homemade face coverings will be available as you enter the building.
Between the 9:00 am and 11:00 am services, our "Clean Up Crew" will be sanitizing the building to the very best of their ability. To assist their efforts, everyone joining us in worship will be asked to enter the building through the main Fellowship Hall entrance underneath the covered drop-off. All other entrances will remain locked. Additionally, the restrooms near the Worship Center will be available, but we are asking that everyone to utilize them only if absolutely necessary. The water fountains near the restrooms will not be available. While these changes may seem strange, our "Clean Up Crew" must sanitize every area of the church open to those worshipping with us between services. With only 30-40 minutes to sanitize, we need to reduce the number of areas open to everyone.
Because the state of Arkansas remains in Phase 1 of its reopening plan, First Baptist is not able to provide a preschool or nursery option for families with younger children until at least Sunday, June 21. As a parent of three, I understand completely the concerns you face. You want to return to worship, but you aren't sure your child can handle being in "big church." As your pastor, let me encourage you. Join us in worship. Yes, your child may cry. Yes, he or she may say something somewhat embarrassing. Rest assured. God made your child with all the wiggles, giggles, and silliness! He will not be offended by them and neither will your First Baptist family. Our plan is to make nursery and preschool options available as soon as the state of Arkansas allows, but until then I encourage you to join us in worship. You will teach your children more about God by worshipping with them than you might imagine.
Finally, there are numerous other ways in which our worship services will be somewhat different. We are discouraging physical contact outside of family units so we will not have a traditional "Meet and Greet" time. Also, we will not pass an offering plate. A box will be available on the Information Table as you enter the Worship Center for you to place your offering. Our bulletin will also include information about our online giving and text to give options. Speaking of our bulletin, the format has changed significantly, including a tear-off Connection Card to share prayer requests, update information, or simply to connect with the First Baptist family. Currently, our time of invitation will be limited to a personal time of response that does not require you to leave your seat.
We love you! We know the COVID-19 pandemic and the time of separation it has caused have been hard on us all. We are certain there are things we have missed. We are certain there will be things we would do differently once we look back in a few months. We are just as certain that we cannot wait to worship with you on Sunday, June 7 as we come together for the first time in nearly three months. We encourage you to seek God diligently this week. Ask Him to prepare your heart as we come together again. Let's expect great things from our great God on this great day!
We love you, and there is no where else we would rather be. If you regularly read my article in our monthly newsletter, those words will seem quite familiar. For more than three and a half years, every one of my articles has ended with those words. Every time I have typed those words I am reminded of how grateful I am that God brought us to First Baptist. You have become so very dear to me that I honestly do not know the words to communicate how much you mean to me and to my family.
These past few months have been incredibly difficult for all of us. I so desperately want to see you, laugh with you, and cry with you. I cannot express how much I miss each of you. Yet, as much as I know we all want to see one another, the very essence of love requires us to put aside our wants and desires so that we might focus on the health and safety of not only our First Baptist family but our entire community as well.
After examining Governor Hutchison’s guidelines for churches and the directives pertaining to indoor venues, we would like to provide you with First Baptist’s path to reopening. This path is fairly comprehensive and lengthy, but we wanted to be certain that it was clear and accurate. In developing this path, we considered the limited guidance provided for churches as well as the much more extensive direction given to indoor venues. For example, churches were given little guidance related to attendance capacity other than some social distancing guidelines. However, indoor venues are only able to have an audience of no more than 50 people (regardless of seating capacity) beginning Monday, May 18. Our path to reopening combines information for churches and indoor venues. Also, we would ask you to remember that our path to reopening includes target dates. Recommendations change rapidly as we continue to learn more about COVID-19, and circumstances may require us to make changes to our path to reopening.
First Baptist is targeting a return to in-person worship services beginning Sunday morning, June 7. Please note that all services will be held within the guidelines provided through Governor Hutchison’s office. Those guidelines are likely to include a limit on the number of people attending, mandatory face coverings, and directed seating. In the event that attendance is limited, First Baptist will have multiple services that will be essentially copies of one another with between 45-60 minutes between services to allow the facility to be sanitized properly. We will make more details available closer to June 7.
Sunday School classes will resume no earlier than Sunday, June 21. At this time, current guidelines strongly recommend against having gatherings for children or students. While some of our adult Sunday School classes might not be impacted, First Baptist is a family of faith. We will walk through this together, and right now, this requires us to wait for Sunday School until everyone can meet in their classes.
Approximately two to three weeks after resuming Sunday School, First Baptist will resume Wednesday evening activities. Initially, Wednesday evening activities will likely be focused on adult Bible study along with youth and children’s activities. Choir rehearsal will not resume immediately. Approximately two to three weeks after resuming Wednesday evening activities, we will resume Sunday Evening Worship and activities.
I completely understand this timeline may not be as soon as many of us would like. I confess it is not nearly as soon as I would like personally, but we must all be willing to set aside our desires and preferences to ensure the safety of those around us. First Baptist’s path to reopening is a staged approach in the same pattern as our state officials have recommended for businesses and other organizations. Such an approach helps us to ensure the safety of those we love.
First Baptist’s path to reopening also includes some changes to other calendared events. Vacation Bible School has been moved to July 27-31 from 6:00-8:30 pm. In April, the Arkansas Baptist State Convention cancelled SuperSummer and PraiseWorks. However, at this time CentriKid (July 6-10 in Bolivar, MO) has not yet been cancelled. In the coming weeks we will contact parents and discuss available options with them. A decision regarding First Baptist’s attendance at CentriKid will be shared no later than Monday, June 1.
Finally, in the next few weeks we will post the links to an online survey of no more than 15 questions to help us understand your feelings about returning to regular church activities. In addition to the online survey, you can call the church office during regular business hours and participate in the survey over the phone.
I know this is a lot of information. I also know that all of us are ready to see one another and return to some sense of normal. We love you, and that love makes us protective of you. First Baptist’s path to reopening is more conservative than the plans of other churches. We are not critical of their decisions, but after much prayer, research, and discussion, we believe the path to reopening outlined above is the plan to which God has led us. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me personally. Know that we love you, and there is no where else we would rather be!