COVID-19 Church Updates: Please check back regularly

Update as of 6.18.2021:

Dear Westbrooke Family,

It’s time to provide an update on our favorite subject – COVID – and its impact on Westbrooke.  You all have sources of information that you rely on, so this may be a review for you.  That said, we’ve made a number of decisions based on our evaluation and these are outlined below.

We are constantly monitoring COVID results and will continue to do so.  While we can look at state, national and even international results, our focus is primarily on Johnson County.  JOCO has a good website which is accessible to the public and contains solid information.  This is our primary source for JOCO results, though we have others which are reviewed less frequently.

As we shared at last Sunday’s Vision/Prayer meeting, all the COVID factors – new cases, hospitalizations and deaths – are very favorable for JOCO:

  • Beginning around the first of this year, all factors showed a rapid decline (for example, the average of new cases dropped from 353/day to 46/day)
  • Beginning around the first of March, all factors plateaued and have remained virtually flat to this day
  • Current levels for all factors are as low as they have been since March 2020

You will recall that JOCO relaxed its masks and social distancing requirements for churches in April and for the general public in May, and the statewide emergency declaration expired on June 15th.  We’ve been watching to see if there would be a resulting increase following these actions.  It appears clear that there has not been, thus more good news.

It isn’t clear the impact of vaccinations, but more than half of eligible JOCO residents have been fully vaccinated.  This number continues to grow, though it is clear that there will be those choosing not to be vaccinated.

With all this information in hand, the elders have chosen to take the following action:

  • Return all sanctuary seating to pre-COVID settings
  • Make all church facilities and activities mask-optional
  • Restart Connection folders (to connect with current members and visitors)

We will continue to monitor JOCO results, as we all know things can change.  We will notify the body of any other changes to be made.  Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions or concerns you might have.


Update as of 4.7.2021:

Before you read this, please pause, take some deep breaths and pray for a right and discerning spirit.  This update contains significant information and resulting decisions made by the Westbrooke elders for our body relative to COVID.  We know that this news will create strong and wide-ranging reactions.  Some people will be thrilled with the changes, others not so much.  The bottom line: we cannot develop a plan that will satisfy the entire body all the time – it simply isn’t possible.  We ask that you trust that the elders have prayed over this and made the decisions that we believe are best for our entire body.

The COVID pandemic has created major issues for the world over the past year and they’ve reached to Westbrooke Church.  The health of some in our body have been impacted and we’ve lost a few family members.  We have had many discussions and there are opinions/experts on all sides.   Guidelines and recommendations have changed, motives questioned and much political infighting.  We won’t tackle any of these issues today but there is news to share that will provide great clarity.

On March 25th, the Johnson County Health Officer released a Public Health Order which indicated that all area churches are now EXEMPT from mask and social distancing mandates.  This order includes all religious institutions, facilities, activities and ceremonies (including wedding and funeral services).

The elders wrestled with the implications of this announcement.  We know many in our body are ready to return to the “old days” while others have continued reservations.  We want and need to be sensitive to both groups, as we are all part of the same body of Christ. 

As a result, beginning immediately, we are implementing a “mask optional” approach to all church activities and areas with only a few exceptions, detailed below:

  •      Sunday morning children’s church
  •      Sunday morning children’s Sunday school
  •      Wednesday night youth group

All other areas (e.g., sanctuary, foyer, hallways, restrooms, pastor’s offices, gym, etc.) and all other activities (e.g., worship service, adult Sunday school, adult prayer group, Bible studies, care groups, clubs, adult basketball, outside groups., etc.) will be mask optional.

It is up to you whether to wear a mask (where optional) and/or to be socially distanced.  We will continue to provide areas where people desiring to be socially distanced can do so.  The right side of our sanctuary and the Community Room will continue to have more spacious seating during our Sunday services. We ask that these areas be saved for those wanting to be socially distanced.

As mentioned above, we know this will be welcome news to many in our body but not everyone.  We ask that you show grace to each other and that you not judge anyone that takes a different course of action than you.

Even though we’ve been dealing with COVID for a year now, it remains uncharted territory and extremely fluid.  The elders will continue to closely monitor all of this to determine future decisions.  Please pray for us!

Should you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact me at markw@westbrookechurch.org or the elders at elders@westbrookechurch.org


Update as of 3.10.2021:

Westbrooke Church family,
 
As the church’s administrator, I’m continually reviewing COVID-related data and news.  Not surprisingly, this is a difficult task.  There are many, many sources of data to consider.  It’s complicated as the shared data is not all in agreement.  It’s further complicated because some sources provide straight forward, unbiased information while other sources have agendas (which may or may not be obvious).  

I shared my recent findings with the elder board which we discussed and prayed about.  The outcome was our plan that we shared at last Sunday’s Vision meeting and is outlined in this update.  I’ve provided a good deal of information, so please pray first and then consider what is outlined.

Background

Virtually all COVID-related factors are improving significantly across the entire state and country.  We are most interested in local results.

  •      All factors are showing steep declines for the past six to ten weeks.
  •      All factors are at their lowest levels for the past 6-9 months.
  •      Vaccinations are increasing in substantial numbers.
  •      A third vaccine has been approved.
  •      US results are not as dire as the news sources are generally indicating. 

To be fair, there are negative factors that must also be considered:

  • Though declining and at levels unmatched for many months, some indicate that these levels remain high.
  •  Some declining numbers may be leveling.
  •  Other variants of the virus are popping up.
  •  Spring breaks are happening, which could open the door to increased COVID cases. 

Recent Action

Many states and cities are recognizing the improved results and are taking quick action, including:

  •  Lifting state-wide mask mandates.
  •  Expanding hours and capacity for indoor dining.
  •  Allowing more businesses to open or expand. 

President Biden and the CDC are less than happy with the decisions by these cities and states.  Both have consistently encouraged cities and states to “hold the line” for the foreseeable future to contain the spread the virus.

Our Course of Action

Based on our evaluation of the available data, the Westbrooke elders have determined the following will be our current course of action:

  • While in the church building, all individuals six years of age or older will be required to wear masks.  There are two exceptions to this. 
    • If the individual has a medical condition that doesn’t allow for masking.
    • Masks will be optional for meetings in the church including but not limited to Bible studies, care groups, youth groups, pastoral counseling and outside groups.  While using common areas (e.g., hallways, restrooms, etc.), masks will be required.  Once in the actual meeting room, masks will be optional and each group will determine its own rules for their meeting. (Please note that Sunday services are an exception to this exception.  All individuals will be required to mask during Sunday morning services and Sunday School classes.)
  •  Social distancing is very hard to implement and maintain.  Therefore, social distancing will be left up to the individual.  If you believe you need more room, you can move farther away from those near you.
  •  We’re asking for self-enforcement – for each individual to follow these guidelines.

While not ideal, this approach is the clearest and easiest to implement and enforce.  The elders have discussed and prayed about the best approach to take at this time and ask the body to abide by our recommendations.  Please know that we will continue to monitor results and make changes we deem are appropriate. 

Please remember to extend grace to each other, even if they have differing viewpoints on this (and any other) issue.  And remember that our actions are based on love for one another.

Sincerely,
Mark Whiting
Elder/Administrator


Update as of 10.8.2020:

Months into this strange COVID time, we continue to be bombarded from all sides with facts, figures and opinions. It’s a reminder of the old line (modified for you) – “lies, darned lies and statistics”.  Experts from both camps espouse their own definitions of “truth”, but it’s difficult to discern what the real truth is.  We’re reticent to add our voices to this chorus, thinking that you all have heard enough.  However, we’ve heard from plenty of folks who said they’ve grown tired of the constant news and have stopped listening.  Here are some thoughts for you.  (We realize that merely sharing these thoughts will increase the number of comments we get in response — please be kind!)

We watch the news and results more closely than many, on behalf of our church.  Our focus is much more on local results and issues rather than the national scene.  These results can vary dramatically.

Some sources have identified Kansas as a “hotspot”, but is that accurate?  Kansas is included on one state’s hotspot list, but so are 34 other states!  And even if Kansas is a hotspot, does that mean all parts of the state are in the same position?  How does Johnson County fit in to this picture?

To answer this question, we have focused on data from two sources – the JOCO Covid dashboard and the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) COVID-19 Information Hub.  We don’t merely listen to the pundits’ comments, but dig deeper into the data.

Per the JOCO dashboard, testing continues to increase and, while this makes some people nervous, by itself this fact means little.  What matters more is the rate of cases identified as positive and what happens to these individuals once identified.  And there’s good news on these fronts.  The positive percent climbed steadily since mid-June, when it was extremely low, but has shown a consistent decline for the past two weeks.  More importantly, hospitalizations have never been high in JOCO – 478 in total since early March – and continue to decline.  Emergency room usage has also been below expectations.  Finally, while we don’t want at all to speak lightly of death, there have been 161 deaths during the seven months the data has been tracked, a rate of .03%.

Data from MARC – consisting of five MO counties and four KS counties comprising the KC metro area – shows favorable results for: lowest number of new cases, average deaths, average deaths per case, and lowest new hospitalizations.

All that said, we’re not suggesting lessening our efforts.  We’re going to continue to mask during our services and meetings in the church.  Most of the sanctuary continues to have ample social distancing space, though we have returned to pre-COVID seating in part of the sanctuary for those that are comfortable with less distance.  And let me remind you why we are continuing to mask – it’s because we want to love our brothers and sisters.  Masks are no one’s favorite, but it’s an easy way to care for our family.

Hope this gives you some positive news.  Please let us know if you have any thoughts or questions. And know that you are greatly loved by the Westbrooke staff and elders.


Update as of 8.12.2020:

Dear Westbrooke Family,

Since it’s on everyone’s mind, let us share some thoughts relative to COVID, as if you haven’t already heard enough.  On one hand, resulting changes are happening at lightening speed.  On the other hand, it feels like little has changed.   Somehow, both are true!  It may depend on where your focus is. Pilate’s question of “what is truth?” feels very apropos at the moment.

COVID data in Johnson County is actually promising.  The percent of tests coming back as positive is increasing, which isn’t our favorite measure. But, we want to look much broader and deeper than this single measure.  Most other indicators are favorable: new cases, hospitalizations, emergency room
care and deaths are all trending down.  This is good news, though it doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods yet.

Every business is trying to determine how they operate in this “new normal”.  Schools, as well, are trying to figure out how to proceed in this new world.  Parents – bless their hearts! – will have hard choices and sacrifices to make once the schools provide complete clarity.

The Governor’s executive order (20-52) remains in place, but she did not move us back to Phase 2, which she had threatened.  We’ve all experienced the numerous restrictions that remain in place, impact very many aspects of our lives and interactions with each other.

While God does tell us that we are subject to the governments He has put in place, we want you to know that this isn’t the biggest factor motivating our decisions as a church.  What is motivating our current and our future decisions is the love we have for each other.  This may align us with government requirements and might even feel to some that we’re being complicit.  Our motivation could even make us take greater actions/precautions.  Please understand love is motivating our decisions.

We’re finalizing plans for the fall, as best we can given the current situation.  We will be sharing these at the Vision meeting on 8/23.  Please join us for this important meeting.

As always, we’d love to hear from you with your questions, concerns, prayer requests and encouragement.  You are deeply loved by the Westbrooke staff and elders!!


Update as of 7.3.2020:

You have all likely heard about the Kansas governor’s statewide mandate regarding masks.  We want to explain how this will impact our activities at Westbrooke.

As a way of background, the governor made her announcement early in the week, but had few details.  On Thursday, these details were provided and they already are in effect.  Each Kansas county had the ability to accept, reject or modify the governor’s plan.  While many counties have chosen to modify it, Johnson County has not.  Johnson County leadership agreed to implement all the governor’s plans.

The basic fact is that any person in Kansas must wear a mask that covers their mouth and nose when:

  • Inside (or in line to go inside) any public space
  • Outside in public spaces AND unable to maintain a six-foot distance with only infrequent moments of closer proximity (this would not apply to family members)
  • Employees working in a space visited by members of the public, regardless if any such members are currently present

As Westbrooke Church is open to the public, these rules will apply to us.  Therefore, masks will be required inside the Westbrooke building for all activities, including Sunday worship starting Sunday, July 5th.  Visitors to the church office will also be required to wear a mask.

These rules have and will continue to stir up a great deal of emotions.  Some people are pleased and believe it necessary to contain the COVID virus in our area.  Others see it has an overreach and overreaction.  This is not a forum or request for debate.  But, let’s continue to strive for the three things we outlined at the outset:

  • Continue to meet as a body (though admittedly in different ways than we imagined)
  • Love each other and show grace to people, inside the body or out, that hold differing opinions
  • Be subject to the government authorities, provided they don’t go against scripture

Sundays will again look different, but we can worship even with masks!  And note that on Communion Sundays for the time being, we will have individualized communion packets that will allow us to meet the body’s needs for safety.

We look forward to seeing you if you plan on coming to the church building.  We look forward to connecting with you through the livestream if you opt to stay home.  Either way – let’s worship Jesus together!


Update as of 6.23.2020:

The State officially moved into Phase 4 of the Ad Astra plan on 6/22, which removed prior restrictions on gatherings of all types, including churches.  Previously, the governor had moved final decisions to local communities to allow for geographical differences.  Johnson County stated its intent to voluntarily adhere to the State’s.  In a press conference last night, the governor “recommended” that we remain in Phase 3 through July 6th.  Whether we’re in Phase 3 or Phase 4, there is no impact on Westbrooke.

The pastors and elders agreed at the outset of this unique time to review our situation every few weeks.  This approach allows us to consider the current situation, to protect the health of our body and to respond in a nimble fashion.

In light of all known factors, our service this Sunday (June 28th) will be virtually the same as last week.  We will:

  • Meet in person and livestream
  • Utilize the Sanctuary and the Community Room
  • Maintain social distancing/seating in the Sanctuary and the Community Room
  • Masks and other PPE are optional (at the discretion of the individual)
  • Offerings can be made in the boxes at the back of the room — the plates will not be passed
  • Adult Sunday school and prayer will remain on Zoom
  • No children’s Sunday school or children’s church will be held

New this week — we will sing out loud to the Lord!  We’ve missed this part of our worship so come prepared to make a joyful noise to Him.

If you have any symptoms or aren’t feeling well, please stay home and connect through our livestream!


Update as of 6.10.2020:

This Sunday, June 14th at 10:30 we will gather to worship, but it won’t be exactly how it used to be.  There are changes that have to happen and others that make sense to happen. Click HERE for a video update regarding Sunday. For those that would rather read about this re-gathering/re-opening, the following outlines what you can expect on Sunday:

  • All entry will be at the main doors (west side of the building)
  • A greeter will be at the main door to welcome you, open the door for you and point you in the direction you need to go
  • All activity will be on the main floor; downstairs will not be utilized on Sunday
  • The church has been cleaned thoroughly in advance and will be cleaned again after the service
  • There are blue markings on the floor to provide estimated social distancing
  • Bathrooms will be available on the first floor, but cleaning will be minimal during the service; since the service will be approximately one hour in length, we’re hoping the bathrooms will have minimal use but they are available if needed
  • We will use the sanctuary and the Community Room; you’ve indicated your room preference and a follow up email will be sent soon to indicate which room we’re asking you to sit in
  • There will be no adult Sunday school (these will be held prior to church via Zoom)
  • There will be no youth or children’s Sunday school
  • The seating has been re-spaced to allow for sufficient social distancing.  We ask that you not rearrange the chairs
  • You may share a row with another family, allowing two seats between you and the nearest member of the other family
  • We will not “pass the plate” – donation boxes are set up at the back of the sanctuary and in the CR
  • There will be no singing this week (humming is permitted!)
  • There will be no bulletins
  • Masks and other PPE are voluntary and up to the individual; none will be provided
  • At the conclusion of the service, you will be dismissed row by row (similar to a wedding)
  • If one of our attenders does get the virus, this will be communicated to the proper authorities as well as to the body
  • If you’re sick or simply aren’t yet comfortable to attend, that’s okay – you can join the Livestream service 

This reflects most of the needed information for Sunday, June 14th.  Should you have questions, you can reach out to Mark Whiting or Rob Crandall.


Update as of 5.28.2020:

Starting June 7, our services will be live-streamed at 10:30am on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrYTVszRehzsn6sWHqV39JA

We are targeting June 14 as our first in-person church service since the COVID-19 shutdown.  We are excited for the chance to be back together again!  Some things will be different so please watch for emails on details of what to expect. If you are a visitor, we would love to have you come, but PLEASE contact the church office at office@westbrookechurch.org so that we can be prepared with appropriate social distancing.

Westbrooke Church office has returned to normal office hours in the building: M-Th 9am – 3pm.


Update as of 5.7.2020:

We have good news! The State has developed its “Ad Astra” plan that will allow for the gradual re-opening of our communities.  Johnson County has adopted this plan, which will allow us to meet face-to-face as a church body and to begin to move back to a more “normal” way of life. With this in mind, we are targeting June 7 as our first in-person church service since the COVID-19 shutdown.  We are excited for the chance to be back together again.  Some things will be different and we wanted to communicate a few of these to you. 

·         The Ad Astra plan has limits on the number of people that can gather together.  Beginning June 1, the limit is 90 people.  We are developing plans to use much of the church building in order to meet this guideline.  And we will employ processes – including social distancing and deep cleaning of our facilities – in the effort to keep everyone safe and healthy.

·         While these guidelines allow us to meet, not everyone will be comfortable being face-to-face yet.  Families with young children, older members or those with compromised health conditions may not be ready to meet in person.  This is completely reasonable.  We should do as the Lord leads and not judge those that choose to attend or not to attend.  We can show each other much grace during this time.

·         The adult Sunday School classes will be held face-to-face at the church on June 7 but there will also be Zoom calls for those not able to be at the church building.  Note that there will be no children’s classes.

·         In addition to meeting face-to-face, we will live-stream the service.  We are currently improving our technology which will help those that aren’t able to attend to stay connected. You can pray for this transition as technology can be tricky!

We are excited to come together as a church body again soon! We will continue to update you as we proceed.


Update as of 4.15.2020:

Today, Governor Laura Kelly extended our stay-at-home order in Kansas to May 3. In compliance with this order, we hope to have out next gathering on Sunday, May 10, but we are aware that this date is subject to change.


Update as of 3.23.2020:

With the mandatory stay-at-home order now in effect in the Kansas City metro, we are sadly closing the church building until the end of April. Sermons will still be recorded and posted on a weekly basis, so be sure to subscribe to our YouTube page and like our Facebook page!

Lord willing, we hope to be able to reconvene in person on Sunday, April 26th!

Westbrooke is not “CLOSED” though! Pastors, elders, and staff are monitoring emails and will continue to meet virtually in the coming weeks. If you need anything Westbrooke family, please don’t hesitate to contact us! We are open to you! Please also consider giving to our Needs Ministry during this time as we already have new financial needs within the church body due to mandatory closures and job losses. We are working on a way to allow you to give electronically, but for now, you can continue to mail any giving amounts by check to the church office. Designate “Needs Ministry” in the memo line of your check. Thank you!

We are here for you and we love you all! May we indeed rest in the Lord during this time.


Update as of 3.18.2020:

We are in the midst of very interesting times to say the least.  The entire world is being humbled by this tiny yet powerful virus because we don’t know what’s coming or how to control it.  May we rest in Jesus during this uncertainty and, at the same time, be salt and light for our families and neighbors.

The elders and the staff have been working diligently to determine our responses and next steps.  We’ve been provided with a great deal of information, advice and recommendations from a wide variety of sources.  We consider this information and pray earnestly for direction and clarity from the Lord.

Some entities have already made decisions for months into the near future.  That is not the approach we plan to take because we simply don’t know where this will go or when.  Instead, we will monitor the situation and review our action on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.  It is our plan to communicate with the church body regularly.

In short, the world is shutting down, but we are not!  Yes, things will be handled differently for a period of time, but Westbrooke – our pastors, elders, staff and the whole body — is staying active and engaged.  Here’s how.

Church Services

We will not hold live services at our building for the remainder of March.  We will continue to monitor the situation and listen to the experts as we determine when we can meet again.  Know, it’s not our intent to leave you on your own.  We are looking into methods for providing Sunday services to you.  More to come shortly on this.

Church Facilities

We will close the church facilities for all internal and external groups for the next two weeks and then evaluate.  It is possible, depending on the virus spread, that this closure could last longer.  We will update as needed.

The office will remain open during this time and you’re welcome to visit, but we ask that you reach out to us in advance and set up a time.  Please call the church office at 913 888 4750 or email us at office@westbrookechurch.org.

Pastoral Care

We want you to know that care from our pastoral staff will not stop, though it may look different.  We can and will use all available sources – face-to-face when appropriate, phone calls, texts or email.  Please don’t carry any burdens alone – reach out to us.  You can reach us at the following:

Pastor John                        jgillespie@westbrookechurch.org
Pastor Chad                       chad@westbrookechurch.org
The Elders                          elders@westbrookechurch.org
Administrator Mark         markw@westbrookechurch.org

If your need is immediate, please “cry out” as we learned in last week’s sermon. “Do not be anxious about anything (COVID-19, the economy, your job) but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil 4:6)

Giving

It is obviously more difficult to collect an offering when we aren’t meeting together.  You are welcome to mail any giving checks to the church office during this time.  We also are exploring alternative methods that would allow you to contribute electronically.  More to come on this issue.

In the Meantime

While the world waits for calm and stability, we can do much!  We can trust that the Lord has this in his hands.  We can love each deeply.  We can love our neighbors and be salt and light, where little exists.  We know of many opportunities our body has had to share the Gospel where these opportunities did not exist in the past.  As Pastor John keeps saying, “it’s a great Gospel time!”

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