COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Updates
Monday, July 27, 2020
UPDATE ON RE-GATHERING: AUGUST 2 POSTPONED
While we were hoping to re-gather for in-person worship on August 2, increased cases of COVID-19 in Fulton County and in Georgia have led us to postpone those plans. On July 21, The Session unanimously voted to act on the recommendation of the Task Force for Campus Operations to reconsider re-gathering plans and other on-campus ministries at the beginning of October.
On Sunday, August 9, Tony Sundermeier will launch a video detailing what the congregation and larger community might expect by way of ministry programming for August and into the early part of the fall. Stay tuned and continue to pray for our Task Force, Session, Staff, and our entire congregation.
Important Community Updates
We will not gather to worship in person at least through the beginning of October 2020, but will continue to livestream at 11:00 a.m. Sunday mornings. We will continue to be diligent, thoughtful, and measured in our decision-making, following the guidance of public health officials and prioritizing the health of every member and friend of the church.
Office Hours: An Online Pop Up Bible Study
Now on Wednesdays through September 2nd from 7:00-8:00 p.m. on Facebook.
Office Hours: An Online Popup Bible Study” returns on Wednesday, August 5, 2020, at 7:00 p.m. (EST) on Facebook Live and Zoom. Meeting on Wednesday evenings (Aug 5–Sept 2) for this series, Office Hours features engaging and unscripted conversations about Scripture and the Christian life with First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta’s Scholar in Residence, Chris Holmes, and Columbia Theological Seminary’s associate professor of Hebrew Bible, Brennan Breed. Our next study, “The Book of James: Wisdom and the Way of Jesus,” will provide a chapter-by-chapter exploration of the Book of James and an examination of its central theological themes. As with past classes in Office Hours, this study of James will include conversations with other professors from Atlanta and around the country.
On Mondays through Thursdays, we will provide a daily devotional written by one of our pastors, sent by email and posted on our Facebook page. Friday emails will be more informational, and on Sundays, we will send a brief email with the day’s opportunities for worship and learning.
Browse the devotional archive here.
Our Community Ministries, which serves over 900 of our neighbors each month, continue on Monday-Wednesday from 1:00-3:00 p.m. and Sunday from 6:30-8:30 a.m. Security will also be present in the Smith Building lobby Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
We are open on Sunday morning, 6-7:30 a.m. for boxed breakfasts and mail pick-up for those working during the week. We are taking every safety precaution available to us and continue to comply with the standards of social distancing outlined by the State of Georgia.
Care Kits Community Ministries is providing more guests than usual with hygiene packs, snacks and other essential items for daily living. With the disruption of summer plans, and families spending more time at home together, Care Kits are easy to assemble and a great project for people of all ages looking for ways to help our community. Your support, via Amazon or any other source is deeply appreciated! View the Amazon list here. Please reach out to Marie Wandera with any questions.
The Samaritan Counseling Center continues to work with clients online.
In the days ahead, if you would like to connect for online Spiritual Direction, Pastoral Counseling, or Clinical Therapy sessions, please reach out to Executive Director, Katie Sundermeier, at email@example.com or Clinical Director, Anna Ward Martin, at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also email any one of our team members directly.
We are committed to providing mental and spiritual healthcare for those who reach out to SCCA in times such as these.
We will continue to work from our sliding fee scale available on our website. Additionally, please reach out to Katie Sundermeier to discuss financial needs during this unprecedented time if needed.
Also available on our website is a complete list of our staff and a place where you can donate online if you are able to support the work we are doing today.
Through early October 2020, employees of the church, Childspring International, and Johnson C. Smith Seminary will continue to tele-work with the exception of a portion of the Community Ministries staff and volunteers; worship leaders, including broadcast staff and volunteers; and essential security and custodial personnel as necessary.
THURSDAY, MARCH 12, 2020
Dear Members and Friends of First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta,
Our Psalm for this week’s sermon series is Psalm 95. In this song, God is enthroned as King and Lord over all things. At the heart of the Reformed tradition is the conviction that God is God. In these uncertain days, we remain rooted and grounded in this truth. God is sovereign: this is our hope, our confidence, and our peace in the midst of the storm.
After consultation with physicians and public health professionals and conversation as a Session this afternoon via ZOOM, FPC is implementing a number of changes to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our community, effective immediately.
During this time, I would call on each of you to stay connected to other church members. Pick up the phone. Call someone. Please especially be mindful of members and friends who might feel very isolated. I would also ask you to pray. Perhaps you would commit individually or as a household to pray the following prayer on a daily basis even as we trust God to be God in this time.
Adapted from Rev. Jill Duffield — God of all that is seen and unseen, our anxiety rises as the invisible coronavirus spreads. We worry about the impact of this illness on healthcare workers, older adults, those already physically fragile, the vulnerable among us and people whose livelihoods are tied to the regular movement of people and commerce. We recognize in this moment how inextricably connected we are to one another and we hope that this unmistakable realization will shape all our actions in ways that foster the common good, increase compassion and expand communal care. Bring healing to the sick, strength to the caregivers, comfort to those who mourn, peace to those in quarantine and mercy to all of your beloved creation. In Christ’s name and for his sake we pray. Amen.
Dear Members and Friends of First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta,
- Pre-K (and their parents), 10:00-10:30 a.m.
- Kindergarten and first grade (and their parents), 10:00-10:30 a.m.
- Second and third grades, 10:00-10:30 a.m.
- Fourth and fifth grades, 10:00-10:45 a.m.
- Middle school, 10:00-10:45 a.m.
- Adults, “Office Hours” with Chris Holmes, 9:30-10:30 a.m.
Dear Friends of First Presbyterian Church,
You have been in our prayers and on our hearts and minds as we have gathered by Zoom to make decisions about our life together as a family of faith. We thank you for lifting us in prayer, too.
This season has presented us with many new questions and challenges and we are grateful for your support as we seek the Spirit’s wisdom. Our most recent decision regarding the FPC campus and operations is due to expire on Monday, May 25. We have therefore sought the guidance of our church’s recently formed Task Force for Campus Operations about how we should proceed in the days ahead.
That Task Force is acting on our behalf to consider data and guidance from public health and government officials. Their goal is to provide a roadmap for a time when we will be able to gather again at the corner of Peachtree and 16th Streets. As you can imagine, their work is complicated, since our church serves many groups of people in many ways. As a reminder, this Task Force includes the following church members: Ben Balsley, MBA, former CEO of ONEPATH (Session member), Anna Bramwell, MD, Pediatrician, Piedmont Pediatrics, Ann Council, MPH, Chris Edmonds, CEO, ENERECAP Partners LLC, Sheryl Gabram-Mendola, MD, MBA, Emory’s Surgeon-in-Chief for Grady Health System and the Director of the AVON Comprehensive Breast Center at Grady, Kristen Holtz, PhD, President and CEO, KDH Research and Communications, Richard Kauffman, MD, North Atlanta Primary Care, Hans Lee, MD, Internal Medicine, Cardiology, Wellstar Hospital, Wade Miller, JD, Partner, Alston and Bird, Gary Mize, JD, Senior Counsel, Alston and Bird, and Patricia Thompson-Reid, MPH, Community-based Health Specialist at the Centers for Disease Control. The task force also includes staff members Tony Sundermeier (Senior Pastor), Rebekah LeMon (Executive Pastor), Stephanie Lane (Senior Director of Communications and Connections), JoAnn Regruto (Director of First Presbyterian Preschool), and Craig Anderson (Facilities Director).
The Task Force divided its work in order to best utilize the expertise of its members and bring us a new set of procedures as soon as possible. In the weeks ahead, their areas of focus will be:
- Gating Guidelines and Metrics for Readiness: synthesizing CDC and other guidelines and applying them to our context; determining what measures we need to meet before we can ensure safety on our campus
- Insurance and Compliance: planning for all foreseeable needs and complying with applicable guidelines
- Operational Logistics: considering all aspects of our gathering (building access, movement of people, space configuration, reservations, cleaning, supplies, etc.) to create a new set of procedures for a new time in our life together
- Ministry Programming: evaluating each of our existing ministries according to the above; considering and presenting new opportunities for ministry
- Ongoing Communications and Messaging: keeping our community informed about ongoing work and decisions; making all changes to our operations clear so that all are informed and confident before coming back to campus
- Finances: considering the financial impact of expanded operating costs
The Task Force is considering weighty questions with implications for people’s physical and emotional well-being and they have many details to work through in the coming weeks. To assist these efforts, the task force developed a congregation-wide survey. Please complete THIS SURVEY to help guide their work. We hope you will join us in praying that God will bring this group wisdom, creativity, and patience.
At a special called meeting of the Session on Sunday, May 17, we received and approved the Task Force’s recommendation to continue to worship by livestream and to keep our campus closed for most gatherings until at least August 1, 2020. The campus will continue to be used for services through our community ministries, and our Women’s Transformation Center residents will continue to live on site. We are exploring options for appropriately distanced outdoor gatherings for summertime, and our staff will continue to bring us together in worship through the livestream and other online connections.
We expect this news will be comforting in some ways, as we do not make any premature decisions or take any risks with health and safety. We also hope it will alleviate some fatigue and offer some clarity, as many of us are weary of day-by-day decision-making and waiting for news about each of the gathering places in our lives. We also realize that it might feel like a long way off, particularly as some businesses and other spaces begin to open in our state. We want to acknowledge all of those feelings and share that we expressed them in our discussions too. None of us wants to wait longer to be together. This is not a decision we made lightly, but one that is born of our church’s theology and identity. We are a place of radical hospitality, a people bound together because we have all received Christ’s welcome. We recall the words of 1 Peter 2:10: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Because we have all been welcomed by God, we must also ensure that everything we do is in a spirit of welcome for all of God’s children. Our call is not to get back to campus as quickly as possible, but to be hospitable in all that we do.
Our governor’s current executive order instructs people who self-identify as vulnerable to remain at home until at least June 13. This group includes many in our community—members, friends, and staff. When we look at another person, we don’t immediately know what burdens they are carrying. We don’t know how old they are or whether they have something that’s on a list of “underlying conditions.” We don’t know if they are anxious or caring for loved ones who are. We don’t know if they have seen COVID-19 up close or have become fearful about interactions. Apart from this pandemic, we would never ask members of our community to group themselves by vulnerability or age or access to childcare or comfort level. So rather than dividing into groups of those who might possibly come and those who couldn’t, we are choosing to live out our call to ensure that our campus is a safe and welcoming place for all people.
Given that summer is often a period of lower attendance, the timing of this decision also creates space for us to see what happens in our state in the coming weeks, to wait for clear guidance relevant to our different types of gatherings and ministries, and then to shape our operations carefully to address all needs. First Presbyterian Church has long been a thought and theological leader, and in this moment, we hope to be no different. We hope that this decision will communicate to our congregation and the community our deep love for people. And when we do gather in person again, we will be sure that we have done everything we can to make our gathering safe and a witness to Christ’s welcome for all.
In the meantime, we are comforted by the knowledge that no church is just its building. Since March 15, we have seen our congregation come together even though we are physically apart. We give thanks to God for all the ways we are, even now, living out Christ’s love and hospitality. May we continue to reach out to each other, to worship together online, and to pray for one another. We pray for God’s protection and peace for you all.
The Session of First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta,
Noreen Andrews, Ben Balsley, Tim Bennett, Rick Bold (Clerk), Erin Boorn, David Dantzler, Dale Dewberry, Michele Garren, Cathy Hasbrouck, Florida Huff, Becky Kelley, Sarah Kirsch, Rebekah LeMon, Tad Little, Julia Newsom, Dell Rearden, Gary Shell, Greg Smith, Robert Sparks, Tony Sundermeier (Moderator), Keith Thompson
Dear Friends of First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta,
We write with updates about the work of our Campus Operations Task Force and Session. As you know, information continues to develop about the coronavirus/COVID-19, and we are trying to take faithful and thoughtful steps so that we can gather again at the corner of Peachtree and 16th Streets. In the meantime, we encourage you to continue to live out the truth that the church is not a building. Be in touch with one another. If you are socially distancing with other church families (or neighbors who aren’t part of our congregation!), watch our services together and share fellowship. If you have access to outdoor space and can see church members while taking the precautions you need to be safe and healthy, please do! It will be wonderful to be back on campus, but our operations are necessarily going to look and feel different. So during this time of waiting, may we all think creatively about how we can be the church for each other. The Holy Spirit is not bound to our campus. The Holy Spirit lives in us and is loose in the world!
Task Force for Campus Operations
Our task force has begun its work in earnest. Our first steps have been focused on information/data gathering from our own congregation, medical and public health professionals, colleagues in other churches, and other resources.
We want to thank Kristen Holtz and her husband, Eric Twombly, (both members of the church) for their professional administration and interpretation of our recent congregation-wide survey, May 21-May 30. We had 411 usable responses. The Executive Summary of the survey can be found HERE.
One important theme from the survey relates to feelings of safety and when we might re-gather on campus. Notably, 27% of the respondents indicated that they would not feel safe re-gathering for worship or ministry activities on campus until there is a vaccine or they have a positive antibody test, and 20% of the respondents indicated that they already feel safe to return. The remaining 53% indicated that they would feel safe re-gathering if operational changes are made. When asked about the most important operational changes needed, the respondents in that group selected layout changes to distance people six feet apart, creating one-way flow in the building, wearing masks, increasing cleaning and disinfecting protocols, and adding hand-washing and sanitizing stations and protocols.
In order to move as quickly as we can, the Task Force has divided into sub-teams based on expertise. Those groups are focused on several needs, including:
- Setting data-based metrics to guide our timeline;
- Insurance and compliance with emerging requirements for workplaces and community gatherings;
- Synthesizing the multiple sets of CDC guidelines that apply to our wide range of ministries;
- Defining new procedures for our workplace and use of our campus for worship and other activities (including the operational changes noted above and the supplies, staffing, and infrastructure to support them);
- A video that will help show our congregation how to access our campus going forward and what it will look and feel like to come back;
- Communications to ensure that everyone knows what to expect;
- Other options for us to share worship and fellowship safely, using this time as an opportunity to be creative and nimble.
We are working without a playbook, trying to make responsible plans despite multiple unknowns. So please keep this team in your prayers and if you have specific questions, let us know.
Thanks to the ongoing generosity of our members and friends, coupled with reduced expenses as a result of COVID-19, we are 340% ahead of budget through May. Your financial support has allowed us to continue to pay our current staff without exception, provide the necessary funds to meet both typical and new needs for those we serve in Community Ministries, and to support our broadcast and virtual ministries as we remain apart. With gratitude and thanksgiving, we encourage you to continue your ongoing financial support of First Presbyterian.
Associate Pastor Nominating Committee
At its stated meeting, June 16, 2020, the Session voted to reconvene the Associate Pastor Nominating Committee for Community Ministries effective immediately. Please pray for this committee as they re-launch this critical work on behalf of our congregation, and please pray for the person God might be calling to join us in ministry here.
Know that we miss being together as a family of faith and give thanks for the strength and love that keep us united even when we are apart.
Tony Sundermeier, Senior Pastor
Rebekah LeMon, Executive Pastor
Read the Executive Summary