Back to Church: How St. John Lutheran Church – Bingen Adapted During COVID-19

Lutheran churches in the Indiana District have made many adjustments since COVID-19 hit back in March. For St. John Lutheran Church, Bingen, that meant creating a written protocol so they could continue to hold their Divine Services.

In an April pastoral report to council and voters, Pastor Peter Brock explained how St. John would continue in the midst of this current crisis. “Specific and careful measures ensure that the Lord’s house and entry areas are disinfected and sanitized between each group. Members have both been contacted by the pastors and encouraged to contact us with any needs of body or soul. We continue to visit those for whom travel to the church is not reasonable or safe, and we take every precaution possible before and after such visits. Furthermore, in service to the devotional life of God’s people in this place and at this time, videos and bulletins, which include all readings and hymns, of prayer are coordinated with our ordinary worship schedule have been and will, Lord willing, continue to be posted to our website. Regular e-mails with updates and messages from the pastors are also being sent at least weekly.”

To maintain a safe environment during Divine Services, Pastor Brock put together a protocol for his church called the Precautionary Protocol and Procedures in a Time of Pandemic, which gave detailed instructions on every aspect of the service. Because they were restricted to ten people, they offered Divine Services every half-hour, with eight services on Saturday and twenty services on Sunday. Pastor Brock advised several pastors in the circuit and district regarding the protocol, visiting some of them at their church to walk them through it for their specific space and local circumstances.

In the protocol, the church outlined steps on how to conduct a service that met the Governor’s guidelines, while protecting those who attended the service. It ensured the building occupancy didn’t exceed the current limit, mandated a distance of six feet between individuals and families, outlined sanitization methods between services, and ensured personal safety and precautions for both pastors and members.

The protocol also covered how door attendants should perform their duties. This included making sure the doors were propped open for hands free entry, and sanitizing and disinfecting all doors, handles, and railings. The door attendants also ensured that mandated distancing was followed during both entry into the church from the parking lot and while exiting to vehicles. The protocol was shared with a local health official prior to its implementation, and the physician considered it ideal. In addition to local health officials, St. John communicated with local law enforcement for the sake of courtesy and transparency, ensuring that the sheriff was aware that all state and local laws were being followed.

On Easter Sunday, St. John continued to adapt, holding a Sunrise Matins Office at 6:30 a.m. This was conducted via FM radio transmission, so members could arrive and stay in their vehicles. St. John included a live organ and choir and constructed a raised platform for the altar and pulpit. They continued throughout Easter Day with the schedule of small gathering Divine Services.

As the Governor’s orders have relaxed, the protocols at St. John have been adapted, but many of the details still stay the same, including spacing guidelines and cleaning protocols.

The Pastor also emphasized that no one should feel pressured to attend, stating that, “all are free in Christ to stay home and keep to themselves without guilt or judgment.”

As Pastor Brock added, “Be charitable to all members who don’t know what to do. Our aim is not to be right, but to be faithful.”