Sunday | 9am
Williams Tree Farm
I want to update you on our plans for church in the coming weeks. Additional state sponsored safety measures were issued on October 3rd and increased mitigation efforts are being applied to our region beginning on October 25th. First, I want to honor the health care experts and the local officials who are trying to lead our communities through such an unknown time. As a church we are committed to praying for them and for their good (1 Tim. 2:1-4).
After reviewing the new order, there is ambiguity on how it should affect our church meetings. I’ve consulted with other churches in the area and the response is varied. Many churches that are regathering for in-person meetings are using the Guidance for Places of Worship document to make decisions about their services. Since the new order doesn’t explicitly speak to churches, I understand their reasoning. Without uniform and clear guidance, this feels like a matter of wisdom and discretion.
We feel very comfortable with our current plans for weekly meetings. Our plan is a modified version of both the Guidance for Places of Worship and the executive orders for region 1 of Illinois. Meeting at the Tree Farm has allowed us to meet with best practices for the prevention of COVID’s spread. Our largest group meets outdoors, we limit the indoor seating, we socially distance, we wear masks, our worship activities are contactless, singing has been moved to the end of the services, and more.
As a church we are concerned for the health and safety of people both physically and spiritually. Our expertise and influence, however, lands primarily in the latter category. We feel that our in-person meetings (along with church online) is the best way for us to care for our people right now. We are compelled to do all that we can for the overall wellness of our people. We feel that our current plan allows us to do just that.
 Section “b.” of Executive Order 2020-62 restricts meetings and social groups but does not clearly define those meetings as relating to church gatherings. Please note, there are different recommendations depending on the industry. This is why many churches have determined to rely on the industry specific "guidance for places of worship" document published by the Illinois Department of Public Health. To see the newest order, you can visit their site here:
Central is Beginning to Regather for Worship! Here are some details:
• Here's how we'll keep you and your family safe (please read all of this before you come):
If you are at an elevated risk for Covid-19 or if you have any symptoms, please continue to worship with us online.
Parking attendants will welcome you and show you where to park
Ushers will help all of us remember to follow social distancing guidelines (no hugs, handshakes, or even elbow bumps, and at least 6 feet between households)
Please bring your own lawn chairs and/or blankets to sit on.
Pre-packaged communion is available on your way in.
Ushers will lead you to your seat (beginning at the front with those who come earliest.)
Because we care about your health and the health of the people around you, we will ask everyone to wear a face mask. There will be times in the service where you'll be prompted to take it off or put it back on, but we'd ask you to wear it whenever you're moving around.
Restrooms will be available for emergencies and will be cleaned between each use. But please plan in advance not to need them.
You will be dismissed in the reverse order that you were seated to keep crowding at a minimum.
This upcoming Sunday we will hold our first in-person gathering since March 8th. We are very much looking forward to taking steps in the direction of safely regathering again. We are prayerful that things continue to open up and that people are able to remain safe and healthy in the process. With that in mind, let me explain some of what you can expect in this interim season.
First, our upcoming services will be outdoor services at Williams Tree Farm in Rockton, IL. We are working with the team at Harlem High School to safely regather there. In the meantime, we are blessed to have the ability to utilize the Tree Farm’s facility. I know that I’m biased but those guys are pretty great. If you’re so inclined, you should express your gratitude to them.
Second, we will continue to offer the online service for those who are unable to gather with us in-person. The outdoor experiences on Sundays will be live-streamed to the usual channels of Facebook, Youtube, and our website.
Third, we will closely follow the recommendations of the Illinois Department of Public Health regarding places of worship. The details will be outlined below. We’re happy to do this because we want to keep our people as healthy as possible and reduce the risk of infection. We also want to protect the tree farm from incurring any violations that would further disrupt their ability to conduct business. And finally, we want to be honorable and compliant in the way that we express our Christian commitments. We should be gladly willing to sacrifice our preferences for the sake of others.
Fourth, we will offer a drive-in church experience for those who would prefer to remain safely in their vehicle. This allows people to be physically present while remaining socially distant. If you would prefer this option, let our parking attendants know and they will guide you to the appropriate area.
Finally, each week’s outdoor service will be weather permitting. We will make the final call at 8am on Sundays. You will be able to find that information on our website. If weather does not cooperate, we will still offer the online service and the drive-in church experience.
P.S. We understand the challenges that some of these guidelines present. This is not business as usual as we are having to make significant adjustments to accommodate these unusual circumstances. At the end of the day, I trust that you will be gracious and respectful—regardless of your personal convictions on these matters. I pray that even this challenging process of regathering will give us opportunities to display the beauty of Christianity—a religion of love and sacrifice.
When will Central Machesney Park resume in-person worship services?
We are excited to resume worship service in an outdoor format at Williams Tree Farm starting June 21. We will continue to update you as restrictions are further lifted and new opportunities arise.
What are the service times?
Currently, we offer one service at 9am that is in person (outdoors) and live-streamed to the web.
What precautions related to COVID-19 is Central Machesney Park taking?
Everyone will be asked to wear a mask before and after the service (when we are passing one another and distancing is difficult) and during singing, but there will be times during the service (particularly the sermon) when you will be able to remove your mask. Children three years old and younger are not expected to wear a mask.
The outdoor seating allows people to sit with their immediate family while maintaining appropriate social distance between the various groups. Ushers will help people to get situated.
Offering will be collected and communion celebrated without passing plates or trays.
Our shared Bibles have been put away—please bring your own, and let us know if you need one you can keep!
Why are you requiring masks?
According to guidance from the CDC and our local health department, masks help limit the spread of COVID-19 by people who have not yet developed symptoms but are already contagious. There are also some in our congregation who are more likely to regather if they know we’ll be wearing masks. Even if you aren’t worried about getting sick yourself, this is an act of sacrificial love towards one another and our community.
We also anticipate that this is a temporary measure; as the health situation in Winnebego County improves, a time will come when masks will no longer be required.
If you already have a mask, please plan to bring it. If you don’t have a mask of your own, we will have complimentary disposable masks available.
We understand that some are not able or not willing to wear a mask. We will continue to provide online streaming of our Sunday service for anyone who thinks that is a better option for them or their family until masks are no longer required.
What else is going to be different?
For now, we’re asking that, instead of our usual hugs, handshakes, and fist bumps, we communicate our love with kind words.
Please plan to come 15-25 minutes before the service starts to help our ushers get people set before we begin streaming
I’m coming alone—will I have to sit by myself?
If you and some friends are comfortable sitting together, please feel free.
Consider if you have a friend coming alone whom you could invite to sit with you.
Will children’s ministry be available?
For now, children’s ministry will not be meeting.
Parents will be expected to keep their children with them at all times.
We will provide an activity sheet for kids coming to the service and (if needed) a restaurant-style package of crayons.
Will restrooms be open?
We are encouraging attendees to plan ahead. The restrooms are not open to the public but will be available for emergency use. We’ll have cleaning supplies available for wiping down surfaces and handles. We will also have a staff person cleaning between uses. We understand that this is a unique challenge but will work hard to make the experience comfortable for you.
Will we celebrate communion?
Yes. Instead of passing the elements, we will have sanitary, single-serve cups available on the way in.
I’m not ready or able to resume gathering—will there be a virtual option?
Yes. We know that some people are unable to regather at this time due to personal vulnerability or caring for someone who is vulnerable, and others are simply not ready. Feel free to stay home. One service will be available on our website.
I’m in a vulnerable group but would like to come—can I?
At present, the CDC advises that people who are over 65, who live in a long-term care facility, or who have certain underlying medical conditions are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-
We encourage those in this group to continue to worship from home, and we will work hard to help you stay connected with the life of the church. If you have weighed the risks and still prefer to gather with us, you are welcome to do so.
Should I stay home if I’m sick?
Yes, please! If you’re feeling unwell, especially if you have a fever, cough, or shortness of breath, please stay home.
When will things start to feel more normal?
We’re looking forward to that day, too! We will continue to pay attention to local health metrics, and we will regularly reevaluate our practice and precautions in light of COVID-19 prevalence and the recommendations of health authorities.
I have more questions about this—who should I ask?
If you have further questions, please feel free to email
(this document is adapted from FAQ pages of other like-minded churches)
CENTRAL CHRISTIAN CHURCH
RESPONDING TO COVID-19
Like many churches across the nation, with the onset of COVID-19, public, in-person worship came to a screeching halt at Central in mid-March of this year. Our gracious God knew what was coming and had prepared our church to do online worship and ministry with excellence. He had arranged the technology, the equipment and a gifted staff to make it happen. Overnight we went from being one church in four locations to being one church in hundreds of living rooms. God is amazing!
Immediately our compassion and creativity kicked into gear to feed the hungry in our area, to support local small business, to minister to those in our region, who serve on the front-line of the pandemic. Once again, when God is looking for a church with a huge heart for generosity, Central Christian steps to the front of the line.
We found new ways to extend excellent ministry to families—parents, children, youth.
We were determined to keep our weekend worship experience at the highest level to exalt Jesus, to engage growing believers and to reach out to those far from God.
To show how clueless your pastor is: I wanted public worship happening again on Palm Sunday. As it turned out, on Palm Sunday I was at a Milwaukee hospital in emergency surgery. Our church was doing just fine online without me.
Pastors and congregations across our nation have been longing for in-person worship. Sadly, our immediate area has been hard hit by the virus. But that’s allowed me time to sit back and observe churches in other areas going public with their weekend services.
One lesson I’ve learned is: JUST BECAUSE YOU WANT SOMETHING WITH ALL YOUR HEART DOESN’T MEAN IT’S THE BEST THING TO DO!
Some churches on the forefront of re-opening had to close their doors, suspending services indefinitely, because of virus-spread and unfortunate deaths. One example of many I’ve seen is a church in Arkansas. Among the 92 attendees at a weekend service were two people, who unknowingly carried the virus. After that public worship, 35 people tested positive for Covid-19. 3 died. This church outbreak infected another 26 people in the community. 2 died.
Thankfully, this hasn’t been the case with other churches that are beginning to re-open.
With current restrictions in our city, we are still in wait-and-see mode at Central. I’ve been going before the Lord daily to find His direction. For some people this is a political issue. Personally, I don’t have that freedom. For me, it can only be a prayerful issue.
The daunting challenge of planning for in-person worship is NOT a competition between fear and faith. It is a healthy balance of religious freedom and moral responsibility. We want our church is to be as safe as possible for as many people as possible, especially for the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40) (ie. children and the most vulnerable). One of Central’s non-negotiable core values is: Children and teens are worth our best effort.
There are those who advocate, “Let us come back to church. We understand the risk to ourselves.” That is the opposite of the Christian faith, modeled by our Jesus, which first sacrifices personal desire, unwilling to put others at risk (Hebrews 12:2)
I’ve heard the complaint, “It’s been too long. I’m tired of waiting to get back to church.”
But the Bible indicates that waiting is an essential part of our faith. How long did Noah wait for what God promised? How long did Abraham wait for a son? How long did Joseph wait in slavery and then in prison? How long did David wait, in hiding and on the run, to be made king? How long did God’s people wait in exile? How long did Jesus wait, before coming from glory to be our crucified Savior and risen Lord? God Himself is our example for why we wait: “God is waiting, for the good reason that He is not willing that any should perish.” I think it wise to align ourselves with our God.
Consider the Holy Spirit-breathed benefits of waiting: “The LORD is good to those who wait.” (Lam. 3:25) “For Your salvation I wait, O LORD!” (Gen. 49:18) “None who wait for You shall be put to shame.” (Psalm 25:3) “Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength.” (Isaiah 40:31)
So, waiting on the LORD to lead us is a good thing. But how do we find His direction?
When everything is in constant change—political posturing, government guidelines, local conditions, future projections—we will make decisions for Central based on Central’s unchanging vision and mission.
Our vision is: “To transform the state-line area into a Christ-like community!” We look forward to re-gathering for public worship, when it’s safe to do so. But presently, our church online is touching so many more new lives with the transformative power of the Gospel—Christ crucified for our sins and risen from the dead. Even when re-gathering safely is possible, we are committed to continuing our church online ministry.
Our mission is: “To know Jesus and to make Him known!” Again, our online church is providing more discipleship resources, biblical content and spiritual practices than ever before, introducing Jesus to those who don’t know Him; renewing the mind (Romans 12:2) and forming the mind of Christ (I Corinthians 2:16) in those who do.
To provide light for the path into the future He’s prepared for Central Christian, the Lord gave me this: “Be glad for all God’s planning for you. Be patient in trouble. Be prayerful always.” (Romans 12:12)
This brief text had such a huge impact on me, I decided to dig deeper. The Greek word for “glad” (chairo) means “to thrive with exceeding gladness.” Reading the verse from this perspective, reminds me of our core value: Excellence honors God and inspires people!
The Greek word for “patient” (hupomeno) means “to persevere bravely and calmly.” As I write this document, the city of Beloit restricts public gatherings to 25 people. If we did open our church today and all members wanted to attend, we’d have to host 70 services each weekend. So, right now we persevere bravely and calmly in this time of trouble.
The third command in the text—“be prayerful always”—is vitally important right now. It is my sense that our good God is preparing a new future for Central Christian. When we do step back into our building, we don’t want to step backward into the past. As good as yesterday might have been (and it was awesome at Central), God is crafting an even better tomorrow (“No man has ever seen, heard or even imagined the wonderful things God has prepared for those who love Him!” I Corinthians 2:9). So, the main thing right now is to stay flexible and be ready to pivot into the new normal God is designing.
Until restrictions (only 25 people present, submitting to virus screening, wearing masks, social distancing) are lifted for public gatherings, I have more a sense of what we shouldn’t do than what we will do.
However, I will continue to look to Jesus. He is large-and-in-charge, who alone knows the future and what’s best for His Bride, the Church. I will continue to open my heart to His voice by opening my mind to His Word. I will continue to study current trends and eternal truths. I will continue to believe that the church of Jesus will prevail. I will stay committed to what makes Central a church, overflowing with the rich favor of God.
I am fully confident Central Christian will re-emerge from this crisis stronger than ever. My dream is that we will do public worship again, when we can do it with as many people as possible in every service; when everyone of every condition is safe to attend; when there is excellent and safe children’s ministry and students’ ministry; when there is an excellent and safe weekend worship experience with congregational singing—no masks and no social distancing. Until such a time as this is possible, let us be glad for all God has planned for us; being patient in trouble and being prayerful always.
With the uncertainty created by this week’s political battles over Wisconsin’s response to Covid19, we wanted to communicate our plans as best we can. We will continue to seek the advice of our county health department as well as professionals in the medical community with regard to any thoughts of reopening in-person worship. We have no plan to do so in the near future, but will continually reevaluate as conditions evolve. Please take a few minutes to listen to our lead pastor, David, as he reminds us who we are, how we treat the most vulnerable, and how our leadership will make decisions in these uncertain times.