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The world as we know it has changed. Within a short period of time almost everything we have known has been affected by fear and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. Schools were closed and moved online, borders were restricted, sports leagues were cancelled, and businesses were ordered to shut their doors. Having declared a public health crisis, the province has restricted groups of more than 5 people and disbanded public gatherings. So, for the good of the public interest, churches were told to temporarily shut down their meetings.
Our world has changed and we are not going back to normal anytime soon. Sports leagues are planning for seasons with no fans. Some universities will be fully online in the fall. Even as businesses reopen, they are faced with certain restrictions. Regardless of one’s thoughts about the virus and the response to it, physical distancing, limited crowds, frequent sanitizing, face masks and the like with be our new normal for the foreseeable future. We should expect such restrictions to be no different for when churches can freely meet again.
While no protective safety procedure guidelines have yet been provided to churches by our government for future in-person gatherings, the American Center for Disease Control (CDC) has made numerous recommendations. When we do reopen, we will expect to see some changes. There will most likely be multiple services. There may be service size limits. We will use pre-packaged communion kits. We may have to change how we sing. There will be signs and markers about physical distancing.
With all this in mind, the Elders have discussed a plan to replace the pews in the sanctuary with chairs. While such a change may seem radical, it would provide a number of benefits in terms of flexibility, accessibility, spacing for physical distancing, cleanliness and comfort.
The Type of Chairs
The chairs we are considering have 4.5-inch foam cushions, are covered with stain resistant fabric and are supported by a steel frame. The seat cushion extends over the frame, and with interlocking connectors attaching each chair, it will create the look and feel of bench. Note: This is not theatre-style seating. Bonus: These chairs are stackable.
Our current pews provide a seating capacity of 280 on the main floor of the sanctuary, with 8 people in each row. The length of pews (15 feet) makes it difficult to remove some rows or to separate them.
Using a 20-inch chair would allow us have rows with 9 seats, creating the same size row (15 feet). And with 3 columns of 10 rows (left, centre and right), it would provide capacity for 270.
In addition, chairs would allow us to configure the auditorium based on our needs. For example:
- Weddings: Make a centre aisle for the bride to walk down
- Funerals: Space to maneuver a coffin
- VBS & AWANA: Open area for children to move and group kids together
- Choir & Music: Allowing more space at the front for singers and musicians
Special Note: As our goal is to have maximum flexibility, only the pews on the main floor would be replaced. The pews would remain in the balcony.
To reduce the spread of viruses on surfaces, the chairs can be sprayed with disinfectant after each service without needing to be wiped down. If a chair is soiled, it can be easily removed from use and cleaned without affecting the entire row.
Chairs would allow us to better accommodate those with wheelchairs and walkers, and not simply relegate those with certain ailments or infirmities to the back of the room. And with proper spacing, we can free up the aisle at the back of the auditorium, reducing the congestion that occurs just before and immediately following the end of the service.
COVID & Physical Distancing
Regardless of when things restart, social distancing, 2-metre rules, face masks and sanitizing will be essential. With the current placement of our pews, we would need to rope off a number of rows. While such an option might work in the short term, if there are prolonged restrictions, this would be unattractive and appear unwelcoming.
Converting to chairs will allow us to space out rows with proper distancing based on suggested guidelines and will allow us to comply with any government bylaws, creating a safe environment for everyone.
We all long for our lives to return to normal, but unfortunately that is not our present reality. What we want, as a church, is to meet together again. (And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25) However, it is critical that we provide a safe and healthy environment for our church family and for those with whom we desire to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.