April 22, 2020
The general trend of new Covid-19 cases and deaths in our area is declining, but it is still a serious problem. Therefore, All church activities in the building have been cancelled until further notice. The office's temporary hours are Monday-Thursday from 9:00 AM-3:00 PM. Please call us if you need anything! I think that it is time for us to start talking about how we can begin to meet together and what that should look like, even though at this point we do not know when that will take place. I want us to be ready with a plan that makes sense so that we can communicate this as much as possible.
Today I want to inform you of our over-arching goals and priorities so you can know what is influencing the plans we are making. First of all, we are legally permitted to meet together. In our state, the governor has explicitly permitted the use of religious places for religious purposes. So, yes, we could meet together. But, should we? And when we do meet together, what sort of precautions should we take? Here are some of the things that we are considering:
1. Is it loving?
One of the hugely encouraging results of this pandemic season has been the many ways you have expressed love for another. We are not only responsible to love one another, but we do. This is a great question to ask as we consider when and how we begin gathering again. We have members of our congregation who have particular food allergies, and because we love them way more than food, we do not bring those kinds of foods into our building. We have a number of members who are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19; we have to ask ourselves the question, is it loving to meet together yet?
2. Is it wise?
Wisdom is making the best decision that you can based on the information that you have in the moment. There are many things to consider, such as childcare. What will that look like? What about coffee and goodies at the cafe? What about the library? Can you let your kids run around the building? Can you have a choir practice?
3. Is it a good witness?
Some may argue that meeting together would show how much we love God and are not afraid of disease or death. After all, life is full of risk anyway. You could die from a car accident on your way home from getting tested for the virus. That is true, but while I want to be ready to meet, do you think that our community would be more willing or less willing to listen to the gospel based on our actions? Is our government overreacting to this? Is this overblown? Some think so, but those who have treated the sick in the hospitals with this disease, zipped up body bags, or suffered from it probably don't think that the governor's reaction is that extreme. Here is a little word of caution to some of us. Being in leadership is not easy. You have to make decisions based on the information that you have in the moment, knowing full well that you are not God, you do not know everything, but you still have to make a decision. So, while the government has told us that we can meet, we will certainly take guidance from the government for when we should, because that is part of our witness. The whitehouse.gov has proposed a 3-phase process for "opening up America again." Phase 2 guidelines allow for churches to begin meeting together when they can observe good protocols. We have developed a rough draft that outlines our plan to begin meeting again that also has 3 phases (1 - meeting but with fairly tight restrictions; 2 - meeting, not as tight; 3 - back to as normal as possible). Our 1st phase would likely begin when the government thinks that we as a state are in their Phase 2. (I hope that wasn't too confusing.)
Finally, while you likely have opinions about where this pandemic came from, who is exploiting it for whatever reason, how we should have responded, for our life together, there are more important things to talk about and focus on. Romans 14 provides us with very important instructions on how to love and care for one another when we do not agree on minor issues. What you and I think about social distancing protocols is a minor issue, but what we think about and how we reflect the gospel is a major issue. There will be people who are comfortable shaking hands and giving hugs, while others are not. There will be people who are comfortable putting their children in the nursery, and others won't be. There will be people who may be comfortable working in VBS, and others won't be. (By the way, we have not made a decision yet on whether or not VBS is going to happen this summer.) Those who are comfortable with less precautions are not better or more spiritual than those who are not, and those who are less comfortable are not necessarily wiser. You are to love both groups and help both groups love one another.
For me, while I am grateful to be able to teach and preach through live stream, it makes it harder and harder every week that goes by and we don't meet together. I've spent a good bit of time this week working on a re-entry plan, talking with the staff, engaging the elders, talking with a number of other pastors in the area and around the country so much that I am emotionally ready to be done with this entire lock down and get back to life. But, we may not be able to do that for a few weeks. So, as you have been SO faithful and kind to pray for your church and the leadership, would you pray that we have wisdom that we might do what is right and best?
Grace and peace,