I have great news! The Consistory decided on Tuesday night to re-open our church on Sunday, June 28, with three services at 8:00, 9:40 and 11:15—the Easter schedule. We have this spacing to enable us to clean the church between services and attempt to make it as safe an environment as we can achieve.
There are varied ideas as to how we should open. Before revealing the ‘how,’ I’d like us to take a moment and acknowledge that we will have differing opinions about how we open, and we also have diverse opinions about what is happening in our society. But we also have some significant points of agreement. In spite of any differences, we all agree about the following:
- None of us want to be living with the restrictions of Covid-19.
- All of us value our relationships in our church family.
- We all want to worship together again.
- We want everyone, no matter what their age or health circumstances, to return to worship as soon as they safely can.
- We want everyone to feel completely welcome and included in our family.
- Finally, we want no one to feel either socially or spiritually pressured to come to church. You must do what is the wisest and best for your life circumstances, and we completely bless you in whatever choice you might make. We long for the time when things truly do return to a more normal experience of being together.
There are two Scriptures that I would share with you to frame this discussion. Romans 13 says, “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished.” (Romans 13:1-2) If you’re like me, when I saw the word ‘punished’ included in that Scripture, I was surprised, but there it was in the New Living Translation of the Bible that I use. What makes that Scripture even more amazing and challenging is the fact that it was written by Paul during the time of the oppressive Roman Empire.
A second Scripture that I’ve considered is in the following chapter of Romans. It’s speaking to the issue of eating meat that has been previously offered to idols. While Paul clearly says that there is nothing wrong with eating that meat, for some, who previously worshipped idols, it is wrong, and it offends their conscience. Therefore, for the sake of the weaker brother, those of us who don’t have the conviction that eating that meat is wrong, should nonetheless not eat the meat, out of respect for the weaker brother.
The reason to reference those Scriptures is to say that some of us may think the behavioral standards that we want followed in the church during this season of time are overly confining and restrictive. However, out of respect for those in authority over us and out of consideration for those who are either more vulnerable and strongly prefer greater amounts of physical protection, we are asking everyone to abide by the behavioral standards we are requiring when coming to public worship in our church.\
Even as you read some of those words, hair might be standing up on the back of your neck and you are offended. If you are having that experience, I want to share some additional words of Paul as he speaks about eating meat offered to idols. He says, “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, (or of certain behavioral guidelines during Covid-19) but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.” Romans 14:17-19
That’s the introduction to the guidelines. Please prayerfully accept our guidelines and honor them. Remember we have diverse and strongly held opinions. We don’t want the issues related to Covid-19 to damage our long and valued friendships. The consistory consists of people who also have diverse opinions just as you have. We had a spirited and healthy debate and developed these guidelines that we pray will be best for the variety of people within our church family. We did our best on behalf of the whole of our congregation. Again, please respect our guidelines and join us as soon as you are comfortable, even though there may be elements of our guidelines that you don’t personally like.
Before we come to worship, pray for your own heart and the heart of others. Pray for unity for our church family. It’s almost as if we’ve decided to go on a family vacation together, and some of us might prefer the mountains and others of us prefer the beach. But this year, we’re going to the beach. Don’t be miserable and ruin the experience for everyone in the family. Embrace it and enjoy the time of being together as we worship the Lord.
Finally, a couple of general statements of a practical nature that we need to express.
- If you are sick, PLEASE stay home and continue to worship with us online.
- No matter what we do and no matter what our guidelines might be, we cannot guarantee that you will not contract Covid-19 while at the church. You have to access your own risk tolerance and determine whether our guidelines are adequate for your comfort level.
- If someone does come to our church and worship with us and later finds out they have Covid-19, we will inform the congregation that that occurred, but with the legal advice we’ve received, we are not obligated nor will we be informing any medical or governmental authority. We will also not reveal the name of the person to the congregation unless they ask for our prayers.
- We will establish an opening date for in-person Sunday School for Children after the in-person worship has been established for a few weeks. When we do begin Sunday School, there will be only one session. It will take place at 9:40.
- We are asking that there be no adult Sunday School in-person classes either June 28 or July 5. Each adult class leadership should figure out their plans in consultation with the Discipleship Team lead, Amy Chase and/or Pastor Randy.
- Individual leaders of ministries and activities should also approach the leadership of the church and/or Pastor Randy as we determine our course in these uncharted circumstances.
Thanks for taking the time to read these thoughts. Please do pray for our church, our nation, and our world. It is a time of great need, but also a season of opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work.
Love in Jesus,