We are a church who loves to love. We take seriously our motto – based on scripture – to love God and love others. More recently, we’ve had to lay aside our traditions and routines, and we’ve been forced to find new and creative ways to practice our faith and live out our calling. These have been challenging, frustrating times. But we have never stopped loving God and loving others.
As your lead pastor I’ve challenged our pastoral staff and church board with a common theme over the past couple of years. It’s another concept based on scripture: whatever we do, do it with excellence. I believe we, as God’s people, are called to testify and even represent God’s love and faithfulness to the rest of the world. And when people outside of our congregation look at us, they should see Christ, and we should bear that image well.
So whatever we do, we do it in the name of Christ. And that means we should do it with excellence. This includes our plan to reopen the church doors and resume in-person ministries.
There are many strategies churches are choosing to follow as we all seek to move forward. Some churches are rushing back by ignoring the restrictions and guidelines set up by elected officials, putting everyone at unnecessary risk. Some are rushing back but remaining compliant and smart by spending great effort and expense to ensure they can still meet while minimizing risk. Still some churches remain closed for now, driven by worry and fear of what might happen if they were to resume meeting in person. Some churches have chosen to delay opening until the restrictions by elected officials are lifted.
I don’t believe there’s a perfect answer for every church. But I do believe there is a wise, God-honoring path forward for our specific church. So here goes:
By vote of our elected church board and under my recommendation, we are going to return to in-person worship services and ministries starting Sunday, June 21. Until then we will continue to worship through live, online streaming services.
This decision was not made lightly. Every member of our church board and our pastoral staff wants to open up as quickly as possible. However, we will not risk the health of our people and our good standing within the community by openly violating the mass gathering restrictions as outlined in the governor’s phased reopening plan. Currently, the plan details a ban on mass gatherings of 90 or more people through June 14. Our typical Sunday morning service includes about 150 people.
Could we make it work before June 21? Sure. We could offer multiple worship services. We could block off every other pew and prevent people from sitting where they want to sit. We could require everyone to sit where an usher tells them to and then only with members of their household, remaining at least six feet away from everyone else. We could demand that you don’t make physical contact with anyone outside of your household. We could outlaw handshakes and hugs. We could deputize ushers to police and enforce all these restrictions. If we wanted to open up earlier, we’d have to do all these things and more.
We are not going to do that. Instead, when we come back, we’re going to come back well. We have chosen to wait until we can return and be welcoming to each other. We’ll wait until we aren’t required to remain six feet apart. We’ll wait until we can gather as the people of God and not as individuals assessing each other as potential risks.
We’re still going to be smart. Please don’t come to church June 21 and lick all the door handles! Personal responsibility will be emphasized far more than enforcing a bunch of rules. Hugging and handshakes will be left up to you, but we won’t have a designated greeting time built into the service. Wearing a mask that covers your nose and mouth will be welcomed. We won’t pass offering plates and Communion trays down the rows.
Worship services will still be streamed live online, if you prefer to wait a bit longer before returning. If you’re feeling sick, please stay home. If you’re at a higher risk of getting sick, it’s a good idea for you to stay home as well. Keep listening to our elected officials. Keep praying for health and healing. Keep being the people of God.
We miss you. I miss you. I long for community and in-person, corporate worship. You, church family, have been so patient and faithful in ways that have shown your pastor how committed you are to our little tribe, and I’m so grateful for all of you. So let’s hold on just a little while longer. Let’s be smart. Let’s be healthy. And let’s continue to worship, grow and serve with excellence. Let’s do this right. And let’s do this together.
‘til the storm passes by,
Pastor Billy Byler