Last week our Re-Gathering Team met to begin planning for re-opening our facility and for re-gathering for worship. This team of folks is committed to safely bringing our church community back together in person with every safety precaution needed to ensure that we can be face-to-distanced-face again and lower as much as possible of spreading COVID-19. This is genuinely difficult work.
What makes it hard is that we want so much to be together again. Some members of this community of faith have been watching the worship videos, and some are not able to do so. Some are frequently in touch with other people regularly, and some are not. Some are back at work and seeing a return to a relative “normal” pace of life, and others are not. We all find ourselves in a different place from which to gauge our own feelings of readiness to be back among large groups of people. I have heard from some of you that you are ready to go back to church, and I have heard from others that you don’t know when you’ll ever be ready to go back to church. It is hard to imagine feelings so radically different from one’s own; and yet, that is what we must consider as we make our plans.
While we do not have a date set yet, the Re-Gathering Team is clear on some things:
1. We cannot open again until we have the necessary sanitization processes and supplies in place. We are working on that right now and making good progress.
2. We will re-gather in a phased approach, starting with worship.
3. Worship will be in the Family Life Center for the time being so we can have clearly designated and differentiated entrance and exit, seating that can be arranged with distancing already in place, and mostly hard surfaces to facilitate sanitization among other considerations.
4. We cannot re-gather in groups larger than 50 people for the time being. That number includes those leading worship.
5. We will continue with some form of worship by video for those who are not comfortable returning to in-person worship.
6. We will have to take this one step at a time and make sure we’re following all the guidelines necessary to create a safe environment.
7. This is going to be hard.
But just like Joy’s 2nd grade teacher told her class every morning, we can do hard things! I am encouraged by the commitment and broad thinking of our Re-Gathering Team. I am encouraged by the support I and the staff have received from you as you have thanked us over and over for the worship videos we offer each week. I am grateful to serve a church and community that understands that this situation is real and difficult and that we must proceed not with haste but with caution. I am grateful for YOU.
Very soon you will receive a survey regarding your comfort level with returning to in-person worship. You will either receive this survey by email or by phone call. Please take the time to complete it. This is the first step in discerning the right date to return to our facility for worship in-person. The more responses we receive to the survey, the better idea we will have of how to plan in terms of the number of worship opportunities and supplies needed.
Thank you for your patience. Thank you for your commitment to safety—both your own and that of our community. Thank you for finding ways to continue to be faithful and grow in the midst of very difficult circumstances.
In Nehemiah 8 we read the beautiful words of Ezra, the priest, gathering the people back into the assembly for worship after returning home from the Babylonian exile. When he opened the book of the law of Moses and began to read from it in the gathered assembly, the people began to weep. They had not heard God’s story in their sacred text read aloud in so long, and they had not been able to see each other for the reading and interpretation of God’s word in so long. Ezra instructed them not to mourn this loss of time but to celebrate their reuniting and the future that lay before them. And then he added additional instruction: “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) One day we will be together again to hear the stories of God and God’s people, to interpret it together, and to share community and the on-going process of the faith journey. In the meantime, don’t lose heart. Your faith community was built in more than 3 months, and it will last long after this crisis has come and gone. God continues to send us on our way, eating and drinking the celebration of God’s goodness and love for us, providing for those for whom no feast is set, and gathering our strength from the joy of knowing God in Jesus Christ.
Eat, drink, and be filled with joy. Share with those who have no feast of food or of spirit. And draw your strength from the relationships built long before March 15, 2020. Through this time of crisis, resistance, and uncertainty, the Body of Christ is in motion working for the transformation of the world.
May it be, friends. May it be.