COVID-19 & Our Church
Over the last few weeks we had a lot of changes: Our government shifted to "Phase 3," legal pressure caused the governor to change his orders (regarding churches) to just "recommendations," our bishop remained committed to those recommendations with his own orders, and two local churches have chosen to begin in-person worship and two have remained on-line only, so far.
All of these changes were complicated by the way this pandemic has been politicized, of course. I've had to think to myself, "When I make decisions about how our church responds, will people think that I'm making a statement about other businesses reopening? Will people think that my response is political? too liberal? too conservative?" It has been nerve-wracking.
Church worship is very high risk compared to shopping, restaurants or school, even. Singing empties our lungs and sprays aerosol much further than 6 feet, and when a congregation sings the aerosol fills the room. On top of that, our church building (like many) is old and the air in the sanctuary cycles slowly. It is a perfect combination to spread disease! On the other hand I have heard clearly from many of you how much you desire to worship in-person again and I share your many concerns.
Our bishop made the decision for me (us) and wisely erred on the side of caution: that all churches under his charge would follow the Governor's orders (even when they became recommendations). He is using medical advice and science to drive his decisions, however, and was convinced to open up outdoor worship as a possibility. With physical distancing we can sing, even. That means that our options right now are: (1) online worship (like we have been doing), (2) outdoor worship (with singing), (3) small groups and/or home church (less than 10 people, no singing)
I am currently working to find musicians and leaders to make outdoor (in-person) worship a possibility. Once I find enough leaders, that will indicate that our church is ready to try outdoor worship and I will schedule two trial outdoor worship services and our church council can evaluate and make plans for moving forward. If you wish to be involved, as a worship leader or to setup an outdoor space, or run tech, please let me know as it may influence how quickly we can try outdoor worship.
As soon as the end of June we could move to "phase 4" which will mean that we can move into the church building should we decide to (with a limited number of worshipers. However, in phase 4 we must stay under 25% of our capacity, have no singing, and must use masks and social distancing during worship. That is not very appealing to many people.
None of this is ideal and it pains me as much as anybody. I ask that everyone continue to bear with me and the church council as we try to determine what options are best, recruit worship leaders, and work to clean and prepare each space for worship at the appointed time. Also, know that any decisions that are made...are made for the health and well-being of our community and that EVERYONE involved wants us to worship together as soon as possible. I know that some churches have opened to in-person worship, but I think it wise for us, at Abingdon UMC, to move slowly so that if there are spikes due to re-opening we have time to plan accordingly.
Now, I'll let you in on something. We have a secret weapon in all of this. Prayer. I keep going to God in prayer and I ask that all of you, especially our church's leaders, double down on prayer. The Holy Spirit will guide us and we will make it through this.
Actually, I will make a specific ask: over the next two weeks I ask everyone to pick a time of day (maybe set an alarm) or a certain part of your routine (while you get ready, a work break, lunch time) to prayer for our church for at least 3 minutes. This way we know that our congregation is covered in prayer throughout everyday of the next two weeks.