This week talk has turned to what will it be like once we "re-open" the church. This is a concern for returning to our buildings. But let''s be real clear -
the church has not ceased operation. We have "left the building" but we still make a difference in the world.
Do Not Let Anyone Tell You the Church has "Closed." The question is not how do we move back into our buildings? The question is how do we use our buildings as we move forward to share the ministry of Jesus in our communities?
This week the
Office of Theology and Worship shared a document:
Returning to Public Worship Theological and Practical Considerations.
The guidance notes that information available from public sources such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and other sources are important to take note of. But the PCUSA resource moves systematically through pastoral, theological and practical matters related to worship among Presbyterian Christians. I encourage all pastors and Sessions to consider a systematic approach to what is next.
Jan Edmiston, the Executive Presbyter of Charlotte Presbytery, has posted a
succinct version of a protocol
of things to consider in reopening. She identifies three steps:
- Preparing the Building
- Preparing the Leaders
- Preparing for Church Life''s New Normal
Each step requires significant effort and work - physical, mental and spiritual. The emerging reality is that this virus will be around for many months. There will be physical indications of the new normal:
- consider the plastic shields erected at the check out counter in the grocery store. Maybe you will put a similar barrier in front of your microphones at pulpit or lectern. Or
- that many people will choose to wear a mask in public. This can be a disconcerting reality. There are news reports of conflicts over these, even racial profiling. As the body of Christ, how will you and your congregation handle this change and challenge? Or
- that ushers will not hand out bulletins but direct individuals to hand sanitizing stations and distribute masks to those that need and/or want them. And
- consider that professional choral music groups are advising against live choral music in churches, concerts and theater because of the threat of spreading the virus. This webinar with professional musicians and medical professionals concludes that there is a tragic reality that singing is an activity that spreads viruses. As long as the COVID-19 virus is present without ways to test, trace and treat, public singing is not an activity to engage in. That is horribly depressing as being in worship is synonymous with songs of praise. Toward the end of the webinar, Dr. Tim Sharp states we know what we can''t do. But what can we do? He is concerned about that as a music educator. Church people need to focus on that as well. If we can''t sing, what can we do?
What can we do? is not just a question for considering music. It is a question of how we move forward. Not everything will happen at once. This process will take months before it is completed. And even then we will know it is different. Maybe:
- Hybrid worship that includes not only worship in a sanctuary, chapel or other sacred space will continue along side online video and audio production.
- Churches that had multiple worship services on Sunday morning may have only one.
- Midweek services on Zoom or a similar platform may have better attendance than the Wednesday night dinner and program.
- Sunday school classes or men''s and women''s gatherings may meet not on Sunday morning but at various time via a Zoom call.
Whenever there is a challenge there are two paths of response. One is to see a crisis and deal only with the immediate fire that is being battled. But the other path is to see an opportunity. This path makes us ask what can we do differently that will fulfill our purpose as followers of God in Jesus so that the story of faith, hope and love continues to be shared?
The Church has not "closed." We have continued to do the things that make us church: worship has been held, the sacraments have been shared and received, and the community of Christ has responded to the world around us. We have done these things in ways we never would have considered before. But we have done them. As we move to "re-open," we do not move back to what was. We move forward into the world awakened to the calling to follow Jesus.