And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
—Romans 5:3-5 (NRSV)
After last night’s Church Council meeting, I wanted to give you all a quick update on where we stand in relation to the question of opening up our church and getting back to something more like normal. All of our staff and key lay leaders have been considering this question, watching the news and doing their research. We had a very lengthy and fruitful zoom conversation last night. In the end, we all agreed that our best option, at least for the coming months of summer, is to remain closed as we have been since this all started. We will continue to stay in touch with one another as best we can. But the safety concerns of potentially catching and/or spreading Covid-19 among our high-risk membership far outweigh our need to go back to being physically present in our building.
You should know, we are by no means alone in this. Among my clergy colleagues, I am not aware of anyone rushing to open their doors. Not only do we all have high-risk congregations, but the nature of our normal worship experience is a perfect setup for the spread of infection. In a letter sent out yesterday to our New Hampshire Conference churches, our Conference Minister, Rev. Gordon Rankin, shared a reflection on “Decision Making Amid Covid-19.” In part, he asked us to consider the changes that would be needed in order to ensure our safety.
A significant portion of our communities won’t (or at least shouldn’t) be worshiping with us because it is too high of a health risk. There should be no choral or congregational singing. There should be no greeting lines. Communion, baptisms, collection of the offering, children’s messages, passing of the peace, and so much more will need to happen in significantly altered ways. Coffee hour will either not happen or will need to be drastically reconceived. I think it is hard for us to get our heads wrapped around just how different our worship experience will be when we again gather in our sanctuaries.
That being the case, we all need to understand that “getting back to normal” is likely to be a long and awkward process, which may well not be completed until the virus threat is dramatically reduced or eliminated. We’re currently hoping for September, but as of now, that is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, we will continue to have live-streaming worship and prayer services, hymn sings and book studies. We will be on the phone, on Messenger, on Email and Zoom. We will continue to think creatively about new ways to be faithful in a socially distanced world. And we will continue the vital business of our church behind the scenes, always looking forward to that day when this time of crisis will finally be behind us.
Though we would certainly rather not go through the character-building exercise of facing up to suffering, Paul was right. Suffering does produce endurance. Hope does not disappoint us. God’s love has been poured into our hearts. And, as the old blessing assures us, God is keeping watch between us, “while we are absent, one from another.” (Genesis 31:49)
Yours in Grace,