By Conference Minister Diane Weible
Where do we start? How do we have the conversation? What is the right thing to do?
I wish I had all the answers and could say definitively THIS is the who, what, where, and when, and how moving forward. I can’t.
Nine weeks ago, when churches were asking if they should close their doors, we asked them to follow the guidelines of their county’s health department and any state orders. Not everyone closed immediately but, eventually, all of our churches did. In the weeks since, we learned how to worship online, how to connect with one another in new (and, sometimes, old) ways. We figured it out the best we could, taking one day at a time.
And, we will figure this out too.
The difference about this question is there are even more factors to consider and we cannot rely just on the county health department or the Governor’s orders to tell us it is ok to return to our church offices or church sanctuaries. Even when given the green light to go back, there is much wisdom and the common belief that it may not be the best thing to do.
And, we will figure this out too.
The difference about this question is there are even more factors to consider and we cannot rely just on the county health department or the Governor’s orders to tell us it is ok to return to our church offices or church sanctuaries. Even when given the green light to go back, there is much wisdom and a common belief that it may not be the best thing to do.
We are not the same Church (or churches) as we were nine weeks ago. We have learned to BE Church in very difficult situations—in homes, not in buildings. We have figured out how to bring meaning to communion even when we are not drinking from a common cup. For those of us who are “shy singers,” we have enjoyed belting out our favorite hymns while muted, feeling a connection with our siblings who we know are singing their hearts out too. We have had time to think and we have seen things. We have seen how people of color and the houseless and immigrants have suffered greatly in this pandemic, raising our level of awareness to greater heights. And, we are eager to find ways that we can mobilize to address these issues and to work as advocates, even from our homes.
When we talk about going back to our buildings, there is so much to think about:
- Not everyone is going to feel comfortable returning to church so by opening, who will not be able to return yet and how do we continue to minister to and with them?
- Is the staff in a place where they feel safe returning to the church?
- Until a vaccine is ready, returning to our church may be only temporary and we need to understand and be ready with a plan in place. Flexibility and patience will be key.
- If and when we return, what will be the procedures in place to make people feel safe? Some churches have created re-opening committees to consider these questions. Sanitization of facilities, physical distance, how to safely incorporate music, and whether/how to serve communion are just a few of the questions that these committees are spending time considering now so they will be ready when the church decides the time is right.
Many of you have talked to me about the letter from the Unitarian-Universalist Church asking churches to consider waiting until May 2021 to re-open. When this letter first came out, there was a strong and negative reaction. As more people thought about it, however, I am now hearing consideration of the wisdom of this recommendation. People are beginning to wonder if the best thing we can do as a church is to continue to worship online on Sundays until May 2021. This doesn’t mean that we will not be in one another’s physical presence until that time. As stores and businesses re-open and as small groups of people are invited to once again gather together, we will, in all our resilience, figure out how to connect on a smaller scale. We will find those safe places to be with each other when it is right and appropriate and safe, even if community worship is something we decide will not happen until next year.
There are a number of resources for discernment about what is the right path forward. These resources can be found on our NCNCUCC COVID-19 Resources web page and in the Pastoral Letter from Leaders in the Wider Church.
Again, we are not the same people we were in early March and we are not the same faith communities we were nine weeks ago. So much has happened. We are tired and the anxiety and stress of this continued shelter in place order is taking its toll on all of us. This is the time we need to be our best selves and dig deep into those faith reserves that we have built and strengthened over the years to open our hearts and ears and eyes to really listen to one another. We must listen with respect and from a place of love. Trust in your faith and in one another and in God to help in this discernment process.
May God help you and your siblings in Christ to use all that we have learned from this pandemic to create in us and in our faith communities a beautiful blend of who we were, what we have learned, and who we are to become. Remember, God is still speaking and we are at the threshold of the what next. As people of faith, we have a valuable gift—God’s presence, the strength of community and faithful leaders to guide us through