By Conference Minister Diane Weible
Last week the new CDC guidelines took many by surprise. Among my Conference Minister colleagues, there has been a lot of discussion about particular guidelines to offer churches. It takes me back 14 months to the same conversations and discernment around guidance to churches about when to decide to close our sanctuaries due to the growing pandemic.
It was a little easier for me at that time because every County had different guidelines and our churches in this Conference were reporting that they were paying attention to their County guidelines. To some extent, I see that happening now. CDC may have issued particular guidelines, but our State and our County are offering companion advice and even continued regulations.
The biggest difference to me now, as opposed to March of 2020, is that after 14 months of not being able to worship in the church building together where we can see and experience each other’s energy, we are anxious and eager and anticipating that first Sunday back in our Sanctuary. For some churches, that has already happened. For some, it may not happen for several months yet.
If someone were to ask me for advice about how to move forward, I could offer my thoughts, and I realize that a lot of really smart people have already put some of those suggestions in documents. One of the best I’ve seen is the document from the Wisconsin Council of Churches. (Link: https://www.wichurches.org/2021/05/13/love-builds-up-a-response-to-mays-cdc-masking-update/?fbclid=IwAR3piuvWSpbW9wPp2O2s5Vm_KGuswNUtY1HjCb7jITKPcRYSagsL3ycFn0k)
What I want to offer instead of advice, is a request. As you are having these discussions in your congregations and trying to navigate this transition in the best way possible, I want to invite you to consider the following:
- What has pandemic taught you and your congregation about what community looks like?
- What is the best of this time of sheltering in place that we are bringing with us?
- What have we learned to live without and how will our mission and work as a church look different as we move forward?
- What does our community look like right now? Who will be left out if we go to in-person only worship? Who will be included who has been left out for the last 14 months? If you are considering a hybrid-style of worship, how will your online participants be integrated into worship so they do not feel like viewers on the sideline but active participants in worship?
These are just some of the many questions that I continue to contemplate as I find myself filled with excitement about being in the physical presence with others, even as I am also nervous about not allowing myself to slide back into old patterns of being that no longer serve me in the way they once did. I also want to be careful not to return to patterns that never served me at all, but I didn’t know any better until I found myself alone in my home looking out as a world, I discovered was not what I had once thought it was!
There is so much for us to think about. The gift of this moment is in finding conversation partners with whom we can explore these questions (and more). I am excited about the possibilities that will emerge and, as always, I am looking forward to journeying with you in this moment.