Returning to In-Person Worship?

I skipped "Pandemic Pastoring 101" at seminary.

As Indiana slowly returns toward a tentative full opening on the 4th of July – even as Carmel’s 4th of July parade has already been canceled – houses of worship around the state are making their own faithful, local decisions about when and how to return to in-person worship.

Opening a church building, after all, is quite different than opening an office, restaurant, or barber shop.

For one, #TheChurchStillGathers. Our building has been closed, but our ministry has not shut down. We have continued to worship and pray, share fellowship, study God’s Word, give, and serve. We are blessed with generous and faithful financial support that has maintained New Joy’s expenses and enabled the expansion of our ministry online. Thank you for your faithfulness.

Secondly, gathering for worship is qualitatively different than pretty much any other way we interact with others in society.

  • We sit together in one room for just over an hour.
  • We shake hands and even hug one another at church.
  • We share a ritual meal that includes dipping bread into a common cup.
  • We sing.
  • We share coffee and conversation afterwards.
  • Children run around and touch things - many things.

Each of these behaviors are understood to be risky, contributing to the spread of the coronavirus.

Guidance from our local bishop, our denomination, and our insurance company urges caution. Experts convened by national choral associations say it is not safe to sing. Serving food and handing out items – from bulletins to communion – is off the table for now. Maintain six-foot distance. Clean constantly.

We are working on a path forward

The Ministry Board met earlier this week, and will meet again in two weeks to determine our faithful path forward. We are reading updated recommendations from church leaders and from state public health officials. We are considering the call of faith to put the needs of others before our own (Philippians 2:4) and to seek the welfare of the whole community (Jeremiah 29:7). The last thing we want is for our worship gatherings to become, unintentionally, vectors of viral infection. As we consider reopening our building for in-person worship and ministry, safety is our focus and the logistics of safety are our conundrum.

Livestream will continue

Throughout all this, we are committed to continuing the livestream of our worship services, recognizing that even when New Joy returns to some form of in-person worship many of you will choose to stay home. #TheChurchStillGathers

Two of the most consequential moments in the Bible’s story are the Exodus and the Exile – periods of generational disruption for God’s people. These periods included weeping and lament, renewal and hope, adaptation and struggle. Yet through it all, God was faithful.

So too for us now. God’s Word is not absent from us. Instead, we are more aware than ever of the Living Word’s pervasive and persistent presence, coming to us in our living rooms and on our devices, in Zoom calls and in our daily devotions, in our walks outdoors and our unexpected and socially distanced interactions with others. The Spirit is leading us into new ways of hearing and heeding God’s call.

Dear friends, by the grace of God, #TheChurchStillGathers. Thank you for being the church. Pray for your Ministry Board and me, your pastor. Pray for our community, nation, and world. Be patient with one another, and with yourself. Trust in God, who is most certainly our refuge and strength (Psalm 46:1).

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Chris