When will we be open again?
As you are likely aware, last week the provincial government made a provision available for churches to begin to meet again in person. For many of us, that decision was met with excitement as we long to be together again. The last few months have been difficult on all of us. Many of you have been asking “when is the church going to open up?”
Last week, I promised you that I would have a plan available to you for this week. After meeting with staff and with ministry council, we do have an update ready to share.
Let me start by saying that we love you all, and we miss you all. We look forward to seeing you again.
Let me also say that we are living in unprecedented times where information is changing frequently and readily.
Because we love and care for you, because we are concerned for your well being, and because we have a desire to keep you and our community safe, our physical church building will remain closed for the near future for the purposes of Sunday gatherings. Our decision was made based on the information that we have been currently given. This could quickly change as regulations and restrictions change, but as of this point we will continue to provide online services streaming through Facebook and our website, as well as broadcast on Wightman Channel 6.
There were many factors that played into our decision, but let me share with you some of the rationale behind us not physically meeting as of yet:
1) Last Wednesday, I was in a video call hosted by Dr. Ian Arra with 100 other church pastors and faith leaders in the Grey Bruce region. In the video call, Dr. Arra affirmed the role that the church plays in the mental, emotional, and spiritual health of people in these times. He also stated that the safest way for people to engage with church is online if possible. Meeting in a crowd, even with proper protection, still carries a level of risk.
2) We would not be able to participate in the aspects of the service that we hold dear. The health unity has requested that singing would not be allowed due to the concern that singing is as bad as (or worse than) coughing. Also, communion would not be allowed to happen due to the risk of transmission. As well, there would not be the opportunities to mingle and connect with people before or after the service as we would have to adhere to social distancing protocols.
3) There are many other churches in our denomination that I have been in contact with that are over a certain size that have decided that they will likely wait the summer out and not push to re-open until September.
4) Within Hanover, a large number of the churches have expressed recently that they will also be holding off on opening as late as the fall by request of their denomination or church council.
5) Upon conversations with a few different sources within the medical field, a common theme expressed was concern of the church opening too quickly and potentially introducing a large number of people to an infection that has not disappeared yet and could be on the brink of a second wave.
6) Our building does not have the capacity to hold everyone who may want to be back at this time. Rather than having to say who can and can not be here, we feel it is better to wait until we can all come together as a family and worship together.
What I do offer, with a word of caution, is the freedom, as long as you can do so while observing proper social distancing measures, is the ability to get together in casual, unofficial groups of 10 or less at your homes, or in your front and back yards to participate in the service, doing so as a community.
I understand and acknowledge that this will come as a bit of a disappointment for many. We have all been looking forward to being able to meet again. Last Monday, it probably felt like a glimmer of hope had returned!
Please know that while these are not ideal times, we also make this decision as followers of Jesus, seeking to set for our community an example of respect and submission to the authorities over us. Romans 13 tells us that this is a good thing for us to do, and that it acknowledges the authority of the God who placed them there.
Also, please know that this decision was not made out of fear. We are not fearful of the days that are ahead because we believe our God knows the past, present, and future. We know that nothing takes Him by surprise, and that He can turn even the most difficult and stressful situation and bring something of amazing beauty and wonder out of it. While we are inconvenienced right now and our routines are further turned upside down, we can confidently believe that as we follow God in this, He will bring something amazing out of this time.
Also, while it is hard not to meet in our church building, we are reminded that we are the Church. The Church is built by God. The building is only a man-made structure where we meet. Wherever and however the people of God meet together to worship Him, there the church is.
The encouragement and challenge to us today is to find creative ways to continue to be the Church.