As you know, most states are in some stage of “re-opening,” allowing restaurants to get back to serving meals in their dining rooms (except, for example, in Allegheny County for the next week), freeing gyms to welcome members inside, and permitting churches to hold in-person services once more.
It all comes with a lot of continued restrictions, and as some states see new spikes in COVID-19 infections, more than a little bit of concern.
What is a local church to do?
At Central Church, we resumed gathering for in-person worship, while observing all of the federal and state restrictions, on Sunday, June 14, after Beaver County turned “green” on June 12.
- It’s important to understand that Central did not “reopen” on June 14. We have remained very much open throughout the pandemic. What we did on June 14 could more accurately be called “re-gathering.”
Think for a moment of all the work that has continued at Central throughout the pandemic.
- We conducted worship services online and on the radio each week, and, now that we have resumed in-person worship, our weekly sermon broadcasts on WBVP are continuing for those whose high-risk status urges caution about rejoining in-person worship.
- As other downtown venues found it necessary or advisable to curtail their meal ministries, we have not only continued our free community feeding ministry to the folks in downtown Beaver Falls, we have vastly expanded it, literally giving out thousands of hot, nutritious meals to anyone who comes to our Fellowship Hall door!
- Despite media reports about churches that have been “shut down” or debates as to whether churches belong on the list of “essential businesses,” our church has remained active and engaged in meeting many of the absolute most essential needs throughout our community.
It’s important for each of us to realize that, and to know that in continuing to support our church financially, you are directly involved in these efforts as well.
We’re living in times of great tension, divisiveness, and weariness. In important ways, the church—our church—can be a source of calm and healing as folks see the motivation behind the actions we’re taking right now.
Central Church didn’t comply with government orders to stop holding in-person services out of fear. Nor did we see those orders as a violation of our First Amendment rights. We complied as an act of love, as an expression of the biblical call to love our neighbors. It was the loving thing to do to make sure our neighbors and other attendees did not get sick by coming to our church.
By the same token, our decision to re-gather, and especially how to re-gather, is motivated by love as well.
Everyone is eager for life to return to normal. For the church, the desire to begin meeting in person again was fueled by biblical teaching to “not neglect our meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25).
There is something very powerful that happens when God’s people gather. It satisfies people’s natural hunger for fellowship, encourages people through whatever afflictions they may be experiencing, reminds people of their shared purpose, and empowers people to go and boldly live out their faith.
So, yes, there is an urgency to re-gathering. And at the same time, there is a need to re-gather carefully.
As we consider, and take steps, to re-gather, we are mindful of the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines for houses of worship. The CDC’s guidelines include many helpful ideas.
Whether they are recommendations or mandates largely depends on the rules issued by our state and local governments, so we also work every day to keep up to date on what the governing authorities in our area are saying as well.
Consistent with our Conference’s recommendations, we have gone beyond the basics of making sure people are practicing social distancing and wearing face masks, such as gathering information that may be needed for the purposes of contact tracing if necessary. That includes noting who is in attendance each week.
So far, we have not received word of any COVID-19 active cases in anyone attending one of our worship services, but, if that were to happen, we have the ability to let everyone who was there know so they can chat with their PCP or have themselves tested.
Above all else, all of our plans and all of our actions as we move to re-gather have been wrapped in prayer.
- We ask everyone to pray for wisdom as we make plans about how we continue to re-gather.
- We also ask everyone to pray that God would put a hedge of protection around our church, keeping people from becoming ill.
- Pray that through all the trials brought on by the pandemic, people’s faith would be strengthened.
- Pray that at a time of such uncertainty, God would draw many new followers, attracted by His unchanging love.
- And pray that as our church ministers through this historic time, God would be greatly glorified.
Central Church’s Congregation welcomes you!
Whether you are one of the masked folks sitting in our Sanctuary’s physically-distant pews for in-person worship or are worshipping with us in spirit with Pastor Jan on WBVP each Sunday morning, know that you are an important part of the Central Church family.
You are loved, and, as part of Central’s community of faith, we ask you to let folks know if you have a concern or need, and to reach out if you are able to help someone else.
COVID-19 continues to require us to think and act in new ways as we move through these troubling times, but the coronavirus has not, and cannot, change who we are as members and friends of the special community of faith that we call Central Church!