Since March 15th when, in face of the coronavirus pandemic, the Session made that hard decision to suspend gathered public worship and other church activities, we have been yearning to know when we might gather again. Worship has continued in a new form as have the church’s life and ministries. Yet . . . . is the day of re-gathering near?
A COVID-19 Advisory Group of healthcare professionals who are a part of our congregation have been giving counsel to the Session as it wrestles with this issue. I am very thankful for their thoughtful guidance. Led by Ruling Elder, Dr. Nichole Bryant, this group shared this counsel with the Session on Sunday:
Advisory Group met on May 6. We continue to be concerned most about the health and safety of our congregation. The numbers in South Carolina are still on a plateau and thus far not showing a decrease in new infections. Greenville County is showing the second highest number of new infections. As a group we believe we should see a minimum of two continual weeks (preferably 4) of declining new infections before we consider in person worship as a safe option. As other public spaces are more open we are all concerned about a possible spike in new infections. This recommendation was unanimous amongst the committee members.
The Session took this advice very seriously as it sought the will of Christ in leading this congregation. The Session continues to be attentive to the care of all our members and to the yearning to nurture our life together with re-gathered worship and events. After considerable discussion it approved this motion:
- The Session receives the advice of the COVID-19 Advisory Group with gratitude and requests the Advisory Group to continue its work.
- There will be no physical regathering for worship for the next two weeks.
- The Session will meet two weeks from today to consider the matter again.
The Session also requested that the COVID-19 Advisory Group return with options for the Session to consider when the Session meets again on Sunday, May 31.
I ask your prayers for the Advisory Group and for the Session as they strive to make faithful decisions in this time. As they do so, and as the Session guides us in due season to re-gathering several things I pray all of us will ponder.
First, even in this strange way we are being church in our socially-distanced manner, remember we are still church — Christ’s called out ones who have been given to one another by God to love one another and serve together in sharing the love and justice and life of Jesus Christ with this community. And as Whitney lifted up in her recent sermon, we are even now being that church, thanks be to God.
Second, the gift of this strange time is that we have been given the opportunity to consider afresh the forms of our life as the church. For instance, are we discovering that some of the old patterns of the way we have done church might not be the most useful patterns to form our life together in the future? Are we discovering that the Spirit is opening our eyes to new patterns we have been learning in this time that might serve us better going forward as church?
Third, in whatever way we are soon led to re-gather for worship and other events let us acknowledge that, until a vaccine for the virus is discovered and widely disseminated throughout the world, the way of that re-gathering will not be “just like it was before.” How ever we re-gather, worship and other church events will be a different experience than what we have known in the past. They will be different in order for us to love one another and keep one another as safe as possible.
In all of this as we yearn for re-gathering I hope we will all hold fast to what we say we believe, —
In life and in death we belong to God.
Brief Statement of Faith (PCUSA).
Also, I commend to us all this prayer of Harry Emerson Fosdick that we often sing in worship:
God of grace and God of glory,
on thy people pour thy power;
crown thine ancient church’s story;
bring its bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the facing of this hour,
for the facing of this hour.
Grace and peace,