Task Force Encourages Caution in Worship Planning
The Executive Council of Salem Presbytery, taking seriously its responsibility for offering guidance to congregations, last week appointed a task force to review advice from a variety of sources and to offer a word to those making decisions for the lives of churches.
As we noted in
recently, Governor Roy Cooper has announced that the state has entered Phase 2 of the Safer at Home mandate, lightening restrictions on public activity. Phase 2 will last until June 26 unless numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations increase. If targets are not met, added restrictions may be reimposed. Latest figures show that the trend in North Carolina is flat, not yet decreasing. Even as the governor extended guidelines, a federal judge ruled that executive orders do not impede First Amendment religious freedom rights, including the right to gather for worship. Yet just because you can gather legally doesn't mean you should.
The consensus of Salem Presbytery's task force is that churches in our presbytery ought to continue to abide by guidelines offered by the governor, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, and the Centers for Disease Control. According to those guidelines, gatherings of more than ten persons indoors are prohibited, and gatherings of more than twenty-five outdoors are prohibited. In addition those who are in at-risk categories because of their state of health or age continue to be encouraged to stay at home as much as possible except for absolutely necessary ventures outside to obtain food or health care or to take exercise. Many members of our congregations, including some who are most faithful in worship attendance, are in these at-risk categories. The decision for each congregation belongs to its leaders, but we encourage you to continue to refrain from in person worship until further notice.
We feel this is the faithful response for God's people to make during this season. It's not because we don't think worship is important; we do. We agree that worship is essential. We applaud and encourage the creative work of many congregations offering worship through YouTube, Facebook Live, and live streaming. We appreciate that some are finding short range FM transmitters useful for drive-in worship. Some are now choosing to gather outdoors, with social distancing, wearing masks. This too is a faithful response.
We encourage every session to appoint a task force to evaluate resources as they make recommendations, seeking the mind of Christ (as we are counseled in
The Book of Order), giving priority to our mutual care. We call your attention to guidelines offered by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.):
We continue to affirm not that the church has closed, but that the church is out of the building. We continue the ministry of Jesus Christ, exercising mutual care, offering nurture for members and neighbors, turning to God in prayer on behalf of the world. The Executive Council and the staff of Salem Presbytery continue to pray for our congregations, all those serving our churches, and our members.
The Executive Council Task Force:
Lindsey Altvater Clifton
Steve Scott, Transitional General Presbyter
Paul Sink, Moderator of Salem Presbytery