April 24, 2020
Dear Prairie Avenue Family,
In the last 24 hours, Illinois Governor J.D. Pritzker announced an extension of the stay-at-home order through May 31. Local health and government officials are still advising keeping physical distance of at least 6 feet and are encouraging facial masks in all public places, including grocery stores and other essential businesses. Some restrictions will lift on May 1; others will gradually roll out as local officials determine best practices in reopening. It is still mandatory that no groups greater than 10 may gather, even with physical distancing guidelines. Until group restrictions rise to 50 or more, we will continue to not gather in-person.
I know our present limitations on both social and economic exchanges are difficult and frustrating. It is especially difficult to those who have fewer family members or friends and cannot connect to digital or online groups and resources. If you know someone in this situation and are able to reach out to them, please do. You cannot estimate the value of receiving confirmation and support, whether through a phone call and sending a "thinking of you" card in the mail.
I want to assure you that best practices in reopening and operating will be discussed and considered before we resume our in-person activities. My colleagues and Christian Church in Illinois-Wisconsin ministers and staff have been helpful and resourceful in starting the necessary preparatory work involved in the process. One resource we have shared and discussed is linked below.
Many of these considerations and questions highlight the necessity to review how much physical encountering is present in each and every action that prior to COVID-19 were not questioned. Both offering plates and communion trays are distributed between people; everyone eventually touching the same surfaces to whatever degree of personal hygiene they have carried. Some of us are total germaphobes; others will be valiant "what's the big deal?" return-to-it-was-at-all-cost. How do we accept those hesitant to embrace in the same room with those who embrace as an expression of acceptance?
These items deserve discussion and consideration, and I welcome your thoughts as to how offering, communion, and even the "meet-and-greet" aspects of our in-person worship service look and act. Since our seating practices tends to be in clusters throughout the sanctuary, we may have to attach fabric tape measures to remind our six feet minimums. The usual "seating arrangements" will probably have to modify. I can only imagine that our first gathering when we resume our in-person worship will be a group of face masks looking like a cowboy villain convention!
I anticipate these slight, short, or even permanent modifications as signs of hope while recognizing the value of everyone's health. Actions to reduce spread or infection are some of the most loving actions we can do in all times and seasons. The actions of isolation are the only means to assure that all of our extended church family makes it through to participate again.
I'm indebted to my friend and colleague, Brian Shivers, Senior Associate Pastor for Spiritual Life at Second Presbyterian Church of Indianapolis for his thoughtful posts in our current situation:
I do not stay at home for my own sake.
I stay at home for the sake of those I love the most who are vulnerable to anything I might bring home.
I stay at home for the sake of medical personnel so as to not potentially overwhelm the system.
I stay at home for the sake of my neighbors and my friends.
I stay at home for the sake of all of the essential workers whose work and lives would be more complicated if I chose not to stay at home.
I stay at home for the sake of those who cannot stay at home.
I stay at home because the best science says social distancing and contact tracing work. If people don't group, the virus cannot find a new place to "work." It ends its ill and death-dealing journey without a forwarding address... only a last known address.
I stay at home because I am in a position where I can, and I don’t take that lightly.
This is why I stay at home.
In times of suffering, we can choose either to be selfish or selfless. Whether by word, deeds, or action, you reveal the content of your character. Putting the health and safety of our most vulnerable first demonstrates the extent of our love of God through love of neighbor. Or lack of it.
I want to thank you for your generous support throughout these times. I am encouraged by stories of support and caring for one another, as well as neighbors, by our church family. There are those in our church family who are facing reduced hours, or furloughs, or unemployment. Please lift them in prayer. Please be generous in your support of businesses who cannot operate even with modified stay-at-home orders.
This weekend we encounter the risen Jesus as he accompanies Cleopas and his companion (likely his wife) on a journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They do not recognize him, and this stranger seems to be completely uninformed about current events. Yet they share in their despair and confusion the essential Easter story: conviction, death, and resurrection. The stranger shares a deeper understanding of scripture, and appears to want to journey further than the day would allow when Cleopas offer hospitality either in an inn or at their house. When the bread is broken, their eyes are opened: it's Jesus!
We may have the basic Easter story, or scripture or church teaching to inform our faith, but recognizing Jesus can yet be difficult. But when love is demonstrated, Jesus is recognized. Do you recognize him? In the ordinary course of life?
I invite you to modify your at-home worship experience:
- Light a candle as we begin worship - during the opening announcements (beginning at 8:55). As you do pray and offer the near hour to God.
- Have a bible available,
- Have a notepad and pen to take notes as to what speaks to you
- Invite a friend. The easiest platform for viewing our worship service live is Facebook Live. It is also posted shortly after completion on our YouTube channel.
See you in worship (online!) this weekend!