"Would you like to hazard a guess as to when we'll worship together again?" she asked with a smile.
She had joined the volunteer work crew cleaning the church (specifically, scrubbing the lectern with a toothbrush!) during our on-campus hiatus, and I could hear the longing in her voice. I answered the best I knew how, "At first, I thought it would be April 1st. Then I thought June 1st. After being wrong twice, I think I'll stop guessing." She gave me a knowing glance and went back to work.
I thought it was hard to close the campus. All the meetings, groups, services and plans had to be quickly altered, and it required a flurry of activity. However, I had no appreciation for how difficult reopening the campus was going to be. The questions were practical and theoretical, individual and communal, logistical and theological. Do we start age-specific services? Do we ask people to sign up for worship? Do we require masks? If so, what do we do if someone shows up without one?
If we learn that someone with COVID-19 attended a service, what responsibilities do we have to inform others and what process will be followed to get the word out?
Fortunately, Covenant's Session - our elected governing group of Elders - has wisely appointed a Re-Opening Task Force which has since been meeting multiple times a week. These good people have recruited additional subject matter experts - mostly medical, some legal - to advise and guide them in making the best decisions regarding the short and long-term needs of the church. This group will guide our re-opening in conjunction with the Session.
I'm thankful for the collective wisdom of our congregation's leadership, especially their "love of God and love of neighbor" approach to decision making. It may mean that our re-opening process is a bit slower and more deliberate than some would prefer, but it will also mean that we are being deliberate about calibrating various - and sometimes competing - perspectives. It also may mean that we'll need to sacrifice personal wants and wishes in service to the larger good, especially when it comes to following the new guidelines now in place. Many churches are taking this approach, and I know we will support these decisions.
In the meantime, I would remind us all that Covenant Presbyterian Church is very much open. We are supporting mission partners at home and abroad with enhanced support for feeding programs. We are holding funeral services, youth groups, Sunday School classes, mid-week studies and worship services.
And, may I add, I've been richly blessed to get a deeper look at the character of this congregation. To a person, our congregation members have been grateful, supportive, sacrificial and constructive. Attendance at online worship has been promising. Year to date giving through April was actually higher than the prior five years. And many of you have found new ways to serve as we make the necessary pivots in our work and service. It makes me miss you all the more. For now, let me just say thank you very, very much.
We ask you to continue to pray for our Re-Opening Task Force and Session as they chart the way forward. It will certainly become more complex in the days ahead. I would also ask that you read closely the guidelines they have put forth for now. These are dynamic and will most certainly change over time. But for now, we will abide by them.
We also ask you to pray for the world, our nation, our state, and our city; pray for those who are sick -- especially those in forced isolation -- and their families. Present limitations make grief uniquely difficult, and I encourage us all to do our best to strengthen the ties of love that bind us together.
With gratitude and hope,