Special Statement Concerning Reopening the Church

We have been richly blessed by our YouTube Channel and our weekly radio broadcast. This has enabled us to continue to worship even though we cannot physically be together in the sanctuary. Yet, we are all looking forward to the day when we can be back together and worship in person once again.

We have been following the Governor’s guidelines, but on Saturday a Federal Judge issued a temporary restraining order, allowing churches to meet again for indoor worship. This has led to confusion and some misunderstanding as to why some churches are electing to have in-person services and other churches, like ours, are not.

Our deacons met via Zoom on Sunday night for their monthly meeting. We discussed the issue of reopening. The deacons, based on my recommendation, unanimously adopted the following statement:

First Baptist Church of Lexington will not reopen until the Davidson County Health Department informs us that it is safe to do so.

We adopted this statement for two reasons. One, we do not agree that the Governor’s order restricting public indoor worship is a First Amendment issue. This is a Public Health issue. I used the comparison on Sunday of our church being evacuated because of a gas leak. Evacuating the church because of potential danger is not denying our right to worship, it is protecting the health and safety of our congregation. The threat of COVID-19 is just as potentially deadly as a gas explosion.

The second reason that we adopted this statement is because we care about our church family and feel it would be too risky to engage in pubic worship at this time. Confirmed cases in Davidson County jumped almost 50% last week. On Mother’s Day there were 199 confirmed cases. Today there are 294. The Health Department is reporting that the great majority of cases have come from people who have congregated in groups. Considering the demographics of our congregation, we would be irresponsible and foolish to open our doors and place our people in jeopardy.

When the Health Department informs us that we can safely begin steps to reopen, we will. But I want you to understand that public worship will be much different than it was before. When we return to worship in the sanctuary, we will encourage people to wear masks and practice social distancing. We will not be able to pass the offering plate. Every precaution must be taken to protect the health of our worshipers.

Following each service of worship, the sanctuary must be sanitized by professionals. The same is true of any activity in the fellowship hall. We will probably open the doors of our sanctuary to worship before we open our educational space for Sunday School and small groups. Most of our classrooms are not large enough to practice social distancing. Any space that is used must be sanitized before it can be used again. Churches that have had two worship services on Sunday mornings will not be able to do so anymore because of this requirement.

One of the biggest issues in reopening is congregational and choral singing. Saliva droplets are considered a prime vector for spreading the coronavirus. When people are singing with passion and conviction, saliva droplets can carry well beyond six feet. One of the first major outbreaks of the virus in March was a community choir in Washington. Almost everyone in the choir came down with the virus. As hard as it is to say, and as hard as it is to imagine, we may be returning to public worship without a choir to sing and without congregational singing. This is already happening in Germany where churches are meeting again, without singing.

I am sharing this with you because I want you to understand that reopening the church will not be as simple as opening the doors and welcoming people back in the sanctuary. Public worship will look different, feel different, and sound different for a long time.

On Mother’s Day a church in California decided to ignore the Governor’s order and meet for worship. About 180 people gathered. The next day one member of that congregation tested positive for COVID-19. Today, the entire congregation is in quarantine.

In Jewish law there is a concept of “pikuach nefesh” or mortal danger. In cases of mortal danger, almost the entire body of the Jewish law can be put aside until the danger is resolved. We find ourselves in a state of mortal danger. Until this danger is resolved and we are convinced it is safe to return to public worship with restrictions, we will continue to worship only through YouTube and on the radio.

This is the dark reality that we find ourselves in, but as I said Sunday, we can’t change the dark reality but we can change the darkness. There are many ways to let our light shine. Your continued financial faithfulness enables us to continue to be a light of hope and healing for our community.

There are many creative ways we can continue to be the church. If you have ideas of different ways we can minister and worship in this crisis, please share them . . . we are all in unchartered water together. Or as a friend said the other day, “We are building an airplane in the air!”

One day we will all look back on this experience and reflect on the lessons we learned and the many different ways we saw God in the storm. And we will give testimony of how we emerged from the darkness into God’s marvelous light!

Comments

  1. Brenda Hipp says

    The slides pictured with anthems have been a nice addition to worship. Maybe some slides of members being the hands and feet of Christ (already some have been shown when highlighting agencies) could go with a special. People picking up food to deliver for Meals on Wheels, making baskets for shutins, doing projects for touching Davidson County with Love, etc. could remind us how we are church.

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