On Monday, May 18, the Governor Charlie Baker, and his task force announced that places of worship were going to be included in Phase 1 of re-opening the Commonwealth. Given that churches can easily become hot spots for the virus because of the proximity in which we were accustomed to sit, stand, sing, worship, talk, and eat at BBC on a Sunday, I was surprised and would have guessed re-opening worship would have been part of Phase 3. We are currently reviewing and seeking to address numerous procedures, protocols, and checklists of what our church must do to resume worship.
The state requires anyone coming into the church building for worship to wear a mask. There is no serving of food or childcare allowed so we cannot have fellowship time or provide nursery or Sunday School for children. With the required six feet of social distancing we will only be able to use every third row of pews in the sanctuary.
The state recommends “if feasible, arranging online sign-up for services in advance in order to monitor and the number of attendees, placing tape or other visual distancing markings on seating to delineate six foot separations, and promoting ventilation for enclosed spaces where possible. For example, opening windows and doors to allow airflow. Places of worship are encouraged to take steps to encourage orderly entering and exiting of services in a manner that encourages social distancing.”
The state also asks all those over the age of 65 to remain at home except for essential reasons. Given the demographics both of our church and the mid to lower Cape, we want to proceed with great caution regarding re-opening. None of us wants to see Brewster Baptist Church on the front page of the Cape Cod Times or on the evening news because a new surge of infections is traced to our gathering in a worship service. That wouldn’t be good for those infected or their families, nor would it help the cause of Christ or our church.
Considering these risks and regulations, we are not rushing to resume in-person services. We are planning wisely, prayerfully, and carefully how to do so. When we do resume, the experience of worship will not be like what it was previously due to the mandatory guidelines under which we must operate to keep people safe.
Part of what we’re exploring with the Town is the possibility of holding worship outside. We may need to have a worship schedule in which our services are spread out much more than in the past to allow time for cleaning and sanitizing. Our new technology upgrades will give us the capability to stream our services into Fellowship Hall, Community Hall, and the Chapel if that is deemed necessary. We will continue to offer worship online every week. Our plans for worship will adapt as we learn from other churches, from our own experience holding services, and as the state regulations change.
BBC is in some ways a microcosm of our larger society and contains a broad assortment of strongly held convictions. Some will be eager to meet in person and impatient to wait much longer. Others will insist it’s unwise to meet at all for several more months. Others will fall somewhere in between.
Even in these polarizing days, by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit we have a chance to model a different way of being than what we see in so much of the media. We can heed Paul’s wisdom in Romans 14:13 “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.”
Paul urges us in 1 Corinthians 8:9: “But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”
As much as ever before, we should follow the advice of James to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (1:19). Listening well may slow down the process of deliberation and planning, but it is worth it. We should likewise model Christlike humility by acknowledging that everything is not obvious, and we are all trying to do the best we can in this “build the plane in midair” moment.
Patience is one of the rarest virtues in today’s instant everything world. And yet patience has rarely been more needed, as many of us are antsy to break free from “stay home” isolation as soon as possible. It’s good to be eager to gather again as a church for worship. We should take Hebrews 10:25 seriously when it says we ought not neglect meeting together. We need to be patient with a timeline that might be slower than we’d prefer; patient with a reopening process that will doubtless be clunky; patient with leaders and volunteers feeling the pressure of this complex situation; and patient with one another.
The last few months have presented an array of challenges related to shepherding a church during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve tried to be flexible, agile, and creative in coping with the new circumstances in which God is calling us to serve. I’m very grateful and proud of how our staff, lay leaders, and members have adapted and carried on and kept ministry going and moving ahead. The next challenge is one of the most difficult: discerning when and how to wisely resume in-person worship and other gatherings.
To emerge from this crisis with unity and fellowship we must embrace the countercultural path of nuance. It’s the path that avoids ALL CAPS hysteria of every extreme sort, recognizing that truth is rarely as simple and shrill as Twitter would have us think. It’s the path that prizes both courage and prudence.What Paul urges the Ephesian church, should be equally urgent for us today: “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1–3).
Grace and Peace,