Exactly one year ago we became aware of a mysterious virus named COVID-19 making its way across the globe. Initially we were warned the virus lived on hard surfaces and we had to sanitize everything we touched and minimize our touching. The church staff and lay leaders began to plan worship without handshakes and bulletins, with masks and social distancing. Then suddenly everything shut down.
Now a full year later, the church’s Regathering Taskforce and staff are considering all the details for a safe reopening, and viral activity depending, we have a plan: outside tent for Holy Week and multiple Easter morning prayer services by preregistration; Sunday afternoon Family Worship beginning again after Easter; a trial in-person Sunday morning Sanctuary service in late April with elected leaders and spouses; and socially-distant worship for those wanting to attend in May. We will continue prerecording worship for everyone to access online until we eventually transition to livestreaming worship from the Sanctuary with people safely spaced among the pews.
As in the country, so also within our congregation, there is great appreciation for the care we are taking to regather safely, as well as a bit of frustration we have not reopened as quickly as some other congregations. Thinking about this dynamic I have found helpful a book by Old Testament scholar Terence Fretheim called Creation Untamed: The Bible, God and Natural Disasters. He writes:
The world that God has created is in process, and one effect of that reality is that it is not a risk-free place for human beings or animals. There is much about God’s creation, beautiful and wonder-filled as it is, that is potentially dangerous for human life and health. God has purposefully created it that way. And even though God has full knowledge of the world’s harmful potential for its creatures, God did not provide danger-free zones for human beings, even for righteous Job. That kind of world, for all the suffering that may result, is deemed necessary for it to be a good world, one that is full of life and creativity.
As with God’s world, the church is also a diverse community in process. That is why Presbyterians make decisions with multiple voices discerning the way forward together. As we emerge from the pandemic shutdown, to use an Easter image, as a butterfly from a cocoon, I am grateful for the beautiful creativity of the church staff and lay leaders which has enabled us to be the church together even while we’ve been apart, and who are now helping direct our reopening with the best interests of all in mind as we emerge from these long months to a sense of community restored and full of life.