“Some people in my congregation want assurances I cannot give them,” was the frustration shared by one pastor in recent days about relaunching live worship and other gatherings. Is this a frustration you share?
As pastors, staff, and lay leaders seek to discern when and how to relaunch their congregation, they are continually asked for assurances from their congregational participants that they will be safe if they come back for worship and small group gatherings. These are assurances pastors cannot give. There are risks. There are uncertainties. There are contradictions in the guidance provided by various government agencies and people. Who is right?
Some churches have resumed limited services already. And some who have resumed services have had to close down. The COVID-19 statistics are still going up, so the virus is still spreading
Among the questions pastors are receiving are the following: “Will everyone who comes to worship practice physical distancing?” “Can you guarantee me that no one comes who is infected with the coronavirus?” “Will everyone agree to wear a mask?” “Will you turn away people who refuse to wear a mask?” “What will you do to be sure my children will be safe? If you cannot give me this assurance, I am probably not coming back for a long time.” “Will we have singing? I hear that singing spreads the virus.” “I have an elderly parent I take care of. I cannot risk making her sick with the virus. Can you assure me that no one who attends worship will be infected?” “Are the staff and volunteers going to be tested for the coronavirus?”
“I have cancer and my treatments make me more vulnerable to infection and other diseases. Can I come in a side door and sit alone with no one else around me?” “I like doing my small group online. It is safe. It is easy. The room in which my small group meets is too small to practice physical distancing. If we come back can you give us a larger room?” “I heard a doctor friend who has connections to the CDC say that the private information is that whenever we plan to open back up that we need to delay two or three more weeks than we at first plan to open up. What is he talking about, and should be open up when you are saying?” “Can you assure me that when we open up that we will not close down again later in the year? I am hearing we may have to close down again by Thanksgiving if we open up now.”
Beyond questions like this, pastors are also hearing demand statements from some congregational participants. “You have always said that God will protect us. Maybe you did not mean it. You keep telling us to stay home and stay safe.” “Are you going to let the government tell us when we can worship and where we can worship and how we can worship? We demand our freedom to worship.” “If we do not open back up immediately, I am going to start going to another church that has the courage to open up.” “This is no worse than the flu every year. Where is your courage? We need to open up.” “I go to work again, I go shopping, and families go to the beach. We can open back up now.” “I am not coming back until we have a vaccine, and you better not make me feel guilty about it.” When I come back, I am not wearing a mask. The president does not wear a mask. I do not need to wear a mask.”
“I am beginning to hear people talk about never coming back to our church even when we relaunch. We better open soon so we do not lose more people.” “My father died of coronavirus, and we could not have a funeral at the church because you would not open up.” “The persecuted church around the world is always in danger of losing their lives when they gather for worship. We should not let a virus stop us from gathering unless we are weak Christians.” “I do not believe we ought to open back up until children can go back to school.”
It is impossible to come up with the perfect plan. A plan does not exist that will satisfy everyone. Listen to wise counsel. Pray for discernment. Listen to the plans of other churches. Move forward with conviction. Adjust as needed. Be compassionate towards all.
Will God bless us with the assurances we need? Yes, a blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.
George Bullard, BullardJournal@gmail.com, May 28, 2020