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Here is the full text of the pastor's message to the congregation:
“When is our church going to re-open?” It’s a natural question to ask. We are a church that loves to throw parties and praise God together in person! We miss seeing each other, and we grieve that we can’t do that right now. But the reality is, our church is anything but closed!
Many who might not otherwise attend church, are tuning in to worship with us virtually on Sundays! We have small groups, community groups, and even a youth baptism class meeting over Zoom. We’ve been connecting with the community around us, and continuing to partner with ministries locally and around the world who need our support. God’s church is very much OPEN, and God is ALIVE and moving in and through it!
But like God’s people have been many times throughout history, right now we are a SCATTERED church, worshipping and serving from our homes. We’re still connected, still community for one another, just not as the GATHERED people of God, together, in person. We’re still open, the question for us is: “when might we GATHER again?”
You may have seen that Governor Baker included places of worship in Phase One of the plan to re-open Massachusetts. This designation has created significant confusion for churches, especially considering that lower risk outdoor facilities are not being opened until Phase Two, and art and entertainment, which more closely approximates a church service from a health perspective, are not opening until Phase 3. Given this, it’s hard to imagine a scenario for gathering right now that would be safe or hospitable.
In fact, based on careful research in conjunction with both our Conference and the Highrock Network, any large gathering right now would not resemble anything that we’re used to. What kind of Sunday gathering is now legally permitted?
Churches could gather at 40% building capacity (recommended practice guidelines say 20%), which means that only a very limited number of us could be together for worship.
When we are together, there can be no singing, no fellowship before or after service, no KidsRock, and no contact with each other.
To maintain safety guidelines, we’d have to pre-select who could attend worship based on sign-ups and health status. This means that we, the church, could not admit visitors, or at least, not in a way that is comfortable or hospitable.
We'd have to make a massive investment in cleaning -- the guidelines recommend that if you have multiple services, you should have the building professionally cleaned between services; some guidelines recommend the bathrooms be cleaned after every individual use.
Further, if just one attendee tested positive for COVID-19 after attending, the entire church in attendance could have to be quarantined for 2 weeks, including our staff.
These are sobering realities. It took us a couple of days after learning them to move past just feeling super bummed out!! But these dramatic guidelines are consistent and would be necessary given what scientists are telling us about the nature and spread of this virus. So this is the reality, it's where we are, and it begs the question...what’s God’s invitation for us in it? How can we lean in, not sidelining mission, but embracing it like never before?
Well, for starters, given the realities, together as the Highrock Network of churches, we are NOT going to gather for large group Sunday worship at least for several more months. We recognize that what’s “permissible” isn’t necessarily what’s “beneficial” (1 Corinthians 10:23), both for the safety of our own people, and for the community at large. So many are sacrificing so much to keep others safe, and hard as it is, we must be willing to sacrifice too. In addition, we think that there are better options available to us, even ones with great kingdom gain!
For now, we’ll keep worshipping together from our homes, online, and we’ll keep inviting more and more who might otherwise never step foot in a church to worship with us! We’ll keep serving! Plans are underway for our next round of English Language Learners classes, and we’re talking about hybrid models of holding Summer Blast online AND in person in smaller groups! As appropriate, we’ll look to introducing church-wide smaller group gatherings in our church building, and beyond. It’s beautiful out, and we have great outdoor space right at our church property...how might we start using that to connect in person in safe ways in the coming weeks and months?
Let’s keep praying together for wisdom and discernment in all these matters, because who knows what God might do for the spreading of the Good News and the building up of community as we keep leaning into new and creative means of gathering! Stay tuned, because our hunch is that God wants to do a great deal, and so our goal isn’t just to go BACK to the way things were, but to step boldly into the NEW thing that God has for us, to expand our vision of church, not just for while restrictions are in place, but for next year, and the year after that!
We recognize that not meeting together for now is hard, and we mourn with you in that, even as we imagine the ridiculously over-the-top party that we’ll throw at our new building sometime down the road! Because we also look with eager and glad expectation to all that God has in store for us. At every turn, God has led, and God has provided. God has done more than we could ask or imagine. So let’s lean in together and see what God does next!
With God’s great love, hope, and expectation,
Pastors Becky & Will, for the Overseers