(Below is the sixth in a series of pastoral letters addressing the NWPC in the pandemic. To read previous letters click on the following links: March 13, March 26, April 17, May 21, June 18)
Dear Siblings in Christ,
Please forgive the slightly later-in-the-month date of this letter. Late-breaking developments forced me to wait until I had all pertinent information in front of me before sharing with you the thoughts of the congregation’s leadership as we attempt to move forward together both in faithfulness and mindful of safety.
After considerable discussion, the exploration of various options, and after “listening” carefully to the results of the congregational survey that was sent out a few weeks ago, the Session has decided to defer the reopening of the church building for worship. Several factors were pertinent to this difficult decision. First and foremost, and contrary to our hopes when previously deciding to reopen in August, COVID-19 cases in our region are on the rise. As a result, the Department of Health has moved us into what I’m calling a “Yellowish-Green” phase. While less restrictive than “Yellow,” some businesses are required to function at restricted capacity, and indoor groups are limited to 25 people or less. While it is true that religious groups are exempt from this size restriction, we are not exempt from contracting or spreading the novel coronavirus; and we have a scriptural responsibility to protect the health of our neighbors (Mark 12:31; Luke 6:31; Rom. 13:10; Phil. 2:4).
Secondly, while the Session was not bound by the results of the congregational survey, your feelings were instrumental in directing our thinking and discussion. Fully 58% of respondent households indicated that August 2 was too soon to reopen, by responding either that they would “wait a while longer” before returning or “not return until the pandemic is over.” And of those who said they would return (33% of you), almost half stated that they would do so while “feeling anxious” about it. Only 18% of our households were in a position to say that they looked forward to coming back as soon as possible without fear.
Learning from our recent experience, the Session has decided not to choose a firm date for reopening the sanctuary for worship. What we will be doing is exploring workable worship alternatives (such as the possibility of outdoor worship, remembering that LiveStream will still be required), as well as the potential for safe fellowship and educational opportunities. The eventual decision to reopen will be based upon Department of Health recommendations and favorable COVID-19 caseload trends in our region.
I know that this decision will be cause for disappointment and frustration for some of you. The Session shares your disappointment—we had hoped that the outlook would be more favorable by now; instead, it’s gotten worse in the last six weeks. As I stated at last night’s meeting, I would absolutely prefer to reopen and lead worship in a sanctuary packed to the gills with people! But we cannot do so in good conscience. It reminds me of the difficult lesson we all learn in childhood: sometimes what we want and what we need are not the same thing at all.
God is good all the time. I said recently from the pulpit that true “worship is the way that we live” (What You Worship As Unknown, May 17, 2020). Insofar as we put the health and safety of our friends and neighbors ahead of our own desire to gather in fellowship, we glorify God in our faithfulness. In an odd, unexpected way, then, our not gathering for worship is an act of worship!
Therefore, I want to close this letter with my favorite prayer, written by the late Thomas Merton:
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following
your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in
the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Blessings and good health to you and your loved ones. I miss you all terribly.
Yours in Christ’s Service,
Matthew L. Camlin,