Don’t blame the US Postal Service; this month’s edition of The Beacon is being sent out on April 15th for a couple of reasons. First, not a lot has changed in our schedule or programming since the preparations for Holy Week and Easter. Second, with the increasingly rapid deployment of the vaccines and expanded eligibility for who can receive them, church leaders across the nation are beginning to grapple with the daunting task of engineering a safe return to gathered worship.
I’m going to start with the bad news. As you may have expected (and I certainly did), this is proving to be a thorny issue to say the least. In the couple of meetings that have been held in the past few weeks there has been a lot of tension and patience has worn thin – including mine. Figuring out when and how to regather is fracturing some already strained congregations and their leaders across the country. Numerous colleagues of mine are reporting similar stories of varying magnitude, but not one has said that it has been smooth sailing. In other words, it’s time for us to heighten our emotional awareness as we go forward, expecting copious amounts of anxiety in others and, more importantly, in ourselves about a host of issues ranging from personal medical privacy to what standards of distancing are necessary.
The good news? Well, there’s lots of it. First of all, we have effective and safe vaccines in record time that are finding their way into arms, including mine. I got my first shot on March 29th, the first day clergy were eligible to do so in Illinois. In a month from now I expect to be fully vaccinated and relieved to be so. If you haven’t yet received your vaccine, I urge you to do so or talk with your doctor about your concerns. For most people, getting vaccinated is the best choice, not only for you but also for your neighbors. Also, we are not having to negotiate this difficult transition on our own. God is with us in this wilderness AND we have the help of lots of smart and faithful people who are willing and able to help us find our way back to safe physical gatherings of the Body of Christ.
I’m honored to call one such person a colleague and friend. The Rev. Kerri Parker is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches, an ecumenical ministry made up of many different denominations to cooperate in addressing issues that matter to our churches. She’s been one of the leaders behind the creation of guidelines to help churches reopen titled “Holding Our Plans Loosely: Returning to Church” which is now in its second edition due to evolving science. I encourage you to read it to better understand both the scientific issues but also the theological issues that we would do well to keep in mind as we move ahead. I’ve uploaded it to our website where you can read or print it: https://www.communityprotestant.org/returningtochurch/
[side note: doing so resulted in a three-hour adventure with issues on our website, resulting in yet another delay in finishing this article – I mention it because time-consuming little issues like this are more the rule than the exception these days and this one was all too typical.]
The Council will be meeting on this Tuesday and I expect us to establish one or more methods to hear questions and feedback from interested members. You can expect to be seeing some news on that front soon, possibly in the May Beacon. In the meantime, I ask you to please read the document at the link above as I see it as a well-conceived, faithful starting point for us. At present, we are planning to return first to outdoor worship on May 23rd in celebration of Pentecost. Get vaccinated. Keep the faith.