“But those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31
Boy, I sure hope so. As I’ve mentioned from the pulpit a number of times, waiting and patience have never been my long suit. In point of fact, the truth is rather the opposite. I like to see things happen (and on my schedule). I am often disappointed and frustrated.
I know that many of you are wondering, “When will we reopen? When will we begin in-person worship?” While I can’t give you a specific answer, I would like to let you know how things are unfolding.
Last week the Bishop released Protocols for a Plan of Return. These protocols are mandatory for all Virginia United Methodist Churches. Our protocols are in phases mirroring the executive orders of the Governor, but they are also more conservative. I want to say that I believe this is appropriate. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors and loving our neighbors must mean protecting not only the most vulnerable of our own congregation but also the community and our health care providers as well. The Bishop and her team lifted up the Three Rules of John Wesley:
- Do no harm.
- Do good.
- Stay in love with the Lord.
What follows is my own, very incomplete, synopsis of the plan (the full Protocol is some 65 pages) with comments for Trinity. We are currently convening a Healthy Church Team (HCT) as is every Virginia UMC.
Phase 1. (Starting May 24)
- Each District will have two “Pioneer Churches” that will re-open to in-person worship of no more than 25 persons and strict protocols. (Trinity is not a Pioneer Church.)
- All other churches will continue online or virtual worship.
Phase 2 (Start date determined by the Bishop. I personally would not expect this before mid-June.)
- Churches may reopen to in-person worship with strict Protocols that include (in part)
- No more than 50 persons in worship.
- Reservations must be made ahead of time.
- Maintain 6 ft. Social distancing.
- No singing. (No congregational singing, no choir, no soloist.)
- Mask worn at all times (including clergy)
- No children under age 7 present.
- No fellowship time or space.
Phase 3 (Determined by the Bishop.)
- A “New Normal” aligned with prevailing state guidelines.
Friends, my purpose here is to give you a sense of where we are and how we will proceed. I know you will have questions and frankly I probably do not have the answers. We will have to decide how and when we move forward under such limitations. For now, I am so appreciative of the way we as a church have responded and carry on in the midst of this pandemic. Further, let me also say that the Church of Jesus Christ has been through much worse in the past (the Roman persecution, the Black Plague, the Spanish Inquisition, the Thirty Years War, just to name a few.) We will carry on. We will love our neighbors. We will proclaim the Good News to all who will hear it. We will be the Church. Be strong. Keep the faith. And the grace and peace of Jesus the Christ be with us all.
Pastor Larry Lenow