We are now entering our third month of dealing with this pandemic. To say that life is not back to normal is an understatement. Nonetheless many good things are happening. Though some families are disconnected because of quarantine, others have had great times reconnecting with many of the normal distractions removed. Families who cannot attend church often gather in small groups and worship together in a way that was not possible before. In talking with our folks, I find that many of you are talking to, praying for, and engaging with each other to an extent you probably never did before the virus. Regarding technology, nearly all of us are a little smarter. Our church continues to provide online worship, preaching, and Bible study on YOUTUBE and Facebook. Though not optimal (over in-person worship) it has allowed us to reach folks at home, some of whom are not in our church. Some of these technological “lessons learned”, will be used long after the pandemic ends. We are blessed in many ways.
Everyone has heard of the recent court ruling that places a restraining order on the governor of North Carolina’s restrictions on churches from worship. In my mind, that does little to alter our current situation. We are not meeting because we do not have the constitutional right to meet—we certainly have that right. We are not meeting because in the view of public health experts it is not yet safe to gather in large numbers. Some churches have worshipped during this pandemic and have unwittingly become hotbeds for the virus to spread. An Arkansas church that met in early March (before the dangers of the virus were fully known) saw the pastor, his wife, and 38% of the congregation infected with the virus. Three of these persons subsequently died. Knowing what we know now about the virus, I believe this shows we must not be cavalier in rushing a quick return to worship. Our right to worship is tempered against what is the best action for our church members, the community, and the Kingdom of God. Please know it is not an easy decision.
We are fully engaged in the process to return to in-person worship. First let me say that returning to church in the COVID-19 world will not be a return to church as normal. There will be restrictions requiring social distancing, masks, and limited personal contact. There may even be restrictions on the number of people that gather. The decision to return will require each person and family to decide if the timing and conditions are right for them to return. Everyone will not all re-appear the first Sunday we return.
Your pastors and deacons, like many of you, are driven by a strong desire to return to worship as soon as it is safely possible. Churches around us are working through a similar process. While many are returning, others are also waiting. Each church has unique situations, capabilities and vulnerabilities; and their decisions to return will be different. I ask for your prayers and patience as we work through this process. We will keep you informed and you are welcomed to provide input to this process.
As we focus on the virus here, remember our missionaries and military as they continue their jobs in often dangerous and faraway places. Please pray continuously for our church, other churches, and those that serve in foreign fields. I look forward to seeing you soon.
Rev. James A. Cohn