Over the Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial “start of summer,” beaches from one coast to another had very different approaches to the Covid-19 pandemic.
At Coney Island in New York, the beach was opened but swimming was prohibited. At the beaches of Los Angelos County, swimming was permitted but laying out on the beach was not. At Osage Beach in Missouri, it didn’t seem that any behavior was restricted. This year’s photos looked different from last year only in that it seemed that more people were even closer together.
One can assume that each of the relevant authorities were acting sincerely based on their concern for their citizens. Yet it was obvious that there were some very different decisions being made. I believe there is an analogy here to the task of “re-opening” church.
There are no lack of resources available for guidance. The various sources are remarkably consistent and profound given that time and effort spent so far on understanding the problem. Yet, there are still open questions, particularly regarding congregational singing. Our task is to use the best advice and instructions available while praying for Godly wisdom in all that we do.
The essential “crux” of the problem involves an unreconcilable paradox. Corporate worship is all about gathering people together. The current strategy to mitigate the danger of COVID-19 is to keep people apart. One cannot do both things at the same time. Any approach to corporate worship must therefore involve the balancing of these two opposite goals.
So, do you close or open the beach? Do you allow swimming? Can you just lay on the beach in a six foot circle? Do you suggest, ask, recommend, demand or enforce a given behavior? If faced with refusal to comply do you ignore, sanction or punish?
The assumption of behavior in a church is obedience to the Gospel and cooperation within the assembly. All things in a Missouri Synod congregation are decided by the Word of God and majority vote. The pastor is called by that Voters Assembly to be its public minister of the Gospel. The officers of the congregation do the will of the Voters Assembly according to our Constitution. Obviously, we cannot make the decision to re-open church by opening it to a Voters Meeting. It therefore is the responsibility of the Pastor (me) and the Church Council to act wisely and patiently to bring the church to a point where we can gather again.
I am sure that, in trying to do the right thing, we may make decisions that are different to how other churches are doing things. Los Angeles and New York came to similar but different conclusions in how to respond, each with similar data but different situations. I suspect both will adjust based on what they learn.
The one thing I promise you is that we will not “do nothing;” (there are more than a few examples of beaches that look like that!) I also promise you that we will learn and adjust , starting cautiously and remaining cautious until the pandemic has resolved, whenever that is.
There is a danger in over spiritualizing a problem. My walking across Main Street with my eyes closed would be less a test of faith than a test of the caution of drivers (and the quality of their brakes.) There is also a danger in believing we can reduce any and all risk- I do risk driving to church to work. The church does have sufficient faith and wisdom to act prudently and appropriately
The current Biblical analogy to our situation is the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem under Nehemiah. The approach of Nehemiah is a study in good leadership and organization that is faithful, prayerful and pragmatic. When they had finished their work making Jerusalem safe again they gathered to hear the Word of the Lord.
Ezra Reads the Torah (edited)
All of them gathered together. They went to the open area in front of the Water Gate. They told Ezra to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses. The Lord had given Israel that Law so they would obey him. Ezra was the teacher of the Law.
Ezra the priest brought the Law out to the whole community. It was the first day of the seventh month. The group was made up of men, women, and children old enough to understand what Ezra was going to read. He read the Law to them from sunrise until noon. He did it as he faced the open area in front of the Water Gate. He read it to the men, the women, and the children old enough to understand. And all the people paid careful attention as Ezra was reading the Book of the Law.
As he opened the book, the people stood up. Ezra praised the Lord. He is the great God. All the people lifted up their hands and said, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down. They turned their faces toward the ground and worshiped the Lord.
Nehemiah was the governor. Ezra was a priest and the teacher of the Law. They spoke up. So did the Levites who were teaching the people. All these men said to the people, “This day is set apart to honor the Lord your God. So don’t weep. Don’t be sad.” All the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy some good food and sweet drinks. Send some of it to people who don’t have any. This day is holy to our Lord. So don’t be sad. The joy of the Lord makes you strong.”
Please know that there is no lack of effort, prayer (and even worry) in working to resume the ministry of the church. I do appreciate your patience and faithfulness. You should not worry.
Remember the promise of our Jesus,
“On this rock I will build my church. The gates of hell will not be strong enough to destroy it.”
A blessed Pentecost