As soon as I uploaded the blog post on Saturday about the challenges churches are facing in deciding when and how they will reopen their church buildings I came across a great resource coming out of the Presbyterian Church USA. It is a document entitled Seeking to be Faithful Together: Guidelines for Presbyterians in Times of Disagreement and comes from their Presbyterian Peacemaking Program.
Two years ago today, the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 to be a global pandemic. I remember those first days and weeks; not sure what to touch or not to touch, getting used to wearing a mask, and most of all assuming that we would all be back in church by Easter at the latest.
How unprepared we were.
This week, the Ontario government has announced that most mask mandates will end on March 21, 2022 with the remaining pandemic rules lifted by the end of April. It seems as though we are moving from a pandemic to Covid being endemic in our world.
What a long strange trip it has been.
As I have talked with friends and colleagues over the past few days and weeks, I have heard and noticed a couple of important themes.
I just canceled the Zoom check-ins on Christian education planned for this week. Unfortunately only three people signed up and they were divided between two meetings. This low level of participation where once there was an enthusiastic number for Zoom check-ins seems to be symptomatic of what I’ve been seeing across the board with people’s participation in bible studies, Sunday school and leadership development.
I have found over these last couple of months that our church leaders and our people are more than exhausted from the ongoing stress of just keeping up during this pandemic. With the first year of the pandemic and its church building closures and protocols, leaders had a surge of energy and imagination for thinking about educational ministry in new ways and even began to focus on some things we’d been overlooking in the last number of decades. During the second year we established new ways of doing educational ministry and even began tweaking what we were doing as we got better and better at Zoom Sunday schools, porch meet ups and virtual worship. Moving into this third year I’m beginning to hear from many of our leaders that they just feel flat, without imagination, and are simply doing their very best to stay above water.
As many congregations return to in person worship, and as the Province of Ontario and other jurisdictions implement various versions of proof of vaccine mandates, congregations are asking questions about what their duties, responsibilities and limits are in this matter.
It’s the first day of September and many of our churches are scheduled to reopen for in-person worship services this month. This is raising a number of questions about in-person Sunday school and other children’s ministry programmes. There is so much to consider, especially as our children 12 years and under are not yet able to receive a vaccine against Covid-19, and as infections are once again on the rise.
Should we have in-person Sunday school? Should we stick with Zoom? Are there other options? What do we need to consider? And, how do we know what’s best?
Do you have questions like these?
Are you looking for a place to find some answers?
You are invited to join one of two Zoom gatherings next week to hear some helpful factors to consider as you make these important decisions.
Friends, by now I am sure everyone is aware that we have moved to Step 3 of reopening in the province of Ontario. In terms of Places of Worship (and other religious rites) this is what is now permitted:
Religious services, rites or ceremonies, including wedding services and funeral services (does not apply to receptions): Indoor and outdoor permitted with capacity limited to permit physical distancing of 2 metres.
Covid-19 has been a very uncertain and challenging time for congregations, and it appears that for some their congregation’s health might be getting significantly more precarious.
First a little bit of history.
A year ago, when we were all trying to make sense of the pandemic, a sister denomination predicted that they would lose about 20% of their congregations as a consequence of Covid. I agreed at the time; it made sense to me given what I knew about the synod and its congregations. However, as the weeks turned into months, our congregations continued to survive. In fact they seemed to be doing okay. CERB and CEWS helped, as did special grants and gifts. For some congregations, reduced expenses also made a big difference along with a mild winter keeping utilities to a minimum.
Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17, 18)
A few weeks ago I was standing in line at a convenience store. There were two registers open, one of which was the lottery terminal. By the number of tickets in his hand, the fellow behind me clearly had a significant lottery transaction to complete, so when that register opened, I invited him to go first. He thanked me and said; ‘that’s the first nice thing someone has done for me since Covid began.’ I hope he was exaggerating because it sure didn’t feel like much, but my greater fear was that he might have been right.
by Laura Stephens-Reed, Clergy and Congregational Coach, laurastephensreed.com
Reprinted with the permission of the author
I recently posted the thoughts below on my Facebook page. They seemed to strike a chord, so I’m offering them here as well. Lay leaders, judicatory and denominational leaders, and ministers working outside the congregational context, I urge you to share these reflections on behalf of those local church pastors who cannot.
Churchgoers, I know you are tired of this pandemic. I know you want to hug your friends and see their full, unmasked faces on Sunday mornings. I know you are frustrated when your fellow church members start attending services and programs in congregations that are taking fewer precautions. I know you are heartbroken that Advent and Christmas observances won’t look the same this year.