As you likely know, Governor Inslee issued a host of new restrictions Sunday (11/15). The context for these is a surge in coronavirus cases around the state. Locally, cases are also surging, with another outbreak at Josephine Caring Community. The restrictions are, for now, in place for the next four weeks, with the hopes of preventing an overload in hospitals and the dangers that come with that.
After discussing the restrictions with some of our ministry leaders, here is how we are going to proceed.
Sunday gatherings: The mandates for religious gatherings didn’t really change much: we are still allowed to gather at 25% capacity, with masks and social distancing. For us, this is around 50-60 people between our two rooms, which is about where we’ve been. So we will continue to gather Sunday mornings for worship and the word, as this is a fundamental part of what it means to be a church. In addition to the biblical command to “not neglecting to meet together,” to commit to, love, serve, hold accountable, and build up one another requires in-person gatherings. From what I can tell, churches have not been a major cause of the spreading of the virus, and we are taking numerous precautions with our gatherings.
The one change is that congregational singing is not permitted at this point. In light of both Scripture and the 2,000 year history of the church, worshipping God through song is an integral part of gathering as a church body. This is made evident in numerous Psalms, as well as verses like Colossians 3:16:
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Singing to and about God together affects us in unique and powerful ways. We are not willing to refrain from this for an indefinite period (which the four weeks may become).
That being said, it is something we can temporarily restrain from, in an effort to do our part for the health of our community, the sake of front-line medical workers and to honor our leaders. So for the next four weeks, we will get creative with our singing time: read the words of song/hymn together (like we do our confession), spend time in focused prayer, have a soloist sing a song (which is allowed). At the end of four weeks, we will likely return to normal singing.
Youth group and Middles: At this point, we are going to continue with our weekly (or bi-weekly) ministries for youth. Such gatherings are not specifically addressed by the restrictions, but can reasonably fall under “religious gatherings.” With secular education continuing to meet in person with appropriate safety measures, we want to continue to provide Christ-centered, biblical education with similar safety measures to our youth. We ask that masks be worn at these gatherings.
Men’s and women’s studies: These kinds of gatherings, likewise, are not specifically addressed by the new restrictions. In light of the spiritual and relational value they provide, we are going to continue them at this point, with safety measures in place (ventilation, fans, spacing, etc.). While we are encouraging, but not enforcing masks for these gatherings, we would have you consider wearing a mask as a good-faith effort for these next four weeks.
The women begin an advent study this Wednesday. If you have not already, please RSVP on this page, so we have enough supplies. The men are going to use their time to serve at The Christmas House the next few Monday evenings, packing gift packs for kids for Christmas.
As should be obvious by now, things are changing constantly. This is the approach we are taking as of now. It might change. Our concerns are numerous: worshipping God, encouraging one another, equipping the church to do the work of ministry, loving and being a good witness to our community, and honoring our human leaders. There are times when these priorities bump up against one another and wisdom is needed to know how to proceed. You may not always agree with the path we take, but I thank you for the grace you all have shown as we walk through this.
As I’ve said in the past, this cultural moment is one where it is hard to both be united and feel the weight of being united as God’s people. These are still challenges we have, but I am thankful we have not been divided as is much of the world around us, and that we have believed in and held onto the unifying power of Christ crucified for us.
I love you all, and am thankful to be your pastor. Pastor Derek