The question that’s on everybody’s mind, but few have had the gumption to utter to me aloud is: “So, when can we come back to church?”
The short answer is: “I don’t know, but not yet.”
The long answer is always long because it’s complicated. As I write this, it appears that we have avoided the worst nightmare scenarios that public health officials warned us would happen without sheltering-in-place and that the virus may possibly be less lethal than early evidence led us to believe. However, also the day I’m writing this we officially passed over 100,000 victims of the virus, a number that most experts agree is almost certainly an undercount. It’s complicated.
What we’re learning through the mistakes of others and through further scientific study is that churches are unfortunately ideal breeding grounds for the virus. Staying in the same enclosed space for an hour, and especially singing, pose a particularly bad combination according to the best information we have. This is bad news for not just Christians, but all houses of worship. Among the many, many questions that have scientifically-reliable answers, we’re also confronted by ethical questions that have no such answers. Questions like: Should we still gather for worship if we have to exclude a large portion of our members who are at greater risk from attending?
It’s complicated. One can only tread the path of hypotheticals so far. For now, it looks as if our next step forward will be streaming worship from a small ‘skeleton crew’ in the sanctuary. For the time being, it appears that we will have to continue to worship online for the summer. Even when we can’t gather, we’re busy being the church. We’re quickly finding ways to minister to our own and to God’s world in ways that may not be our preference and may not be pretty, but that get the job done.
I take heart and good courage from the evidence that God is sustaining us in this challenging time. The congregation remains united, hopeful, supportive, generous, and faithful. Keep up the good work and Godspeed the day when we can pass the peace without fear of passing a potentially fatal illness.