Plans for Resuming “In-Person” Gatherings

Beloved congregation, our Session met this week to consider plans to resume “in person” gatherings for worship.   We will resume no sooner than May 31, with the tentative plan of reopening on that date.  Between now and then we will be working to thoroughly clean and sanitize our facilities and prepare for livestreaming for those who need to exercise more caution about returning.  We will not resume small group Bible study at this time.   The Session will meet again on May 26 to confirm this date for resuming “in person” services.  With that said, I want to speak to two aspects of our plans to resume.  

The first aspect is regarding to those who are torn between concerns for their health or the health of others and the biblical command to gather for worship.   A friend and colleague, Rev. Rob Patrick addressed this concern very well in a recent article to his congregation.

Is it essential for Christians to meet together for worship on the Lord’s Day? A global pandemic and resulting restrictions on “mass gatherings” has led to much discussion of that question, and related questions on the authority of the civil government to regulate gatherings for worship. Leaving aside issues of civil liberty and authority, the question of the essentiality of gathering for worship remains important.

A portion of Hebrews 10:19-26 is helpful in examining two aspects of this question. The first aspect is the access Christians have to God’s throne of grace, at any time and in any place.  Hebrews 10:19-22 speaks of the intercession of our great high priest, Jesus, in whom Christians have access to God, and are even brought before His throne of grace, whenever and wherever we call out to Him in Jesus’ name! Christ’s blood and righteousness have secured this access. Jesus is at the right hand of His Father, interceding on our behalf. Whether we are at church, at home, in exile, or prison, our prayers and worship are received by Him!

But what about gathering?  Hebrews 10:23-25 addresses the second aspect of our question, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Spiritual access to the presence of God anywhere at anytime through the name, blood, and righteousness of Jesus doesn’t mean Christians no longer need to gather together. The promise of a coming day when we will be glorified together in the presence of God should fill us with desire to gather now, in anticipation of that day. As we gather, there is fellowship in Christ that encourages love and good works among God’s people through our shared ministry.

When it comes to the essentiality of gathering for worship, these verses remind us that God commands our gathering for worship. Unless providentially hindered, there is something spiritually amiss when Christians intentionally absent themselves from public worship. It is for His glory and our common good that we must not neglect the assembly of the saints.

Yet there are occasions of providential hindrance. Sickness, our own or that of those for whom we care, works of necessity and mercy, and imprisonment are among the circumstances that may prevent one from gathering with others for worship. During this pandemic, increased risk of infection for the elderly or those with compromised immune systems are among the factors that may make it imprudent for some to gather for worship. In such circumstances of providential hindrance there is great blessing in knowing that we can still offer prayers and praise to God. In Jesus’ name we can worship in spirit and in truth before His throne, wherever we may be.

Even with the precautions and provisions outlined below for resuming “in person” gatherings for worship, those with good reason to remain home due to circumstances of health should have no crisis of conscience over doing so.  We pray that your continued faithful worship at home will only increase longing to gather with the Lord’s people when it is again prudent to do so! May we say with David, “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go to the house of the Lord!”

These words offer a helpful perspective regarding biblical balance in navigating both the command to gather and care for one another.  This biblical balance also governs those who return.  A faithful expression of corporate worship is one that has concern for the spiritual and physical needs of others.   Paul’s introductory statements regarding the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:17ff make this clear.  

To that end, please find below guidance from our Session regarding how we may faithfully resume “in person” corporate worship while exercising Christian prudence and concern for the spiritual and physical needs of others.

  • We will continue to live stream our service for those who need to be more cautious about gathering in person.
  • If you are sick or exhibiting symptoms of illness, or have had fever within 24 hours, or have had contact with any Covid-19 positive individuals within 14 days, please remain home and join us for worship through the livestream.
  • For those able to resume “in person” gathering:
    • We will have hand-sanitizer available at every entry and in the restrooms.  
    • If you feel comfortable wearing a mask, we encourage you to do so.   The use of cloth masks are a courtesy and benefit to others.   While they may not protect you from illness, they will protect others from illnesses you may have, even if you are not showing symptoms.
    • We encourage families to sit together. 
    • Please try to maintain a distance of 6 ft between family groups.   This can be accomplished by keeping one row of seating between you and others.
    • Orders of service, containing everything you need to participate in the liturgy, will be placed on each end of alternating rows of seats in order to limit “touch.”   These will continue to be available online before the service as well, and we may be able to project them.
  • You may enjoy in person fellowship outside before and after the gathering, but please limit contact and maintain distancing when inside our gathering spaces.
  • You may continue to give your tithes and offerings by mail or online.  We will also have a secure offering box by the door as you enter and exit.   Thank you for faithful giving.
  • Refreshments and fellowship meals will not resume at present for our corporate gatherings.  The Session will continue to evaluate when this is advisable.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me or one of the elders.

In Christ, Pastor Wheeler