The sanctuary at the church looks pretty much the same as it always has. The sun through the stained-glass windows wash the room with splashes of color. The wood has a lustrous glow. The white marble of altar, pulpit and font all stand out proclaiming the purpose of the space. The room is waiting. Waiting for the gathering of those bound in the power of the Spirit to come. Since late March, this beautiful space has been waiting to once again be sanctuary to the people. It will be waiting a little longer, it seems.
If you looked closely you would see some changes. The pew cushions are stored away because they are too difficult to sanitize properly. Many of the chairs have been stowed away too, so that distance between the people can be maintained. Little orange cones placed on every other row to ensure physical distance is kept. Baskets of facemasks are out – more to come. Signs and arrows will be placed in the days ahead to show us how we can move and remind us of how to keep others from exposure to a virus that has changed much. And still, the sanctuary waits.
When will we re-gather? The virus has the answer and it is not talking. We are using criteria outlined by the CDC, the State, and Ecumenical leaders to guide us. We assess the timeline fourteen (14) days at a time. We need 14 days of very clear downward trajectory in the number of cases and/or positive tests to move to the next stage of coming together. So far, the data is volatile and has offered nothing we have felt is very clear.
Each benchmark must be satisfied before moving to the next level. Increases in reported cases mean a return to the previous level. In other words, we need two months of consecutive, clear, downward trends to work through the stages of return.
Each level establishes a new number of people who can gather, as the next table outlines.
The types of gatherings that occur have been rated by the CDC according to risk on a scale of 1-9. Nine is the most dangerous. Church gatherings in a church building are rated an 8.
When we do return to small, safe, physically distant gatherings for worship, worship will be different too.
In the midst of all these changes to make worship safe, we are also guided by one of our values: Authentic Worship. We are committed to make sure that when we gather it is focused on God through God’s Word and eventually, the sacrament. Right now, the best worship we can offer is online. We could gather in the parking lot (and we may) but not without being sure that the worship will be authentic.
I know we’re all going a little stir-crazy; we want our lives back; we want to do what we want to do. No one wants that more than I do – trust me! Yet our call – a spiritual call for the ages – is to wait, to be patient, to work to love God and neighbor. The sanctuary does indeed wait, and it will not lose patience. The truth is we are being the Church right now.
I ask for your prayers and support for the Congregation Council and staff as they continue to do outstanding work in the face of this pandemic. I covet your prayers too. Know that we are not sitting on our hands or passively waiting. We are actively preparing for what God has in store for us.
Pax Christi – Tim Olson, Lead Pastor
Charts and more in depth information can be found: https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/track?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:514578ab-b083-4824-9b5a-88ccba561c2f