This is, by far, the most frequently asked question staff and leaders receive these days. I understand how anxious you are - we all are! – to gather again and re-establish some sense of normalcy after more than a year of pandemic practices. I also know that, on the one hand, some have been very supportive of the precautions taken to keep everyone safe. On the other, some have been frustrated – even angry – that we have waited this long.
The answer to this question has some parts. First, I have to say, again, Holy Trinity has never been closed. We have not missed a single week of worship, learning ministries have continued. The food pantry has fed the hungry and the ministries of the church have continued. In some cases, we’ve even done more than usual as we learned new ways to do old things. The source of our frustrations has been due to change, not absence of ministry.
The second part of the answer is, when it is safe. We have carefully constructed a set of measures and phases of return based on the best evidence we have and the wisdom of prayerful leaders. I know it is not fast enough for some. It may be too soon for others. I know that what other churches have done is noted and frankly, that is not a big part of our discernment process.
The third part of the answer right now is, soon. Three of the four measures we follow have been met to allow gatherings of 50 or less. The final measure is trending in the right direction now. Once we meet all three for two weeks, we will schedule an opening date.
The second question I receive with some frequency is, “Do you think people are leaving because we are not open yet?” I can say that I know of one household. I’ve heard rumors of a few others, with no verification. (People tend to leave silently, in the dark, so to speak. That makes it hard to know). I also know that every week, we receive thanks and support for the way we have handled our response. I know that the bulk of our strongest financial supporters continue to support us. I know that the people I work with and minister to most are supportive and appreciative of what we have been doing.
We have had people leave the congregation because we were too welcoming. We have had people leave because we changed something that seemed unchangeable. We no doubt will have people who leave because they don’t like our response to the Covid-19 virus – especially in the current cultural environment. Don’t read this in a way that suggests a lack of concern on my part. I made a vow to love this congregation and every time someone leaves, I take it personally. It pains me. The truth, however, is that there are many, many more folks who stay and are loyal to the community that has walked with them on life’s journey, even if there is occasionally something they don’t like.
The truth is that the church can never be guided by the values of the market where members are customers and the congregation a purveyor of spiritual wares. That is a severe degradation of what the body of Christ is supposed to be.
I’m resigned to the fact that some will leave, and the buck will stop on my desk, even though our decisions have been communal. I’m OK with that. I’m also OK with some thinking that I (we) really blew it from a marketing perspective. What matters is that we have been faithful to the command to love as Christ loved – and remember that got him killed.
As one member recently wrote, “I cannot imagine the stress of trying to keep people safe AND happy. Some people aren’t going to be happy but EVERYONE is going to be safe—and that’s what matters.” Amen. Amen. Yea verily, Amen.
Pax Christi – Tim Olson, Lead Pastor