It is worthwhile to continually discern our understanding of church, its essential elements, and the priorities it communicates, but the global COVID-19 pandemic offers a crucial opportunity as it challenges us to be creatively adaptive.
Holy Grounds, our informal faith-based discussion, was held digitally. I invited us to ponder church, the defining elements grieved in social distancing, and how our in-person gatherings will be different (at least temporally).
In regard to the national dialogue, our discernment is increasingly appropriate.
The church is indeed essential, but the church has never been closed despite the closed buildings because it is not a building or a specific community gathered at a specific location and time.
Martin Luther defined the church in The Papacy in Rome, writing:
The scriptures speak plainly about the church and use of the word in one sense only… the community or assembly of all believers in Christ on earth… This community or assembly includes everyone who lives in true faith, hope, and love. So it is the essence, the life, the nature of the church to be an assembly of hearts united in faith, not an assembly of bodies… It is a spiritual unity… but the blind Romanist makes it into an external community like any other.
The church is a spiritual unity of hearts in faith, hope, and love that transcends all time and place. The church is indeed a global community gathered spiritually, not physically, in true worship reflecting our baptismal commitments of seeking justice, acting with compassion and mercy, loving the neighbor, and serving the most vulnerable. Thus, may we resist the temptation to limit church to “an external community like any other” and recognize that church has always and forever remains ‘open’.
The echoing of this beautiful sentiment has flooded my Facebook feed, including:
The church never closed. We adapted!…
We found new ways to worship and new ways to serve a broken world. (Unknown)
The Body of Christ is connected and worshipping (digitally). Is it ideal? No.
(ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton)
Despite COVID-19, we have and will continue to be creative and faithfully adapt for the sake of our most vulnerable neighbors at risk. Again, Martin Luther provides guidance in word and deed from his pastoral experience with the Black Plague (1527). In Whether One May Flee a Deadly Plague, he wrote:
I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I will fumigate, purify the air, administer medicine, and take medicine. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order to not become contaminated, and thus perchance inflict and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me. But, I have done what he expected of me, and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person, but will go freely. This is a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy, and does not tempt God.
Luther prayed to God, then avoided risk to self and unnecessary risk of infecting another. He listened to the scientific and medial professionals of the time, then continued true worship through opening his home to the infected and tending to their need. Thus, he was prayerful and faithful, proactive and cautious, while worshiping God and being the church. May we do likewise.
And therefore, in true worship and the guidance of Martin Luther, Trinity Lutheran Council has been dedicated to discerning the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Indiana and Ohio Health Departments, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) guidelines. These have been developed in accordance with scientists and medical professionals, with the necessarily education, knowledge, and experience. We continue to be dedicated to ensure a cautious and lower risk (but not ‘no risk’) return to in-person worship, effective Sunday June 14th.
And thus, upon our return to in-person worship, there will be precautions in place, at least temporally.
Basic sanitizing and social distancing measures include:
- Church building will be limited in accessible areas and sanitized before and after our gathering.
- Adequate access and encouragement for frequent handwashing and use of hand sanitizer.
- Adequate access to facial masks, fabric (gifted to persons to keep & for re-use) and disposable.
The use of facial masks is REQUIRED.
I encourage all persons to discern it not as an infringement of freedom,
but an act of love towards the vulnerable among us at higher risk.
- Adequate access to hand gloves, as desired.
Additional changes to our worship space include:
- Alternating pews will be closed limiting access to specific pews.
- Households may seat together, but with a minimum of six-foot distance between households.
- No printed materials in worship or the pews, such as bulletins and hymnals.
And yet, additional precautions in our worship services include:
- Sharing of the Peace will be hand gestures (ex. peace sign) that do not breach social distance.
- Offering will be collected in a central, accessible location without physical contact with plates.
- Holy Communion will resume but with the following precautions:
Communion wafers, not bread;
No common cup; and
Pastor and Communion Assistants will be wearing gloves.
- No singing. Music will be instrumental or pre-recorded videos.
Public singing is considered high-risk due to:
(1) increased projection of droplets (potentially infected) beyond standard distance,
(2) increased in-take of droplets (potentially infected) from beyond standard distance, and
(3) these droplets are drawn further into the lungs increasing the risk of exposure/infection.
- Pastor will not have physical contact with persons and will maintain social distance at all times.
In addition to above precautious, we ask the following persons to not attend in-person gatherings.
- Those who have a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19.
- Those who have or are assumed to have been recently exposed to COVID-19 within 2 weeks.
- Those who have any potential symptoms of COVID-19, including a fever.
Further, we encourage persons to discern their own return to in-person gatherings considering their own risk and the risk those within their household. Those at most risk, and who the CDC recommends continue social isolation, are those age 65+ and/or with compromised immune systems.
Until we meet again, may God bless you and keep you in the palm of God’s hand.
With Love, Melinda