Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We rejoice to know that we will soon be able to return to gathering together to worship our risen Lord and Savior. It is our prayer that you have been able to remain in the Word and so close to your Savior throughout the past two months. In the midst of our rejoicing, however, we also recognize that the removal of an executive order does not remove the fear and uncertainty of these times – fear of a virus that has not been eradicated, and the uncertainty of what if any further measures may be implemented in the coming days and weeks. Returning to something that resembles “normal” will be bumpy at best. In addition, we also recognize that while we are a family of believers, our opinions concerning the current state of affairs vary widely. For these reasons, we will want to return to public worship in a thoughtful and considerate manner.
The apostle Paul speaks at length concerning our Christian freedoms in both Romans and I Corinthians. He encourages us in the knowledge that “everything is permitted” for us (I Cor. 10:23), and yet at the same time admonishes us to recognize that not everything is “beneficial” or “builds up,” and continues by saying, “Let no one seek his own good, but that of others” (I Cor. 10:24). Christian freedom is to be used in a way that gives glory to God (I Cor. 10:31), that serves to build up God’s Church (Rom. 14:19), and that encourages the unsaved to receive Christ and be saved (I Cor. 10:33). These are the questions we must wrestle with as we consider the manner in which we will return to public worship.
Will a return to public worship give glory to God? The simple answer is: yes. Scripture is filled with examples of God-fearing people who pleased God by public worship. We are encouraged throughout Scripture to encourage one another in the faith and to bear one another’s burdens. And the writer to the Hebrews encourages us directly, “do not give up meeting together.” As Christians we understand that our Lord would have us gather together to hear and study His Word and to receive the sacrament. These things are God-pleasing. It is not a return to public worship that is in question, but rather the manner in which we do it.
Will a return to public worship serve to build up God’s Church? It will, as long as our emphasis remains on the means of grace. The Holy Spirit will always do His work of building up the Church through Word and sacrament. However, it is possible for us to put obstacles in the Spirit’s way if we return to worship in a manner that divides the congregation in some way or burdens consciences. For this reason we will seek to put practices in place that serve to build up with the gospel, but do not divide over matters of opinion.
Will a return to public worship serve to encourage the unsaved or unchurched to receive Christ and so be saved? A return to public worship can make a strong statement to the unchurched concerning the importance of our Savior and His Word for our lives here and for our lives for eternity. This is, of course, always the message we want to send by our worship. However, if the unchurched see our return to public worship as reckless, or worse yet, uncaring and dangerous, we may send a message that drives away rather than draws near. For this reason, we will want to follow the encouragement of the apostle Peter when he says to us, “Live an honorable life among the Gentiles so that even though they slander you as evildoers, when they observe your noble deeds, they may glorify God on the day he visits us” (I Pet. 2:12).
While we anticipate a return to public worship soon, we do not want God’s people to return to His house under compulsion or in fear, but rather united in mind and spirit, with joyful hearts eager to feed on the Savior’s Word and offer our thanks and praise for His salvation, saying with King David, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 122:1). With that goal in mind, we will, for a time, observe the following adjustments to our worship traditions:
- “Distancing” – for a time, we will offer two worship services on Sunday mornings at 8:30 and 9:45 am. The services will be slightly abbreviated to accommodate coming and going between them. By offering two services, we are striving to make it possible for people to “distance” as they are comfortable with by having fewer people in any one service. We will not be dictating the distancing. Please be respectful of the fact that some may desire more distance. Our thought is to follow what some retail stores have done. If you are older or more at risk, please consider attending the 8:30 service. If you are younger or bringing children, please consider attending the 9:45 service. If our services become too heavily populated, we will praise God for bringing more people into His house to hear His Word, and then add a service if necessary to accommodate the increase.
- Holy Communion – we will strive to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Tables will be limited to 3 individuals per side, or two couples, or one larger family. We will be suspending the use of the common cup. The pastor will do all the distributing, and will use hand sanitizer between every table. All communicants are asked to extend their hand to receive the wafer. Hopefully, with fewer people in a service, this process will not extend the service beyond what is manageable.
- Offering plates – for the time being, we will not be passing the offering plates during the service. The offering plate will sit in the narthex and you may place your offering in the plate on your way into or out of worship. This will also assist in abbreviating the worship service.
- Hymnals and bulletins – for the time being, we will attempt to worship without these. We will try to put the service on the screen in church, especially for congregational responses and hymn singing. This is an attempt to reduce the number of things each person needs to touch.
- Masks – masks may be worn by those who wish, but will not be required. If you wish to wear a mask, please bring it with you. We will not be providing masks. Please be respectful and understanding of the choices made by your brothers and sisters.
- Hand shaking – the shaking of hands is permissible, but please recognize that not everyone will be comfortable. If someone extends a hand and you are uncomfortable, please simply decline respectfully, recognizing that it was nothing more than a gesture of Christian fellowship. If you extend a hand and someone declines, please be respectful and recognize that it is not personal, but simply a matter of comfort level at this time.
- Hand sanitizer – hand sanitizer will be available in the narthex for those who wish to use it.
- Upcoming schedule – we anticipate the following schedule: May 24, video worship provided on our website; May 31, return to in-person worship according to above schedule; June 7, morning worship according to above schedule, special voters’ meeting at 1 pm; June 14, morning worship with Holy Communion according to above schedule – confirmation in the late service.
As was stated, these adjustments are intended “for a time.” They will be reviewed on a monthly basis and adjusted accordingly if and when possible and necessary.
There may be other issues that are not dealt with in this list. If so, we will identify them and deal with them as we move forward. Ultimately, it will be important for us to recognize the reality that gathering for worship is “gathering.” No worship space has been constructed with maximum distancing in mind. In fact, most worship spaces have been designed for a feel of closeness, even when only half full. The above adjustments are an attempt for us to meet in the middle so that we may have some feel of traditional, comfortable worship while at the same time taking some measures to help mitigate the spread of germs unnecessarily. If you are not feeling well and/or displaying symptoms of illness, we strongly suggest that you stay at home rather than coming to worship, both for your own sake as well as the sake of others. If you are simply not ready for the idea of gathering in a larger group beyond your own family members, we completely understand and suggest that you stay home for a time until you are comfortable enough. We do want to move forward as a family in Christ, as brothers and sisters who are of one mind and spirit, eager to worship our Savior and support one another in love.
With you in Christ Jesus,
Zion Church Council