Some preliminary thoughts on re-gathering as congregations

Bless your hearts, and mine, too! A friend of mine insists that southern cliché is more mannerly code for “You’re pitiful!” Jeff Foxworthy used this example: “I do believe that is the ugliest baby I have ever seen…bless his heart.” In all seriousness, we might not be pitiful, but most of us have had our share of valid pity parties of late. This whole virus and what it’s precipitated on almost every level around the globe simply stinks. This virus is pitiful…and I won’t even honor it with a “bless its heart!”
Most states now, including NC as of this Friday evening (5/8), are in some phased and restricted re-opening plan. It remains to be seen if that was a wise decision, though clearly, we all understand that it’s been a “choose your poison” scenario. Make everyone stay at home and kill the economy, resulting in all sorts of suffering, or let folks loose and kill a lot of people, causing lots of suffering. For now, there’s plenty of news and plenty of posturing as to which poison is more preferable, but I’ll leave that to the politicians and the pundits. For now, I want to focus on what it might look like to begin re-gathering in person as congregations in NC. If it begins to happen in a month, we need to be planning now.

For the sake of space, including my own tendency to be too wordy, I’ll continue in bullet points as to what we can and do know in that regard at this point.
There is still way more that we don’t know than we do know. Frustrating, to say the least. At least to have to admit it.

  • The NC Synod Council has extended its no-gatherings recommendations through May. Read the May 2, 2020, Special E-News.
  • Governor Cooper’s 3-phase and 3Ts metrics for re-opening, set to begin with Phase 1 the evening of May 8, can be found here.
  • The NC Synod Council just appointed a “Re-Gathering Task Force” to provide congregations with resources and direction for making plans to re-gather in worship or other contexts.
  • Worship will not and should not look like it looked when you were last together in January. Anything from reduced numbers to perhaps not singing to not passing the plate to revised and/or delayed communion distribution. On singing, see this post, “Singing, the Church, and COVID-19.”
  • There’s already more out there than you can possibly read about what to be considering. Not to let liability concerns drive the bus, but have you checked with your insurance company about your communicable disease coverage? What do they recommend as to your re-gathering?
  • The two most helpful sets of considerations I’ve read that congregations should be addressing around re-gathering are:  “Returning to Church” and “48 Questions to Ask Before Reopening Your Church.”
  • Online worship opportunities will need to be available for a long while yet. Vulnerable populations will be the last to return to worship (and by that people my age, 60, and older, and most of our congregations have a disproportionate percentage of these). Even among the younger, not everyone will feel safe returning just yet, and you might be able to gather initially with only 50 or 100 when in January you had 150 or 200. Online is here to stay.

Anyway, be looking for more info from our new synod task force in a couple of weeks, but I write this today because if we start gathering in June, your congregation needs to be pondering and planning for these new realities now. The one thing it must not be is “just like it was when we were last together.” Nostalgia and sentimentality, at this point, could be deadly. Even so, I know God’s got this. God’s got you. We’re in this together, but we have serious work to do. Bless our hearts.

Walking with you,

Tim signature

Bishop Tim Smith

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