In my eight years of ministry, I have never faced a season as challenging as this one. COVID-19 has changed the way we live in unprecedented ways. Speaking as one, the challenge to your pastors and church leaders has been overwhelming at times, trying to value the health and safety of our worshipers while still seeking connection with God and each other. As you know, late Wednesday, Governor Wolf issued an order to limit indoor gatherings to 25 people, including staff. When questioned by an interviewer, the Governor said religious institutions would be exempt. However, the bishop of our conference of Methodist Churches wrote on Thursday that he urges our churches to honor the 25-person limit in an act of love to our vulnerable people. Our dilemma at Paxtonville UMC is that our indoor service has average attendance of 30.
I want to be open and honest. My primary goal since the virus hit has been having church decisions be as Biblical and God-honoring as possible. Weighing the different perspectives has been difficult to say the least. On the one hand, the Bible urges us to respect the authorities over us (Romans 13); moreover Romans 13:10 says that “love does no harm to a neighbor.” From this perspective, following the restrictions is a godly, biblical choice that seeks to do no harm. But, from another perspective, we have the dilemma of turning people away from worship. In Mark 10:14 Jesus says: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them,” though we think of this verse being about kids, the gospels regularly call those who follow Jesus or want to follow Jesus “little children.” From this perspective, the godly, biblical choice is to do everything possible to help people experience God and not turn people away. And the list of other possible perspectives is endless.
So, to answer the question you are probably thinking, “What will PUMC do in light of these new guidelines?” Here’s what I’ve come to for July 19. 1. If you feel unwell or unsafe or uncomfortable in-person, please feel empowered and blessed to worship from home. 2. Outdoor restrictions are 250 people, and we have an outdoor service at 9:00. If you’ve been coming to 10:30 and want to swap, it may be wise for some families to do that. Please bring a lawn chair in case numbers exceed the outdoor chapel. 3. Music director Adam Dietz has worked diligently to line up musical talents to help us worship over the summer. Violinist Katie Kelly submitted a video for PUMC this week, so check it out on our online pages, even if you come to 9:00. 4. Here’s how we’ll seek to honor the safety guidelines and remain welcoming for indoor worship. As mentioned above, my simplest solution is to request a family or two who usually comes to 10:30, if you are willing to temporarily come to the outside service, that would help maintain the 25-peson recommendation for this week. But we also do not want to turn anyone away Sunday morning. We will place some safely distanced seating in the foyer for this week. Once 25 have been seated in the sanctuary, we will close the doors and invite folks to be seated in the foyer.
I know that none of this is ideal; it daily breaks my heart that all of this feels so foreign and might cause people to stumble in their walk. Please continue to pray for me as we try to balance all that we say and do with godly wisdom and discernment from many perspectives. My biggest desire is to honor God in all this.
Because this has been such short notice and time has been so short to adapt, my goal is to follow up next week with a more thorough plan to honor the bishop’s request and our call to turn no one away from Christ, even if that means offering ten more shortened services on Sundays or through the week, I will do everything I can as your Pastor to help those who want to gather and connect to God to do just that. And as always, please reach out with any concerns and questions you might have.
In Christ’s Love,