Rev. Shari Prestemon Shares New Guidance for Re-Opening

Over the past few weeks, we have proven that we can facilitate rapid change in the Church when it comes to the health and safety of our members and communities! We have created new, virtual forms of worship, provided ongoing care and support for one another, and continued to conduct business and decision-making — and we have done all of it with grace, patience, and a sense of humor!

Now we are shifting into yet another season of this pandemic, when once again we as churches must make critical decisions about how we will move forward given evolving information and circumstances. As we await further guidelines from the Governor, I have decided to issue my own guidance to our UCC congregations now.

The guidance contained in this document names a set of broader questions to consider, as well as a longer list of items to attend to as you prepare for various phases ahead. It does not, however, provide detailed specific guidance on data-based phasing for resuming in-person worship and other activities. It seems best to await the state’s language and recommendations for phasing rather than risk creating confusion.

In the meantime, I urge you to resist any temptation to rush back to in-person activities. Our discernment now is of enormous importance and should be steeped in prayer and informed by careful, deliberate conversation among church leaders.

This pandemic has introduced a time of loss, sorrow, and collective trauma for all of us. Some have lost loved ones to COVID-19. Others have lost employment and find themselves in a serious financial crisis. Most of us miss the routines and freedoms we had before COVID-19. We long to gather with our friends and family in familiar ways, to feel safe again, and yes, to worship in the ways and spaces so precious to us.

Ultimately, each of our congregations will have to make decisions, utilizing all information provided and drawing on your own deep wisdom. This is incredibly challenging. It requires us to engage in a moral calculus of astonishing consequence.

As you discern your congregation’s path forward, be kind to one another, recognizing that people will be in different places on the continuum of emotion — some eager and happy to re-gather, some deeply fearful at even the thought, others simply overwhelmed by all that has transpired. Find ways to hear and honor all these complicated feelings.

Throughout all of this, our love for God and neighbor has been central. Our impulse to seek the welfare of the city and the broader community remains strong. These Biblical principles should continue to guide us now. And we should also remember that “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

This particular season has taught us so much about ourselves, about our church life, and about our interconnectedness as communities, a nation, and a Conference. May we receive these lessons with grace and allow them to continue shaping our life together in this difficult season and in every season to follow. This is but one small season in God’s grand story and we shall journey our way through it as God’s people always have: faithfully, imperfectly, and with unshakable hope.