Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Mount Zion Family--
As I’ve reached out over the last two weeks through phone conversations and messages, I’ve experienced mixed feelings concerning the date to return to worship. June 22 is the current earliest date to consider in-person worship at Mount Zion based on guidance from the Bishop and her cabinet. This date, please note, is a moving target. Please also note that local conditions and other factors will influence in-person worship decisions. I’m certain more data will be collected during the next month, and the collected data will be used to provide updated guidance as June 22 approaches. I understand that we are all experiencing social distancing differently, and as my own spiritual life has been affected, I assume the same has occurred for many of you. I’m reminded that we all have our own interpretations of the data and news concerning COVID-19 and the proper steps for our families and the groups with which we are involved. These feelings, however, even my own, are secondary to the guidance provided by conference leadership for church activities.
I know several churches are already worshiping in-person in our area, and the question might arise that if they can be in the church building why can’t we. The short answer based on my understanding is that the connection of the United Methodist system joins each local church together. In other words, Mount Zion is a campus of the United Methodist Church. As a result, the Bishop provides guidance for us to follow, and we follow that guidance. I intend to follow the guidelines provided as closely as possible.
These guidelines might be frustrating, but I’m reminded of Matthew 25:40 and the call to care for the least of these. The Church, meaning all Christian churches, should have that call at their center. As followers of Christ, we should do the same, ensuring that our actions are mindful not just of ourselves and our desires but the needs of the most vulnerable during this pandemic. That’s the mindset Christ calls for us to exhibit. Our activities in the church building should not negatively affect the people we could meet on Monday at the grocery store. Let's do all that we can to live up to that call.
In the end, my goal and highest responsibility is to make decisions with the health and welfare of everyone as the guiding principle but with a focus on the most vulnerable. Serving as your pastor, I never imagined I would be serving through a historic pandemic and economic crisis coinciding with each other, much less during a period in which gathering together for traditional worship would be considered dangerous for our health. I pray for grace during this time.
I’ve read through conference leadership’s guidance and prayed over it for a couple of weeks. Through this process, I’ve asked for guidance and wisdom beyond what I inherently possess. The process has led me to the decision to offer a drive-thru prayer opportunity, which follows the guidelines and is more accessible to more people. The opportunity will be on Sunday, June 7 from 11:00 - 12:00. Here are the specifics following the appropriate guidelines:
-- Feel free to arrive at any point during the hour. Staggered arrivals should help ensure a smooth process.
-- I will be the only person outside of a car, and I will be wearing a mask.
-- If more than one car is present, I ask that you keep 6 feet between your vehicle and the next. I also ask that you keep your windows up throughout the process.
-- The church doors will be locked and access to the building and restroom will not be available.
-- I will be standing at the end of the ramp in front of the church and will offer a prayer for each family that arrives. I will also be keeping at least 6 feet of distance between each car and myself.
--Please enter the parking lot through the Old 411 entrance and exit through the Wilbanks Road entrance. Parking on the north side of Wilbanks Road (cemetery parking area) will serve as an overflow area.
The provided guidelines and process are my current best understanding of how to safely and effectively hold this opportunity at the time of writing this letter. Our interaction will be brief, lasting only minutes, but I hope it will be meaningful.
Please, do not feel obligated to participate. If you are feeling unwell or uncomfortable, please stay home. As Paul reminds us in Acts, God is everywhere. God does not live in a church. God exists everywhere we go and everywhere we are.
Enclosed with this letter you will find the guidance provided by the Bishop and her cabinet concerning churches reopening for in-person worship. I ask that you read the guidance carefully and prayerfully. Please note the requirements for in-person worship (masks must be worn and cleaning must take place). After reading and reflecting on all of the information provided, I ask that you complete the enclosed survey and mail it back to me. I’ve addressed return envelopes to ensure anonymity for the survey. The survey results will provide a more comprehensive understanding from which to make decisions going forward. Please provide the response that most accurately reflects your and/or your family’s perspective.
However and whenever we return to worship in-person, the experience will be different, but God will still be God. I hope this understanding provides you comfort.
Pastor of Mount Zion UMC