May 28, 2020
Our last worship service at A Simple Faith was March 15, 2020, and on that morning I said, “In the face of uncertainty, genuine suffering, and chaos, the church is still called to love – to act as a good neighbor. This time of crisis calls for faith, not fear; helping, not hoarding; perseverance, not panic.”
We have done our best to live by these principals, and I am happy to report that during these weeks we have assisted individuals and organizations with almost $40,000 of needed support while meeting all of A Simple Faith’s other financial obligations. It has been a joy to provide help during this time, and I thank you for your generosity.
Attention now turns to the future. “When will we gather again?” has been a regular question put to me, and I have heard appeals from both polarities. One says, “It is past time for gathering and there is nothing with which to be concerned.” The other says, “Only a vaccine will make it possible to safely gather in large groups again.” Wisdom demands a middle ground. Thus, the target date for us to regather in worship, and thereafter to resume other on-site meetings, is Sunday July 12, 2020.
Here is the rationale for this decision:
- We do not have the human power to meet recommended safety guidelines for reopening. That is, with only two staff persons and a small number of non-vulnerable volunteers, we cannot provide adequate cleaning stations or proper distance between worshippers. Further, I am not willing to have multiple “assigned” worship times or limit the number of people who can attend.
- I have no regard for the politicization of this pandemic. The direct appeal by those in power to “open” or to “close” churches has turned countless pastors into congregational chew toys, as parishioners seek to align themselves with one party or the other. The only side I take is the health and wellbeing of those who attend A Simple Faith, so the opinions of political leaders or of those who do not have epidemiology credentials have no bearing whatsoever on this decision.
- It doesn’t matter what other churches are doing. They can proceed at whichever pace they are comfortable. I am responsible solely for the path we take, and I choose to err on the side of extreme caution. Besides, if we had followed the lead of “what everyone else was doing,” A Simple Faith would have never been born in the first place.
- Obviously, we are moored to a tourist town, and while Walton County has done a superb job flattening the pandemic curve locally, the explosion of visitors over the Memorial Day Weekend gave me great pause. Delaying our reopening to let the dust – and germs – settle seems the healthiest course of action.
- A Simple Faith has never actually closed. Yes, on-site gatherings were suspended, but our work and witness has continued unabated. Our virtual worship gatherings now reach four times our in-building attendance, charitable giving (as noted above) exceeds all expectations, and those involved in leading our congregation have been busier than ever. After all, the church isn’t an address or a place. It is a people.
Further information will be shared as we approach July, but I conclude with this timely question from Shane Claiborne, as he has captured my thoughts perfectly: “Wouldn’t it be great if churches were the last places to reopen because of how obsessed we are with loving our neighbors and protecting the most vulnerable?” That would be great, indeed, for neither we nor our community is harmed by patiently waiting a few more weeks.
Much love and safety to all of you.