What’s a staged opening?
Rev. Marty Hasz
In the last few days I heard people ask, “Why does reopening church have to be so complicated?” “Why we can’t just get back to business as usual? “This seems to be blown out of proportion!”
Let me comfort you, we all want this to be easier than it is. And yes, this is highly inconvenient. Such comments indicate our feelings of anger. The gentle or sanctified mature church member’s version expresses the sadness “I just can’t wait for all of this to be over and we can go back to visiting with people.” And, “I had to drop off my aging parent at the doctor’s office and they wouldn’t let me go with them.” Uggg!
The very fabric of our way of life is all wrinkled and left begging for an iron. Our brains crave order. Our sense of well-being is starving for that which gives us value – our friends and family together, hugging, smiling, playing, serving together face-to-face. But de-wrinkling people’s lives requires more than steam on an ironing board.
The District staff have been talking about a “staged opening” or a “phased opening” approach for churches. What’s that mean? Well, regardless of the title, reopening organizations, including churches, takes organization. And, it’s not easy. There are numerous moving parts of public worship, Christian Education, ministry programs, and more. Some workers may be ready to resume activities, but not all workers nor congregation members may be ready to swing open the doors to the way things were done before. For many people, that sets us up for a full-tilt COVID-19 exposure.
The worshipping population has been severely impacted. Reopening church is not just about the details of turning down the A/C and turning on the lights. It’s about the vulnerable, children, virus-exposed essential workers, guests, leaders, choirs, teachers, DCE’s, deaconesses, musicians, unpaid staff, ministers, custodians, prospective disciples, community members… all perceiving a sense of safety and love from the pastor, church leaders, and fellow brothers and sisters in unity of mind and mission with the bond of Christ’s peace.
Since it’s turning out to be a much longer period of social distancing than what we thought, the Missouri District staff is hosting weekly webinars to walk along side our churches. This week Rev. Bill Geis, a fellow District staff member, modeled an example of how church leaders can lead congregations to move closer together with words of encouragement from God through small group calls or video calls.
People need people to go through difficulty, periods of adjustment and trauma. The definition of “trauma” upon a person due to a negatively impactful event or the threat of harm… like a global pandemic, is a bit more organic than you might think. It includes the perception of the individual, the support system surrounding the victim, the learned & imparted life-skill competencies and the intensity of damage or threat to the individual and those around them.
Ministering to anxious congregation members is simply not simple. In this day and time, when it is publicized that a church is opening its doors for worship, or other programming, it implies that the pastor and the elders are fully endorsing any risks to the health and safety of those who participate.
It takes thoughtfulness and care to endorse wide open doors. Stewarding our emotional reactions with preparation encourages people to return. Discussing the breath and depth of our attentiveness fosters joy and trust which is then associated with the height and length of God’s mercy and grace in Jesus Christ. Loving encouragement from a small group of church members on a conference call with 2 or 3 others can reduce someone’s sadness. A few folks sharing a word of Scripture fells fear. Empathic compassion quietly expressed by a couple laying concerns at the foot of the cross reverses the lost into found. A weekly group video call unglues loneliness and bonds people eye to eye. The pressure of anxiety backs down with people encouraging people through these next few months of step by step opening processes.
This week the District focused on connecting the family of faith in a new way for this era of church life. Virtual breakout rooms can be formed for groups of 3-6 people shared how God is carrying us through this anxious time. We can be encouraged by Jesus’ guidance from John 16:33 where He assures the disciples that their sorrow will be turned to joy saying “take heart, I have overcome the world”. I wonder what the Holy Spirit will inspire next. I wonder how I can encourage you. Let’s share a word of encouragement with each other, via text, call, FaceTime, Messenger, Zoom, MSTeams, Duo or any means possible.