May 23, 2020
I’m writing in response to the White House announcement on yesterday regarding the opening of congregations. While most our buildings may be closed, in person worship, and some other gatherings may have been suspended or moved to online formats, the Church is not closed and cannot be closed. As Rev Dr. John Dorhauer, UCC President and General Minister said: "Our faith is essential. Our sanctuaries are not.”
I want to encourage you to stay the course you have already set. I have been amazed at the energy, intelligence, imagination and love Sessions and churches have poured into their ministry continuation plans and online worship. Worship and mission are happening safely. I commend the leadership of our congregations for the innovative ways they have kept church happening!
Please don’t feel pressured into hasty reopening as a result of this announcement. Continue to discern what it means to be the Body of Christ in this unprecedented time. Continue to consider who comprise the members of the Body and the value of all their diversity, including that of age, health and ability. What does it mean to the Body if we choose to move forward knowing that many members of it have to opt out? Continue to care and prioritize the “least of these” in your discernment.
Continue to follow the guidelines on our COVID-19 page of our website and use the “Questions for Reopening” found here. As of this letter the CDC hasn’t officially offered any new guidance to faith communities. Their latest updates can be found here.
Finally, we call to mind these words from the Foundations of Presbyterian Polity which begin our Book of Order and ground us firmly in the reformed tradition of faith:
F-3.0101 God Is Lord of the Conscience
a. That “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the
doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his Word, or
beside it, in matters of faith or worship.”
b. Therefore we consider the rights of private judgment, in all matters that respect
religion, as universal and unalienable: We do not even wish to see any religious
constitution aided by the civil power, further than may be necessary for protection and
security, and at the same time, be equal and common to all others.
It is our Sessions, comprised of elected elders together with the Ministers of Word and Sacrament who together make decisions regarding the life and worship of congregations as well as the ministries and mission engagement with the world. The Session is responsible to do so in ways that measure the congregation’s fidelity to the Word of God, and well as to promote its safety and well-being.
Please continue to pray for your Session, our congregations, communities, our state, and our nation as we continue to face the COVID-19 virus.
Rev. Craig M. Howard