Greetings and blessings in the name of Jesus Christ.
Today, with various areas of the country being given the green light for businesses and churches to begin opening to the new normal, it is appropriate to share with you a response to a question that has come to this office a few times during the past week or so.
The typical Question from a Pastor goes something like this, “What counsel do you offer for the time we should reopen?”, or, “We are considering opening on (a date). What do you think?” It usually comes in a text or an email. So, I have notes of what I typically say. Not every Pastor received this full message since it evolved with each of the first few messages. Also, some of it is edited for this post.
Hi, Pastor *********.
Greetings and peace in the name of Jesus. Due diligence, as you are obviously exercising in making this decision is the order of the day. However, I do want to challenge you. More than letting the reopening date dictate the moment, it is prudent to use the opportunity this pandemic has provided for the Pastor, Leaders, and Congregation to do a “RESET of The Local Church”. The Albuquerque, NM Church of God (Seventh Day) has done a successful RESET of its Local Church. Their RESET was done before COVID-19 created a pandemic. However, for those who have not done a Local Church RESET, this is the perfect opportunity to do so. Please do watch this video, which you may have seen before already. But it deserves another look. Yes, it is unlikely you can do the work of a “Local Church RESET” before you will be able to again be assembling for services. In fact, being able to assemble and discuss the plans are essential to its success. But upon reopening for services, instead of letting Church-life return to some routine that was not producing a Vibrant 21st Century Church, make plans now to do the process required for a successful RESET of the Local Church and begin following the example provided in the video of Pastor Moises Capetillo..
Pastor Moises Capetillo has done a video presentation of what the Albuquerque, NM COG7 did. It has been edited to run in about 15 minutes. Spanish can be viewed via Auto-Translate. However, you might find Pastor Moises’ last name to be Kappa Theos via the auto-translator. So, realize you may need to interpret a few things. Below is the link to Pastor Moises presentation. You can also find it on the General Conference Church of God (Seventh Day) website and the Southwest District Media Ministry site.
With the above admonition to not be forgotten, below is more of what I have told those who asked.
A Local Church’s choice to reopen or not is a decision that belongs with the Local Leadership. The Superintendent and SWD Area Director support that decision, so long as it does not bring a reproach upon Christ and his Church and is made within the laws of God and man. There is an exception, of course. The laws of man are purposefully ignored when they come in conflict with God’s law and purpose. However, in this case none of those factors come into play and the Local Leadership should make its best choice, knowing its congregation. The consequences might be favorable or unfavorable.
Your Superintendent is trusting the decision was made according to the best information available and in the love of the Lord following prayer, counsel with local leaders and in respect to the dangers and opportunities involved in reopening. Also, it is hoped that any reopening will include “Safe Practices” to protect the membership and quests as much as possible, including social distancing, omitting activities that “force” people into compromising closeness, disinfecting door handles and other sanitizations, etc.
Just as a warning, in Stilwell, Oklahoma a charismatic local church, not a Church of God (Seventh Day), insisted they would defy the recommendations of their state and national leaders and remain open when the March declarations for isolation were imposed. They did so for only one week and tragedy struck. In the entire county of Adair, Oklahoma there were no known cases of COVID-19 at the time. A single “guest” (Actually it was someone who did occasionally attend there a few times each year, you know, the ETC crowd, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas) showed up for services. He was carrying the corona virus. Now 53 cases and 4 deaths have come from that single incidence of defiance.
Further, it is obvious the corona virus is still active and may have passed a peak of some sort for the moment. However, thousands of new cases and hundreds of deaths continue daily from its complications. Just because the state and federal officials remove their isolations declarations, or allow them to expire, does not mean that today suddenly is safe, and the dangers are gone. The decisions they are making includes many factors, some of which may be essential for them but of complete insignificance to the Local Church.
The reason it is a Local Church decision is the wide variation of circumstances among the communities of Local Churches and the respect of the authority of the Local Church. In several Oklahoma Counties there are single digit documented cases of COVID-19 and no deaths or 1 or 2, while in other areas the corona virus is still highly active.
Life is not safe, except in Jesus Christ. In today’s world death surrounds us continuously and it is a guarantee that this life will end in the death of the body. Still, even though we travel the highways continuously knowing death is close by, we avoid intentionally increasing our risks of encountering it. We attempt to follow “Safe Practices”.
Therefore, just because one Local Church reopens, that is not a good enough reason for all Local Churches to reopen. Just because some government official determines you can is not a good enough reason to do something. Obviously, the first Local Churches to reopen are taking a calculated and increased risk over those who wait. But the impact of this pandemic is a new arena for us to operate. Choices must be made, and consequences will follow, both good and bad most likely.
For what it is worth, I am expecting a few Local Churches to reopen this Sabbath, May 2nd. They all have chosen a set of practices using social distancing, except for close family members, and applying other “Safe Practices” in an attempt to protect their congregations at least as much as they are when your members and guests go to the grocery store. My recommendation is to make the choice with your Local Board and/or the Pillars of the Local Church, agreeing the consequences may be other than what is expected and the Local Church will monitor and adjust as necessary for the health and well-being of the body. Other Local Churches, Sabbath and Sunday assembly congregations, and commercial businesses are opting to stay closed a while longer.
I am fully supportive of the Pastor’s and Leaders’ choice locally. This is not the Superintendent passing the buck of responsibility. It is respecting the authority of our Ministry Partnership as an organization. If I had my choice, I would recommend waiting a while longer and to discover, design and implement a Local Church Reset shortly after it is known the pandemic has subsided. That does not mean do it the first week back in assembly. It may be discovered the social distancing declarations will need to be imposed again, maybe even multiple times and maybe not. Count the cost and use wisdom in making these choices.
Even though you know I am usually on the leading edge of advocating change and on the frontier of ministry, in full transparency, I intend to protect my family a while longer and allow others to be the first adopters of lifting “stay at home” isolation practices. I have an 87-year-old mother and every member of the household has diabetes. Besides, we have been completely occupied since the social distancing requirements were announced and alternative means for fellowship have been used, much as many of you have done. This month we have given between 8,000 and 10,000 pounds of food “curb side” to families needing food for their households. It was really in the street and not the curb. The Mayor of the city of Tahlequah, Oklahoma granted us permission to turn the street in front of our Food Pantry into a one-way road during hours open. That allowed us greater distances apart and no clients were allowed out of their vehicles. The government has modified recommended Food Pantry operations in Oklahoma to omit clients touching anything, such as an application. During this time applications are all oral and taken at a distance. The new forms have a place to check as an oral signature of the clients served. We expect May to require even more food and have prepared to supply the need, by the grace of God who supplies all our needs. A while longer before returning to a weekly assembly will be good for us and the assemblies we will eventually join for services.
Love, respect, and appreciation with Blessings and peace.