To the Presbytery of Monmouth
Although Governor Murphy has announced the six key principles for “The Road Back”, he has not yet laid out a detailed blueprint for phasing in the re-opening of New Jersey due to the pandemic. We are writing to you with information and thoughts about the potential next steps in re-opening our communities. We understand that it may not be possible for the members of our congregations to be “all together in one place” any time soon. While some restrictions are being lifted in some places and for some people, the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic will require that we return to church in a way that is measured and mindful of the needs of the most vulnerable among us. While some may begin to attend public worship in person, we know that some will need to continue to worship at home for some time.
Consider this as you prepare to meet with your leadership to discuss re-entry:
- Gather leadership that is representative of the entire church and church activities (worship, education, youth gatherings, summer programs, building support staff etc..) All should come to the table together for these discussions
- Allow time and space for lament and fears to be named. Recognize that your people will come with their own situations and viewpoints. Needs for pastoral care may arise that weren’t previously known. The world and certainly the church are entering uncharted territory and things will not return to “normal.” Recognize that this change may bring grief.
- Consider developing phases of re-entry for your community that last weeks or months before moving to the next phase. Make sure you have a process in place for determining when to go to the next phase or take a few steps back. Communicate that plans may need to change depending on the health of the community.
- Know your state and local regulations and make sure to stay on top of them as they are expected to change over time.
- Contact your insurance carrier for any new regulations they may have or consult with what they might have sent you in writing during this time.
- Remember to bear in mind the health of your staff and clergy at this time. As the people spending the most time in your buildings, they may have concerns which need to be taken into consideration.
- We are a connectional Church. Remind leaders that mid-councils, synods and the national body offer guidelines and suggestions but not typically mandates. Empower your leaders to make decisions for your church but to reach out for support and connection with others. Make sure all health guidelines and orders of local governments are being followed.
There are many guides, suggestions and opinion articles that may be helpful in your discernment. First, understand guidance from the state of New Jersey, which can be found here. We especially draw your attention to the document Returning to Public Worship – Theological and Practical Considerations published by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the latest CDC Guidance for Communities, Schools, Workplaces, and Events . Here are some additional resources that may also be of help.
We share in the strong feelings of grief in missing connections with friends and family, in missing the spiritual nourishment experienced through corporate, in-person worship settings, in missing some of the ways we have served God’s people. However, we also know that even in small gatherings of a few people risk of infection transmission remains. We urge caution.
We give thanks, then, for the promise of our faith-that the Lord God will bless and keep us, the risen Christ is with us, and the Holy Spirit connects us with believers near and far. We take comfort and inspiration from the example of the earliest believers, who “spent much time together in the temple” and “broke bread at home … with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46). As we anxiously track the news in these times-with numbers of new cases, numbers of persons who have died, and numbers of those who are recovering-we remember the good news of the gospel: “And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
Elder Walt VIncent
Rev. Sue Smith