“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:20
We know that the Bible never mentions a place or a building called ‘Church’. It does mention the “calling out” of people in the world’s society into the service of God.
We are those people.
Sometimes we meet in a building. Most times these days we meet over Zoom.
As our members and friends around the globe work tirelessly to help reduce the rate of infection and death from COVID-19 during this public health crisis, we heard from the President on Friday that he was “opening churches” this weekend and we should all begin “operating,” no matter the mandates or guidance of the State and local governance.
The reality is that no governmental body has the authority to order churches to close, operate, or open. We are not operating a church, we ARE the Church; led by our conscience, inspired by God’s word, and directed by the Holy Spirit wherever, whenever, and however we are called to worship and serve.
Our Book of Order grounds us firmly in knowing 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. – F-3.0101a
Please know that the leadership of the Presbytery of New Brunswick and the Synod of the Northeast will support every Session and Pastor to do what is right by their conscience, informed by science, local government requirements and advisories, and whatever else we believe to be appropriate that will enable each community of worship to promote the safety and well-being of everyone to whom they minister during this public health crisis.
The church is the people. Closing the buildings has not closed the church. Matters of faith and worship continue to be our essential work, as is joining in the efforts to protect those who use our buildings for pre-school, recovery programs, and community support and outreach like scouting, yoga, and AA. We will use our own best judgment as Sessions and Presbyteries to determine when it is safe and smart to resume using our buildings. The Presbytery leadership is guiding you to follow the advice of our denomination as well as State and Local officials whose expertise is leading us out of this public health crisis.
The Synod of the Northeast has pledged to stand with us as we implement planned and phased building reopenings and below are some resources to help you with discerning what that needs to look like. Of course any of the Presbytery Staff or Leadership are happy to be a conversation partner with any who need help discerning a way forward:
Current Executive Order states houses of worship must comply with the limits on gatherings. Indoors is 10 and outdoors is 25 as of May 22, 2020: https://covid19.nj.gov/search.html?query=houses+of+worship Link to a list of other resources to help you understand when to return to gathering in-person indoors: http://presnb.com/2020/covid-19– resources
The slide deck presentation Returning To The Building by the Moderator of GA 223 Cindy Kohlman and the Rev. T.J. DeMarco: Returning to the Building Slide Deck 5.20
Links to the advisories some building renters are directed by: https://www.nj.gov/dcf/coronavirus.html and https://www.nj.gov/he alth/cd/topics/ncov.shtml
Please pray with me:
O God, by the light of Your Holy Spirit, You instruct our hearts to be faithful especially when we feel weary and ready to give up. Grant us strength and endurance to be truly wise and loving in this long way forward. Hold us close to You, so we may experience your grace and glory even as we travel unfamiliar paths.
Though we don’t know what it will look like after this time of separation we will know that we have arrived at the new normal place because You are already there, and we know how to recognize You. We thank you for calling us forward. Keep speaking and leading us, Lord, as we step with faith and courage further down this path, listening to the wisdom of those whom You have gifted to attend to the science and the patterns of this virus, and to whom you have given the fortitude to instruct us on how to continue to keep each other safe and well cared for — even in the face of pressure to steer us off Your path. We are in need of comfort, Lord, as this new path is difficult to walk and sometimes difficult to see. We need your light to guide us on our way to the good place you have gone ahead and prepared for us not far from here. Be with us and provide a deep protection and the fullness of Your grace to the everyday heroes that are caring for the sick and the worried and providing us with what we need to keep going in our places of quarantine during this unprecedented time. We thank you and are grateful for your light and strength shining through them, as we are grateful for Your Son, in whose name we ask for these blessings. Amen.
Now let us continue to be who our communities need us to be in the name of our good and precious Savior who sees us through these changing times,
Ruling Elder Cherry Oakley
Moderator of the Presbytery of New Brunswick