Dearest Faith Family,
I have been somewhat hesitant to publish any “official” statement regarding a possible timeline for our return to in-person worship services. I have been doubly hesitant to put anything in writing. My hesitancy comes from the lack of trustworthy information regarding what the weeks ahead will hold in terms of governmental guidance and the knowledge that anything given in writing can and will be received very differently depending on the perspective of the reader.
It is for that reason that I make the following request. If any portion of what follows this paragraph causes you anxiety or frustration or fear or anger or sadness or confusion, call me directly. I cannot promise that I will be able to completely ease whatever troubles you any more than I can guarantee that the decisions that we have and will make are the right ones. But, I would certainly like the opportunity to clarify myself where needed.
As I have told you during our last two Wednesday night prayer meetings, as of last Monday, April 27, the Texas Attorney General’s Guidance for Houses of Worship in connection with Governor Abbot’s Executive Orders (the latest being GA-18) include the following language “Houses of worship should conduct as many activities as possible remotely, and should follow the minimum health protocols listed in these guidelines when providing services in person.”
If we simply listen to the official press conference or read articles published by media outlets, we will surely find this recommendation to “conduct as many activities as possible remotely” omitted. They simply report on everything that comes after that sentence, i.e. the guidelines provided for those that either cannot conduct activities remotely or choose to meet in person despite council of the Attorney General.
Because of this, many worshipers are led to believe that churches are being told that it is safe to begin gathering again and that they may do so with the full approval of state and local government.
When I read these documents, however, the word “should” jumps out at me. The governing authorities instituted by God (see Romans 13:1-7) are telling us that it is in the best interest of our community and our congregation to continue worshiping online. While it is certainly not our preference, we are well equipped to continue live streaming our services and I can find no Biblical or moral grounds for ignoring these recommendations.
In the words of one of our brothers, “If you should do something and can, why would you not?”
Granted, if we chose to ignore this guidance, we could have met in person this Sunday, May 3. The police would not have burst down our doors. No one would have been hauled to jail or even given a citation. In fact, a number of local churches have done exactly this and many more will be following them in the weeks to come. I do not pass judgment on these pastors or their members. Each local church must determine in their own conscience how to respond during this highly unusual time.
As for FBC Crosby, there may come a day within our lifetimes when it would be right and good for us to rebel against our earthly rulers. Our Father’s Word is our ultimate guide and should the need arise, we will be called upon to face whatever consequences come in choosing to honor God above men. I simply do not see this as one of those times and believe that I, as your pastor, must be extremely careful with regards to this issue. If and when that day comes, you must be able to trust that I am not calling you to act based on personal political leanings or sheer bravado.
Additionally (and more importantly), we must consider the real risk that our insistence on gathering together while people continue to contract and die from the Corona virus might lead to further transmission and added suffering. This simply does not jive with God’s call to “count others as more significant than ourselves”. People found in Christ “do not insist on our own way”, but rather “outdo one another in showing honor”.
Believer, it seems to me that loving your neighbor as yourself means setting our deep desire to be together physically on the back burner for the sake of the weaker among us. And loving God with all of our heart and soul and strength means truly worshiping Him even if we must do so in a mode and location that does not fit our preferences.
I truly believe that wide-open, full throttled worship is our best weapon against discouragement in the days to come.
I write all of that to say that for the immediate future, we will continue worshiping via live stream on Sunday mornings. Bible Study groups will continue meeting via Zoom and Wednesday night prayer meeting will be online. Your staff will continue working with everything that they have to ensure that we lack nothing in terms of opportunity to learn about, serve, sing praises to and preach the Holy Word of God.
In terms of fellowship, if you find yourself struggling to connect with us, (either literally connect via the internet or metaphorically connect in spirit) please let us know immediately and someone will get you set up. From card writing to phone calls to super-secret porch drops, I have been blown away by the creative ways that this faith family has loved each other through this quarantine.
Longer range, things get a lot more unclear. We will, of course, continue to monitor the information coming out of Austin and Harris County. It is very possible that their next step is to remove their recommendation that we conduct activities remotely and simply leave the remaining guidelines in place.
We have already adopted a number of the cleaning, prevention and sanitization practices and will likely implement more even after the pandemic has passed.
Their guidelines for attendees, however, are much more invasive. They include strongly encouraging anyone considered at-risk (65+, obese, lung disease, asthma, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease or otherwise weakened immune system) to stay home or setting aside a designated area reserved for this at-risk group (it seems like an absolutely horrendous idea to clump all of the at-risk people in one place, but I am no doctor). All families are to be spaced not less than six feet apart and every other pew is to be left empty.
These spacing guidelines make it impossible for us to offer nursery or preschool services and would require extremely limited, if any, access to the restrooms. Adult Sunday school classes could meet in theory, however, spacing would be tough and navigating the hallways would be all but impossible. Entering and exiting the worship center would be a bit like herding cattle as incoming worshipers would be forced to wait until the group before them has completely exited the room.
I am picturing a recipe for incredible frustration and much more time spent managing a process than fellow-shipping together and worshiping our risen Savior. With a large portion of our people still at home either because they are at-risk or their young children cannot sit through an entire worship service, no one hugging or embracing anyone else, limited seating that requires either reserved spots or people being turned away at the door and everyone squirming through the service because they forgot to use the restroom at home.
Contrast that with staying the course, continuing to worship remotely for now and then, once the risk of being responsible for additional sickness has been greatly reduced, the spacing limitations are no longer necessary and we can gather in full…we flip the switch.
No one group is asked to exclude themselves. No families are turned away at the door or told that their desired worship time has already filled up. Our babies can return to their classrooms and young couples can actually focus their hearts and minds on Christ. We can freely embrace each other and be greeted with a holy kiss (figuratively speaking).
Dear ones, at this moment, this seems to be the right path. I have much greater peace over this proposal than any of the other dozen or so that your staff and I have considered even though we have no real idea when this moment might come.
I recognize that many of you may disagree wholeheartedly. Frankly, this is not where I was leaning not very many days ago and the Lord may show me another way soon enough. I may well be writing you within the week to confess the ignorance of this letter and call you all back to the church house.
But for now, I assure you that I remain on my face before the Lord pleading for wisdom. Christ is head of this church and I am merely His appointed shepherd for this season. Our only aim in this moment and every single one that follows is to bring Him glory. If we completely miss the mark at every turn with regards to this decision and yet point others toward Him, we shall be truly blessed.
Be pure. Be strong. Be brave.
I love you. Thank you for allowing me to be your pastor.