Dear Siblings in Christ,
Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you in the name of our Abba Father, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and our Comforter and Counselor, the Holy Spirit! Amen.
First, I want to thank those of you who took the time and effort to appreciate Pastor James and me on national Clergy Appreciation Day, October 11. Your letters, cards, notes, and sentiments of encouragement, love, and appreciation, including on social media, were humbling, and meant a lot to both of us.
This late fall and early winter, usually the busiest part of the year for our staff and core ministry and support leaders, will be perhaps even busier this year than usual. In addition to preparing and leading outdoor, indoor, and virtual services, we have a backlog of other indoor worshipful “services”: baptisms, weddings, memorial services, a rite of confirmation, etc., most of which have been requested for a time other than Sunday mornings.
As such, I will pay attention to not overtasking any servant, including myself. In addition, I will pay close attention to not allowing anyone to be exposed to more than a reasonable viral load. I understand that our neighbor congregation, St. John-Neumann, recently experienced infections, even though they had proceeded cautiously with their indoor worship. Those infected included two pastors, and as a result, a number of servants needed to quarantine. Other congregations have also experienced these kind of disconcerting interludes. On the other hand, some congregations around us have not experienced these episodes. The positivity rate for covid, here in Northern Virginia, as of October 18, is below 5%, and as low as it has been in some time. Criteria 2, 3, and 4 of our guidelines toward opening our facility for indoor worship have been triggered.
On top of the obvious health concerns, quarantine periods for pastor/s and staff would be quite inconvenient for our congregation, especially during these busy months. We’ve already experienced several staff either sick and/or quarantining, and those were hard days and weeks to get through, although each staff member had backup plans for how to proceed in the event of sicknesses/quarantines, and employed them.
Hearts of Understanding
I urge all of us to proceed with an understanding heart. For those of you who don’t agree, for various reasons, that we are opening for indoor worship, we hear you. However, we are not a monolithic congregation; there is a vast array of strong and varying opinions among us and other congregations about this pandemic and how best to deal with it, and we can accept the reality of our differences. We will be careful.
For those of you who will not be taking part in any indoor worship, we will continue to offer virtual and outdoor worship, and other virtual and hybrid gatherings. I urge that we treat each other with respect and when we speak of one another, to do so with the most favorable construction and sentiments, as we observe the Lord’s commandment about not bearing false witness.
Communion will be offered at the Sunday morning indoor service of November 1, All Saints’ Sunday, in keeping with our tradition of offering communion in the sanctuary on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Sundays of the month. After the Sunday morning indoor services of October 25 and November 1, as well as the outdoor service on Saturday morning, October 24, the Board of Servant Leaders and I will consider how frequently to offer outdoor and indoor services, respectively.
Prayerful, Personal Decisions
We will not insist on strict expectations of how our staff and volunteers serve during these months. Whether they serve or not during in-person gatherings are personal, prayerful decisions. We each have our own health issues, physical, mental, and emotional, some of which I have been asked to keep in confidence. I will also keep a close eye on how often our staff and volunteers serve, in order to care for them in not overly exposing them as well as not overly tasking them, despite their selflessness.
After recently visiting with my doctor and receiving a health assessment, I came to the conclusion about being overburdened, myself, and being reasonable about the amount of ministry load I’m carrying for a sustained period and my own possible exposure to the viral load. Notwithstanding my own underlying health conditions, I obviously need to take into account the underlying health conditions of my family members. I also would like to visit with the very elderly and brittle in my family as they live out the final times of their lives on earth, and not introduce a high viral load, if any, to them.
After taking into account the backlog of in-person gatherings I have been asked to lead – indoor baptisms, weddings, memorial services, confirmation rite, etc., as well as the in-person counseling sessions, confirmation, meetings, virtual service and devotion recordings (which are in-person), outdoor services, etc. – I have asked Pastor James to lead the Sunday morning service. He has graciously agreed to that division of labor. Of course, I will continue to prepare the Sunday morning indoor services, along with leading the other indoor services, virtual services, and outdoor services. I will limit Pastor James’s involvement in other gatherings to protect him and his family as well from overexposure and overextension, in his retirement. We will also consider obtaining more pastoral support, if necessary, notwithstanding many retired pastors being stretched thin these days and most pastors not considering other calls during the pandemic.
The same self-assessment goes for all of our staff, core and support ministry leaders, musicians, and volunteers. Decisions when and where to serve will be prayerful, personal, and considerate. No one will be overextended or overexposed. Instead, we will proceed with understanding and love.
As recorded in John 13:34, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” Jesus “commanded” us to love, because especially during times like this, we could let the pandemic, the upcoming election, fear, and selfishness come among us and between us. Whatever we do or say to each other, let’s pray before we speak and say out of love. I know you may not agree with every decision or guideline, but we obviously cannot operate using several sets of guidelines. Based on feedback through the past two questionnaires, other counsel from you, and learning what and how other congregations have been operating indoors, we proceed. If you have suggestions, please direct them to the Reopening Committee; they will consider and study the matter faithfully, before bringing proposals to the Board.
Love and Joy
It is during these moments when we are truly tested about living out our faith as Christians and being generous and giving toward one another. As we head into Sunday morning indoor services, and other indoor services and activities, we do so not only with care, but also with love and in great joy!
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
In His hope, your sibling+