Midweek Message: "Our Return to Worship Indoors"

Week of the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Remembering the Emanuel Nine

The Metro D.C. Synod Racial Equity Team invites you to pause on Thursday night, June 17, 2021 at 7:00 PM as we commemorate the 6th anniversary of the massacre of the Emanuel 9, with a communal Bible study via Zoom. Mindful of the deep presence of God at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston South Carolina, we will take the scripture that was part of the bible study in 2015, that night when Dylan Roof was welcomed as a stranger. Rooted in the Word and in small groups, we will ask what was God saying then and what is God saying now.

Dear Friends in Christ:

I am delighted, encouraged, and relieved to report that our Congregation Council has approved our return to worshiping indoors beginning on Sunday, July 4, 2021, almost sixteen months since the beginning of the pandemic’s lockdown. Thanks be to God.

Several factors contributed to our making this decision, including: recently revised and relaxed CDC guidelines concerning vaccinated and unvaccinated persons, the CDC’s official word that the risk of contracting the coronavirus is minimal with surface contacts, the extent of vaccinations among RELC members and persons in our wider communities, the fact that many neighboring churches are now also returning to indoor worship.

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost on July 4th, of course, occurs on a holiday weekend. Our leaders are considering this a kind of “soft” opening so that we can begin to get used to a somewhat altered routine indoors. We will have a more celebratory and perhaps poignant way of marking our return to indoor Christian assembly on a Sunday later in July when we will observe a “Rite for Re-Gathering” developed for use in congregations throughout our wider church.

Here is what you can expect upon our return to worshiping indoors. There will be one liturgy each Sunday beginning at 9:30 am. It will be very much like that which we are currently using outdoors – the full set of readings, communal hymn-singing, intercessory prayer, sharing the Peace of Christ in an appropriately safe way, Holy Communion in both kinds, using our usual baked bread dropped into uplifted palms, and wine offered from a pouring chalice into containers that you will continue to bring from home.

We still ask that you wear masks out of loving concern for and solidarity with younger children who are not yet permitted to be vaccinated and others who, for whatever reasons, have not been able to be vaccinated. Moreover, we will continue to practice physical distancing indoors with seating available in designated pews. Thus, we continue to err on the side of caution as has been our practice throughout the pandemic.

Some congregations are asking that worshipers pre-register to attend worship, observing strict maximum attendance numbers, as well as cordoning off sections of the nave for vaccinated persons in one area and the unvaccinated in another – and more such overly-cautious, in my opinion, measures. Such strictures, it seems to me, add dimensions of stress and anxiety to public worship, which otherwise is best offered in a more relaxed spirit. Moreover, some of the measures taken by other congregations are perhaps antithetical to the ideal of fully inclusive, non-exclusionary worship. Thus, Resurrection Church will proceed in a spirit of trust that worshipers will do the loving and responsible things of wearing their masks and being mindful of appropriately safe distance between people. I have full confidence, based on my experiences of our worship outdoors, that things will proceed among us safely and naturally. Our team of ushers and other worship leaders will also think through and practice our routines of movement indoors in advance of our July re-gathering. Our practice will undoubtedly evolve in nuanced ways as the coming weeks unfold.

It is also important to note that beginning on July 4th, the production of our weekly watch-through home worship video along with the home worship bulletins will be discontinued. In the meantime, as an alternative, we will begin the practice of producing video recordings of our worship indoors, making these available on YouTube and via Constant Contact messages for those still unable to join us for worship indoors and in person. This effort may also evolve to the practice of live-streaming our worship services. Discipline will be undertaken to limit video images only to those leading public worship in the chancel out of respect for the security and privacy of worshipers who may not want to appear on video. In this meantime, we will discern the appropriate and faithful nature of what our congregation’s digital life might be in the future.

The Council’s decision to return to worshiping indoors also paves the way for other groups to begin using our church building again – for committee meetings, occasions for socializing, group events of local community organizations, and more. These groups will need to decide for themselves how and when they wish to proceed to a return to indoor activities in our church building. It may also be that some of our congregation’s meetings and events will be hybrid in nature with some participants being present in person in the church and others Zooming in from remote locations. Time will tell what our “new normal” will be going forward.

The Council’s decision to return indoors also begins a new phase of our life together as a congregation. Who and how many will return to our fold in person with something resembling a more normal routine? How much activity and of what sort will our reconstituted congregation be willing and able to undertake? What, in fact, will be our capacities and energies for mission and outreach to our wider communities? What resources, financial and otherwise, will be available to us moving forward together? These are all crucial questions which don’t yet have answers. But again, time will tell as God in Christ leads us faithfully into an unknown future together in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In Jesus’ name, and thus, with hopeful anticipation,

Pastor Jonathan Linman