History will show that Sarasota Community Church went ten Sundays without meeting in person, from March 15 through May 17.
And I trust that it will also show how resilient the Church is, and how being Church is about way more than whether we get to "go to church" or not.
And yet the Spirit longs for fellowship and this is good. Something in us pulls us toward each other, whether in large gatherings or in small gatherings.
Last week some of us have started to meet again in small gatherings. It was good to see each other in person again.
Now, this coming Sunday, May 24, we are opening our auditorium again for the large gathering. If I didn't feel confident that we can meet safely at Church, I wouldn't open the doors yet. But I believe that we can meet safely if we do it thoughtfully.
So, effective this Sunday, not only does "Grace happen here," now "Space happens here." Be prepared to observe distancing protocol and follow the signs, and you will help keep it safe for everyone.
The tricky thing about this infectious disease is that you can't see it. So we have to assume it will be among us.
That doesn't mean we should live in fear of it. For me I just try to assume that the person I want to hug or shake hands with just had an infected person do the same thing to them. I'm not judging the person as unclean. I'm just realizing that I don't know who just violated their space. And you don't know who just violated mine. So let's just keep our space.
So as I keep saying, instead of shaking hands or hugging, just pat your heart as you say what you want to say. It's a bit awkward at first. Sure, it feels forced. But it works. Or you can wave or nod or whatever comes naturally to you. Just don't touch.
I believe that with these precautions we can meet safely at Church. And if we later learn that someone was there who tests positive, we don't have to wonder whether they came close to us, because we know that we kept our distance from everybody. And we also know that the facility is being disinfected each week.
So with those things in place, I believe we can meet safely at Church. Doors will open at 9:30 for a 10AM service. Hope to see you there.
On the other hand, many of us should not come to the campus yet.
Those who have any symptoms should stay home and watch online. Really. Err on the side of caution.
And those who have weakened immune systems should do the same. Really. Please don't risk it. Let's roll this out slowly. Don't rush. Let us come to you as we have been.
I realize this may feel like we are "meeting without you." But believe me, you will be near our hearts as we gather. If there's anything we've learned in the past ten weeks, it's that "online church" is a legitimate way to gather. So we will continue to acknowledge that.
Thank you for your prayers and patience during this time. Crisis often brings the worst out in people, and I just need to say that this church has been easy to lead! I believe God is filling us with love joy and peace to fill Sarasota with love joy and peace by sowing the hope of the gospel into every relationship.
A reopening of our doors may be a milestone in some regards. It's the question of the day: "When are you reopening?" Even though we can now answer that question with "May 24," it quickly becomes apparent that it's just a change of venue.
If this change of venue allows you to invite unchurched or dechurched people, please invite them. And please continue to use our online church to do the same. We are living among so many people who have so little love joy or peace in their lives, and we have such a gift to give. So whether safely at home or safely at church, let's be the Church!
Pastor of Sarasota Community Church since 2009.