We were one of the first churches to close when news of the pandemic began to coalesce. Given the information we were hearing, and the size and demographic of our winter crowd, it was the responsible decision.
We closed for ten weeks. But then we were one of the first churches in Sarasota to re-open.
Then after five weeks, the Florida Surgeon General requested again that people limit gatherings over 50 so we closed again.
Other churches started opening soon after that. We didn't. And now, after nine weeks, most of the churches around us have been open for weeks. I don't know actual numbers but it seems we are one of the last to reopen.
I want to give clarity about that.
My heart all along has been to cooperate with those who bear the burden of leading our city and state, that their service might be a joy and not a burden.
This is an application of scripture's mandate about following our church leaders, but I believe in principle it applies to all leaders: "Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you." (Hebrews 13:17 NIV)
Likewise, as one charged with making decisions that affect this church, I want to carry out that responsibility with diligence.
As I said last week, I don't believe there is a right or wrong decision about whether churches meet in person or not. I am confident that meeting in homes is not disobedient to scripture's call to not forsake meeting together.
In fact, it's possible that our preference for gathering somewhere other than our homes is more akin to forsaking meeting together.
But that's another post. :)
That said, most of us miss gathering don't we? I miss seeing you. I miss singing together with you. I miss the encouragement of just being together with you. At the very least we miss our memories of what it used to be like to get together.
And yet, if you were one of the 90 or so who met again for those five weeks in May and June, you likely remember how conflicted your feelings were.
There was a lot of energy and enthusiasm for meeting again, but there was some sorrow and timidity in meeting again.
Part of that is just a natural response to what social distancing does. Yeah, we all know that social distancing is manufactured -- that it's not really an indication about whether people like us or not -- but still, we learned at a young age how to respond when people keep their distance from us. We keep our distance from them. Physically. Emotionally. We shrink back. We become quiet. We avoid eye contact. We fade away.
It's hard to meet joyfully when we can't engage each other socially.
Now, I don't want to overcommit on that. There was joy. We even met new people who started coming to our church because we were one of the first to reopen. Wonderful people.
But many who I was hoping to see stayed home for the obvious reasons.
As I've said, we'll reopen again. But it's been my desire that when we do meet again I want it to be with joy. I want the room to buzz with enthusiasm, not hum with uncertainty.
I'm still looking for the right timing on that.
Part of that is I don't want to be "yes and then no." I don't want to just follow whatever opinion is trending on social media, riding the waves of public opinion up and down, back and forth, starting and stopping, herking and jerking. It's important to me that we be a non-anxious presence in this. Also, that we don't "condemn ourselves by what we approve."
And so, the staff's counsel is that we wait and pay attention to what happens when our local schools reopen. So far it has not been without challenges for Manatee public schools, as well as our own Sarasota Christian School.
But they are meeting, and we are watching. And almost all of the people have not gotten sick.
And next week we'll be watching the Sarasota County Schools to see what happens. Not anxiously. Just trying to learn. And I personally believe that almost all of the people will not get sick. That's my own personal bias.
But all that said, an underlying consideration for me in keeping our campus closed has been a spiritual sense that it is serving a purpose unique to our congregation in a way that has nothing to do with the virus.
Like I said here,
and one more (the one where I said the church is closed for good) here.
And so we continue to pray for God to move among us. Again, this isn't as much to do with the virus, as it is about what God wants to do among us.
Join me in praying this simple prayer: "Lord, what would you have us learn during this time?"
And lean into yesterday's teaching where I explained four things we need to be devoting ourselves to. It totally applies to this larger conversation. Take 19 minutes to watch it again here.
But I'm also sensing that it's time to gather for worship, even if it's not yet time to gather weekly for worship, so...
We are planning a special evening service for extended worship, prayer, communion, and inspiration: Saturday, September 5th, at 6pm.
It's Labor Day Weekend. Let's plan to worship together and encourage each other as part of our festivities.
Mark your calendars. (But mark it in pencil. All plans are in pencil these days. See above.)
My heart is that we would gather to encourage and strengthen each other. What do you think? Good idea? You in?
Pastor of Sarasota Community Church since 2009.