Thursday, May 21, 2020

When… and How… to Resume Church Services

A worshiper at Westminster Cathedral. (ANSA)
Note: This is a transcript of a video recorded yesterday on our church website.

Hello, my name is Sky McCracken, and I am the senior pastor of First Methodist Downtown Jackson. I know that the question of when and how to resume church services is on your minds. 

Before making major decisions about our church, I like to surround myself with others around me. Bishop Bill McAlilly often says, “The wisdom in us (the collective us) is greater than the wisdom in any one of us.” So when making a determination about when to return to in-person worship, I think it’s important to surround myself with people with medical training, epidemiology, cleaning and mitigating methods, and people who think logistically. I don’t have any training or expertise in any of those matters. My bachelor degree was in psychology and criminal justice. My graduate studies ended with a master of divinity degree. Neither of those areas of study qualify me to make a major decision in the midst of a pandemic without first consulting those who ARE qualified. 

Our church has had two groups working on this issue: a “When” group made up of medical professionals, former company managers, teachers, and an attorney; and a “How” group including a wide assortment of backgrounds from medical to professional cleaning. 

I can’t begin to tell you how blessed our church is with persons of various and diverse gifts who are helping us with this decision. Your safety, and our doing no harm, is our guiding principle in our decision-making process.

It is also helpful for you to know who and what I am not consulting:

·   Political leaders. I have respect for our president, our governor, and our city and county mayors. They are doing their jobs as I would expect them to. However, they do not and cannot speak for the Church, nor can our government “order” a church to close, open, or meet. They can certainly urge and suggesthow to do these things, and they have.
·   Peer Pressure. “But so-and-so church is going to meet. Why can’t we?” Or “Why can Walmart be open but we can’t have church services?” Most of us can remember our parents’ response when we asked such questions as a child. Our contexts vary in various ways. There is no one-answer-fits-all answer. 

I know there is also the frustration of not being able to worship in our usual manner. A seminary classmate of mine at one of our larger UM Churches sent me a text this morning:

Feedback is coming in from churches who have reopened with massive COVID guidelines in place. Pews have been pulled. Greetings are gone. Social distancing. No singing. Masks. Many people HATE it. They are saying, ‘This isn't the church I remember.’ This supports my conviction that we delay live worship until most restrictions are lifted.

All of these are things make these decisions all the more difficult. Those are valid feelings and frustrations.

For certain, we will not be driven by fear or guilt. Nor will we question how other sister churches arrive at the decision they make for opening or not opening for in-person worship. We will take all of the information we know, apply it to our local setting, and pray that we make an informed decision that is good for body and soul. This is not a competition. We are going to do the best that we can, and be as faithful as we can.

I share all of this with you because I know the CDC just released (today) this study: High COVID-19 Attack Rate Among Attendees at Events at a Church — Arkansas, March 2020. That will be an important resource in our decision on WHEN and HOW to open for in-person worship.

So I’m saying all this to you just so you’ll know how our decision making process is going, and how we will make our decision: carefully, thoroughly, and with prayer. While several of us will pray and discern when that time will be, I know that as the senior pastor and administrative officer of our local church, I will assume the responsibility of our actions. So I covet your prayers as we continue to wrestle with the obstacles in our path, and how we might convert those obstacles to opportunities as we serve our risen Lord. 

May God bless you and keep you, and may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Reopening Update 5-20-2020 from First Methodist Downtown Jackson on Vimeo.