At some point after bringing the Tabernacle of God back into Jerusalem, David wrote, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the LORD.’ Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!” (Psalm 122:1-2) David loved the city of his residence because it was not only him who resided there, but God Himself. Though God is fully present throughout all His creation, His special presence was in Jerusalem because He chose to put His glory wherever the ark was.
Fast forward several thousand years to 21st century America, and although the church is not Jerusalem, nor is God’s presence specifically put within any building structure, there is yet the joy of going into the “house of the Lord” to worship with the people of God. Today, we as born-again Christians are the temple of God, and wherever we gather is a place where we can worship.
This has proved challenging over the last month, with the coronavirus quarantine and “shelter-in-place” orders. Thankfully, the gospel has not been hindered, and we have still found ways to worship, though much of our work has been done online. But praise God, there is a light at the end of the tunnel! On April 27, Governor Abbott announced that he would let his previous executive orders expire on April 30, and starting May 1, Texas can begin a phased reopening. This includes churches being specifically allowed to “expand” our services.
What is meant by “expand” is explained in a document from Texas’ Attorney General Ken Paxton. In the guidelines published by his office on April 27, three protocols are stated (summarized below):
- Those who are in the “at-risk population” are strongly encouraged to remain at home and participate remotely via live-stream or YouTube.
- A specific area inside the facility should be reserved for the “at-risk population.”
- There should be spacing between seated attendees: (a) Two empty seats (or six feet of distance) should be kept between family units, (b) Alternate rows between attendees.
What does this mean for us? It means that although we can start returning to our group gathering, it will need to be done in phases. Prior to receiving these guidelines from the Attorney General, I was speaking with our elders about our own plan to regather, which likely fits well with the State protocols.
- We do continue to encourage those who are at-risk to please stay home. If you are immune-compromised in any way, or have had any recent illness or potential symptoms, please continue your online participation rather than coming in person. Far better to stay home with something that is “just allergies,” than to risk passing something more serious to a brother or sister in the Lord.
- As we begin regathering, we will do so with a family-style worship service, with no children’s ministry yet offered (that is, beyond the wonderful videos produced by some of our Children’s ministry teachers). This allows any immune-compromised teachers to remain at home, as well as keep family-units together.
- For those who gather, we ask that you please provide ample space between you and your neighbor. Although we have longed to see one another again, we need to remain separated in physical distance (which sadly includes hugs and handshakes for now). Those who wish to wear masks are welcome to do so, and hand-sanitizer will continue to be available (as long as it is in stock).
Of course, we will continue to be vigilant in our cleaning and disinfectant spray after each service, wiping down doorknobs, handles, etc.
At this stage in our country’s fight against the coronavirus, I know that not everyone is yet ready to return as a full congregation. That is okay – in fact, it is necessary if we are to abide by our State guidelines thus far. Should everyone return in the same week, there is no way we could abide by any “safe” distancing. We will continue to stream to Facebook and record video for YouTube. We have experienced our share of technical difficulties in this area, but we are working hard to overcome them. (If nothing else, we will have a vibrant livestream ministry by the time all of this is over!)
As to our other events (Men’s breakfast, Ladies’ fellowships, home fellowships, etc.), these items are still on-hold until further notice. We will continue to seek the Lord in prayer (even through phone calls and online groups!) as to His wisdom on rebooting these other gatherings.
In the end, there is both good news and sad news with the phased reopening. The good news is that more of us can gather on Sundays and Wednesdays starting in May! The sad news is that it will not be all of us, and we still have some time to go. My prayer is that this time is short. How I long to gather with you all in worship of our Lord & Savior! Prayerfully, it will happen soon.
In the meantime, keep praying – keep studying – keep worshipping – keep exhorting one another – keep loving one another as the Lord gives you opportunity. We are in a unique season as a nation, one in which we can point people to the certain hope we have in Christ. May we take full advantage of this time while it is here!
May God bless you as you walk with Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. I love each of you in the Lord, and cannot wait to see you again.