Today the President of the United States declared churches “essential” and therefore should open “right now.” I don’t disagree. If there is a church that is closed, they should open immediately. What the President missed in all the political maneuvering is that churches never closed.
Yes, we closed our buildings in respect for the health of our congregation and community, but we didn’t cease to provide essential spiritual support for our congregations or service to the community. Buildings are not essential for the work of the church. During the pandemic, we pivoted to a different way of connecting, worshipping, and in some cases serving, which shows that we don’t need an open building to validate the essential nature of church, its worship, fellowship, or service.
The question is not when we will open the church but when, and how to re-open our buildings to facilitate the life-giving ministry of Christ.
The way forward for the church in a pandemic is faithfulness to God. It is not pitching partisan narratives and false dichotomies pitting public health against healthy economy or personal freedom against responsibility and neighborliness.
We may have the freedom to open our buildings but that doesn’t mean we should. We closed them voluntarily and will open them, not at a Governor’s or even a President’s proclamation, but when we feel we can safely do so.
In Oregon, Common Table is a collegium for clergy of many religious traditions, and they put it so well in their published statement,
“We will continue to respect the guidelines of our public health authorities, even as we look forward to gathering again in person. We know that our worship services and the other services faith communities provide are essential to our communities, not only for the spiritual benefit of our members but quite often for the wider social safety net established by our committed charity and advocacy work. Our services represent a lifeline for people all across the state, and we will continue to push for the re-opening of our facilities as our physical spaces and our ability to maintain health and safety guidelines allow. Simultaneously, we will continue to innovate, rising to the challenge of these unique circumstances and allowing ourselves and our practices to be transformed to serve the changing needs of our people.”
Of course, we take seriously the guidance of health officials and governor’s and president’s, but our buildings serve our Lord and his work in the world. They are not a political statement. We need to let prayer and wisdom be our guide.