June 15, 2020
Dear Pastors and Church Leaders,
The Zoom Meetings held by the region have been one way in which Pastors and Church Leaders have gathered to talk about important issues surrounding COVID-19 and local church matters. It have provided a way for Pastors and Church Leaders to talk with each other and across the miles. Communicating with others provides a larger arena than just my back yard and so, discovery of innovative solutions, shared concerns, and possible challenges are learning experiences that move us forward in mission and ministry. I am blessed by our conversations and thankful for the time we have spent together.
The State of Maine has released guidelines for churches to regather in the midst of the Coronavirus COVID -19 pandemic. A guideline is a general rule, principle or piece of advice. Pastors and Church Leaders will need to determine how best to implement these governmental guidelines in regathering their congregations. There are also two requirements imposed by the government on regathering churches: no more than fifty people may gather at one time and must practice social distancing.
The Governor of the State of Maine has issued a proclamation that extends the state of emergency order for at least thirty days (July 15th). For local churches, this proclamation continues to direct churches to practice social distancing and to hold meetings for no more than fifty.
In times like these, the Church of Jesus Christ has followed only one command, the command to love. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34,35)
Dr. Glenn Miller has provided a “spiritual communion service” for our churches. This is a good option that can meet the needs of our congregation during this pandemic.
We are making time on Thursday, June 18th at 7:00 pm, to gather for a zoom meeting, https://ministrelife.zoom.us/j/6240881018. This will give us an opportunity to talk about our learnings as we reopen our buildings for worship.
Several churches have asked for an American Baptist Statement on Racial Justice. While the current ABCUSA policy statement was affirmed in 1983 and then revised in 1994, it is relevant to the situations and circumstances facing our nation today.
All American Baptist Churches are self-governing. Policy statements of the denomination reflect the wisdom of the American Baptist delegates that affirmed the document and is therefore, instructive and helpful for local churches. Policy statements of the denomination are not binding on local churches. Each local church will determine for itself its faith and practice.
Along with this policy statement, I’ve included a letter from our Interim General Secretary, Rev. Dr. Jeff Woods, entitled “Acts of Racial Injustice”.
This is a time for listening, prayer and reflection. Remember it isn’t in raging storms, earthquakes, or fire that God reveals His presence. His presence is revealed in the still small voice, the gentle whisper that often gets quelled by raging storms, earthquakes and fire.
“11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” I Kings 19:11-13
A Reminder and Word of Caution about ReOpening
1. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. As Pastor and Church Leaders, you will need to discern what is best for your congregation and why? This is not a time to be “pressured” into reopening or not reopening. There will be both internal and external pressure. Your congregation needs wise leadership in decision-making.
2. Remember that there are members and friends of your congregation who would love to be part of regathering but for a myriad of reasons do not at this time feel safe in public gatherings. We need to provide grace and opportunities to care for them during this vulnerable season. Remember to treat them with special honor.
3. Remember Pastors are the most exposed person in the congregation. It is hard for a pastor to “slip out” after services. Pastors will greet their congregation members differently in regathering but they will greet each member of their congregation. Pastors do not have many “job hazards” but greeting folks as they come into church and leave from church may be an exposure with harsh consequences during this pandemic. Pastors take care of yourselves. Congregation take care of your pastor.
4. The most vulnerable among us will be those in high risk categories: pre-existing conditions. Be sure to provide for their needs in your regathering. While folks voluntarily gather and therefore, we are not responsible for them, we are responsible to them, to provide the best care for their needs when they are among us.
5. Congregational leaders and members – please recognize that your pastor has been working hard during this time of crisis. Pastors have had to learn new skills and the leadership that accompanies them. The care of the congregation has become increasingly complex and individualized. Communication and the resources that provide for communication vary greatly according to an individual’s needs and resources, making it increasingly difficult to keep every member of the congregation on the same page. In regathering, their work load will only increase. Please help them find the time they need to recuperate, recreate, and renew their life and ministry.
6. This is a season of prayer. “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Before you gather, you will need an implementation strategy that covers the government’s guidelines and is tailored for your congregation. This is a work that only you as leaders can do. You’ll need to provide a clean space for gathering. Below is a list of reopening resources for your congregation.
Pastors and Church Leaders, if I can be of any help to you in finding resources or helping you discern how to implement the government’s guidelines, please contact me.
American Baptist Churches of Maine
Helpful Resources for your congregation: Covid 19 Prevention Checklist Organization Guidance (Religious Gatherings), ABCUSA Reopening Conversation Guide for Local Churches, and Jeff Johnson’s April Newsletter. I’ve also included the following links for your reflection: 7 Lessons for Singapore’s Church. Love in the Time of Coronavirus, and
Things not lost to COVID -19
Also, Church Mutual provides the following resources: Webinar on Reopening Safely, and Church Mutual’s Website for Coronavirus COVID – 19
ABCOM’s Website, ABCOM.org, continues to list resources for pastors and congregations. These resources continue to grow. As needs change concerning the Coronavirus COVID 19, the resources to meet those changes change as well. The resources that are needed are updated regularly on the resource list. If you have other needs that are not addressed on this resource list, please let me know. The list remains active and new entries are added frequently: Resources for Churches and Church Leaders