To open or not to open

This is the dilemma that John Stevens posted following the announcement of lockdown three. 

“Just because we can open does not mean that we should open”

Churches will be permitted to remain open for public worship during the third lockdown, unlike in the previous two.

So, how to respond? I must admit that I felt a sense of tangible relief yesterday when the news came out knowing that I would not have to be making that call this time.  If it had been a week earlier then I would have been making recommendations to our elders and trustees.

My personal view and advise this time round is that we need to recognise that it is a difficult call to make and that different churches will respond differently. That will depend upon the local context and the approach of the specific churches.  I am honestly not sure how I would have called it if I were still working as a pastor.  In fact, I suspect I would not have come down on either side just yet and would be praying, listening and reviewing our risk plans. 

So here are some thoughts on how to approach the question.

  1. Be aware of your own pre-disposition. We already had views on how the virus should be responded to. Be careful to check that your position on opening isn’t being driven by a particularly political ideology. So, for example, those of us who tend towards a libertarian position might be over keen to insist churches stay open and miss the arguments for closing. The converse is also possible.
  2. Be aware of the needs of the congregation. The current lockdown is likely in terms of timing to have a heavier impact on people in terms of social and emotional consequences. Will your decision enable members to feel supported and they seek to grown in godliness?
  3. Be aware of the mood in the local community and your relationship to the community. Will your decision be a positive Gospel witness or a hindrance?
  4. Be aware of what other gospel churches are doing. This does not mean you have to copy one another but make sure that your decisions don’t appear to be in conflict and don’t undermine other expressions of local gospel witness.

My personal view is that generally speaking, where possible, churches should seek to gather in person if this is within the law. I also believe that churches and other institutions have already done so much to achieve COVID secure environments that there would need to be clear evidence that our hand washing, mask wearing and distance keeping was ineffective before an evidence based case for closing was in place. However sometimes it is best to show solidarity with the community and face the same restrictions.

I don’t believe we should call for Christian exceptionalism. We don’t want to be treated in a special way. Rather, if you have question marks for your church, make sure you are asking for local businesses and other groups too.

I would also encourage you if opening to make sure your reasons are communicated to the community and concerns listened to. Take extra care in planning

  • Review, print and display your risk plan
  • Mare sure all attendees are familiar with the rules and agree to abide them
  • Publicly display the rules, guidance and risk assessment
  • Do all you can to help people feel secure.      

Whatever you decide, seek Christ’s glory and the unity  of the church.           

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