Churches Advised Not to Resume In-Person Worship Despite New MA Guidelines

Churches Advised Not to Resume In-Person Worship Despite New MA Guidelines

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A snapshot of the Massachusetts re-opening plan, from mass.gov.
On Monday, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced that houses of worship may re-open to the public starting this week, as long as attendance stays at or below 40% of building capacity and other minimum safety standards are met.

The Bridge Conference Ministers are maintaining their position that Conference churches should hold off on resuming in-person worship until at least the end of the summer.

"We know that this is disappointing for some of you," said Rev. Marilyn Kendrix. "It is disappointing for us as well and we know that for the sake of the Gospel, we must act in ways that keeps our siblings in Christ as safe as possible."

Kendrix re-iterated the statement put out by the Bridge Conference Ministers last week: "There is no one date that can be universally applied across our Conference to every church and every community. Things differ; local regulations, building size and condition, age of congregation, size of congregation, health care capacity in community, rate and incidence of spread in community. The way forward won’t be linear. There is the possibility of new spikes in infection that may return us to Stay Home Stay Safe requirements. Based on these phases and the current trends we believe in person worship in buildings will need to be suspended through at least the end of the summer.”  (Detailed guidelines for churches around a phased approach to resuming in-person gatherings are here.)

Kendrix also lifted up the statement from the Massachusetts Council of Churches issued in response to Baker's announcement.

"While we welcomed the guidance of the state of Massachusetts in terms of the kinds of precautions that will be needed when our churches do return to worship in person in church sanctuaries, we are doubly grateful for the response of the Massachusetts Council of Churches," said Bridge Conference Minister the Rev. Marilyn Kendrix. "It is clear that our position is in alignment with theirs."

That statement is as follows:

Boston, MA: On Monday May 18, 2020, the Rev. Laura Everett, Executive Director, and Rev. Jennie Barrett Siegal, President of the Massachusetts Council of Churches issued the following statement in response to the phased economic reopening plan which included new minimum safety standards for reentry to houses of worship:

Churches are designed to be places of healing, not sources of sickness. We receive these new minimum safety standards from the state with much concern for those people most at-risk in our churches and our communities.

Many Christians will remain in prayer and praise from home at this time. To those Christians that do decide to return now to their buildings, we advise all to act with extreme caution during this pandemic.

We know that faithful Christians across the Commonwealth ache to return to their sanctuary for worship, and that the gathering of groups of people for worship in other states have been occasions for COVID19 transmission. Just because congregations may return to their buildings does not mean they should. “‘All things are lawful for me’, but not all things are beneficial.” St. Paul wrote to the divided Church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 6:12).

There is a distinction between the minimum safety standards set by local, state and federal authorities, and the guidance from ecclesial leadership. The Massachusetts Council of Churches connects a wide range of Christian traditions; some denominations have already declared that their churches may not gather in person until July 1, others until the end of the summer, and still others until May 2021 or until a vaccine is found.

The state’s new minimum safety standards for reentry to houses of worship raise many questions and concerns for the clergy and lay leadership across the network of the Massachusetts Council of Churches. In the days ahead, the Massachusetts Council of Churches will issue further guidance for churches to support their discernment of phased re-entry into their buildings.

As we said previously to the Massachusetts Reopening Advisory Board, any just response to the pandemic must prioritize care and resourcing of the communities hardest hit during the pandemic, especially churches in Black, immigrant and unhoused communities that often serve as multi-service centers in addition to spiritual homes. We remain deeply distressed by the lack of comprehensive testing in communities of color, unequal access to care and resources, the financial and logistical burden on churches to provide masks and cleaning supplies, and the decision fatigue of so many church leaders already overwhelmed.

While much of the response to “reopening” has focused on the economy, we want to remind people of goodwill that the word “economy” comes from the Greek “οικονομία” oikonomía- the whole household of God. To care for the whole household of God means prioritizing not just the care of the fit and healthy, but of the sick and the lonely, the very old and very young. To care for the whole household of God means prioritizing the care of those most impacted. We have yet to see this prioritizing from our national and state leadership. We expect the Church to behave differently.
 

 

Author

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Tiffany Vail

Tiffany Vail is the Associate Conference Minister for Communications for the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ. 

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