Dear Friends in Christ,
As the story goes in Exodus, the Lord led the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt via two unmistakable signs: a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22). This lasted throughout their journey through the wilderness and on to the Promised Land. For 40 years, the Lord offered such clear guidance through many challenges. When the pillar moved, they moved. When it stayed, they stayed. Wouldn’t it be nice to have such clarity, especially in times like these?
Looking back at the experience of the Hebrews, we must be careful to not over-romanticize God’s guiding presence in their lives. In fact, the story of God and the Hebrews during their time of wandering was complicated. The people still complained (see Exodus 15-17) and tried to turn away from God on several occasions (Exodus 32 and Numbers 14, for example) even though God was clearly there. And then there is the reality that the very first place the pillars of cloud and fire took the people was to the edge of the Red Sea, with Pharaoh’s army in hot pursuit. It is one thing to know God is present, it is another thing to follow. It is yet another thing to wait upon the Lord when we think ourselves ready for action.
I find myself reflecting on such things as we contemplate reopening the church building for in-person worship. On one hand we have clear guidance from local and state public health officials that we may resume worshiping in person, provided we follow social distancing and sanitizing protocols, wear masks, and only congregate for worship (and then promptly exit the building). But is it safe enough? Is it worth the risk? Will it even feel like worship? It will remain to be seen how these questions are ultimately answered, but session has decided to press on toward the goal of reopening so that we can see one another, pray together, and enjoy God’s presence together.
The journey from where we are today and when we reunite for in-person worship is a challenging one on many levels. There are logistical considerations—if our seating is limited, how do you determine who can come and who must stay home? There are matters of sanitizing, screening attendees, supplying masks for those who forget them, and complying with rules and protocols that can change daily. On top of that, there are questions about technology—what to pre-record, what to do live, and how to stream it all to the people who cannot attend. And then there is the matter of managing expectations—this will not be the same as worship was back in February.
Is God guiding us forward? Telling us to stay home? Are we on the shores of the Red Sea, or is that the Promised Land just around the corner?
Again, we cannot be sure. But we can be faithful and discerning. As we move toward reopening, please keep these things in mind. In our desire to see one another and to claim some sense of normalcy in our lives once again, we must not lose sight of our responsibility to Christ and our neighbors to do all we can to help limit the spread of this deadly virus. We must remember that compassion for others often involves setting aside our own wants and needs for their sake. And we must temper our expectations.
When we resume worshiping in person, things will be different, and things may change on a moment’s notice. There will be frustrations. There will be grumbling. We will not always know exactly what lies around the next bend. But we can trust that the God of the Exodus is the same God who leads us now. And when things are not always clear, we will default by looking to the safety of others and seeking to glorify Christ in the process. So, please keep an open mind and please pray for me and our session as we make preparations to see one another again in the house of the Lord. s and years to come!