By Nancy Sollenberger Heishman, director of Ministry for the Church of the Brethren
Leadership teams of several Church of the Brethren districts have issued recommendations recently regarding congregations gathering in buildings. Districts that have begun sharing guidance include, among others, Mid-Atlantic, Middle Pennsylvania, and Southern Ohio and Kentucky.
Mid-Atlantic District leadership recommended that congregations not gather through June 30, stressing that congregations should “do no less than follow the reopening guidelines of their particular jurisdiction.” Mid-Atlantic congregations are located in five states and the District of Columbia. Of particular importance to district leadership is caring for the most vulnerable, including the elderly and children. Quoting from Philippians 2:4, the communication stressed looking “not to your own interest, but to the interests of others.” Specific advice for taking precautions was offered as well as guidance for prayer, keeping connections, and reaching out to their communities. (Find the Mid-Atlantic recommendations at www.madcob.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Coronavirus-Announcement.pdf .)
Similarly, both Middle Pennsylvania and Southern Ohio and Kentucky Districts issued recommendations to their member congregations. Middle Pennsylvania District leadership cited several ecumenical resources in preparing its document, “Considerations for Re-opening during COVID-19 Pandemic,” released May 8. District executive minister David Banaszak wrote to ministers, “I want to say how proud I am of the job you are all doing in your service to Jesus Christ as well as the care you extend to God’s children near and far. Let’s continue to walk faithfully with our Savior so that no one can accuse us of anything but love for our neighbor.” (Find the Middle Pennsylvania recommendations at https://sites.google.com/site/midpacob/news/decheckinfridaymay82020 .)
Southern Ohio and Kentucky District board chair, Jennifer Keeney Scarr, and vice-chair, Todd Reish, wrote: “Your District Board urges you, sisters and brothers, to resist the temptation to begin in-person gathering at this time. Out of a deep care for one another we strongly advise our churches to continue to love one another from afar until the Board can re-evaluate the situation at the end of May.”
Here is the full text of the letter that the district board sent to congregations in Southern Ohio and Kentucky District:
May 13, 2020
Sisters and Brothers,
Many of us hoped for an immediate return to “normal” following the CoVid-19 pandemic; however, it has become clear that our churches will need to return to in-person gatherings in stages, with care, and not right away.
Your District Board urges you, sisters and brothers, to resist the temptation to begin in-person gatherings at this time.
Instead, use this time to consider and pray over the gathering practices your congregation will implement when we can begin gathering again. Take your time, move with intention and purpose. As people of faith, we are compelled to love our neighbor. In such a time as this, that love has been lived out through physical distancing, wearing masks, hand washing, figuring out online platforms, and more. In the coming weeks as we together consider how to resume gathering in person, what does loving our neighbor look like?
Out of a deep care for one another we strongly advise our churches to continue to love one another from afar until the Board can re-evaluate the situation at the end of May.
For your consideration, the following are documents the Board has found helpful in offering this guidance:
Wisconsin Council of Churches Statement (https://www.wichurches.org/2020/04/23/returning-to-church/)
Ohio Citizens for Community Values (https://www.ccv.org/2020/04/27/citizens-for-community-values-releases-phased-approach-guidelines-for-churches-resuming-public-worship-services/)
As one board member shared in our recent meeting, “if we are going to err, let’s err on the side of being too caring.” We are with you, sisters and brothers.
In the love and care of Christ,
Jennifer K Scarr, Board Chair
Todd Reish, Board Vice Chair
On behalf of your District Board