May 6, 2020

I’m sitting here at my desk looking out at a perfectly beautiful blue sky and wishing I was outside but, nonetheless, thanking God for his faithfulness that is both new and steady every day. I hope your heart is in a similar place.

We continue on in this strange season that is now approaching two months, but there are signals that we are moving toward a gradual reopening of more normal social, economic, and religious life. I’m sure that is producing an eagerness in every one of us.

In light of these signals, as a pastoral team we have begun to have conversations about what it might look like to begin gathering together again as a church family. We realize there are many pieces that we need to be thinking about with lots of details to be taken into consideration. But, perhaps most importantly, we realize that we probably all need to temper our expectations for what things are going to look like for a while once we are given the green light to reconvene. If you are like me, you’ve cherished this idea of us all being together on that first Sunday morning, exactly like we were before the coronavirus hit—warmly greeting one another, singing our hearts out together, observing the Lord’s Supper as one body, and just enjoying all being in the same place after being apart for so long. It’s been hard for me to let that go, but I need to. We all need to. The fact is things will be different for some time. There will be some things we can’t do. There will be some things we need to do differently. There will be some awkwardness. There will be some disappointment. I believe it’s important that we begin to absorb that reality now.
 
I want to walk through three steps in this letter. First, let me share with you what we know. Second, I’ll share with you some of our thoughts at this point. Then, third, let me just call all of us to a certain, I trust, God-pleasing way to be thinking about this.

What We Know at This Point

As part of our processing as a pastoral team we’ve been trying to familiarize ourselves with and keep current on the Badger Bounce Back, which is our state’s guidance on reopening the economy and society. It lays out three phases. In Phase 1, groups of ten or fewer people can gather, provided they maintain the required distancing. In Phase 2, groups of fifty or fewer people can gather, provided they maintain the required distancing. That would enable us to restart several of our smaller regular meetings, most of which happen mid-week. In Phase 3, groups of any number may gather without any requirement of distancing. Each of these phases requires the meeting of certain criteria, and we have no way of knowing how quickly the state will meet the criteria for each phase. Obviously that limits our ability to make firm decisions about the time or manner in which we’ll be able to resume our Sunday morning gatherings.

Some of Our Current Thinking as a Pastoral Team

We are beginning to think about all sorts of things—children’s ministry, observing Communion in a new way, receiving our offerings, bathroom use, greeting—the list of things that need to be considered is long. But the main thing we are thinking about is when will be the right time to regather that will get us together as soon as possible but will honor and protect the unity of our church family. I love the clear and straightforward instruction of Ephesians 4:3—“[be] eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  There will be two opposing pressures here. We are all eager to be back together as soon as possible, but, the fact is, not all of us will be able to be back together at the same time. So what’s the right time? I confess, there is a part of me that doesn’t want to regather until all of us can regather. I so want that to be a time of joyous celebration for us all, and not a time of caution. But that is simply not realistic. So we need to find the right balance between freedom and wisdom.

The reality is, the first time you worship again at CrossWay there will be significantly fewer people here than you’re used to. Chairs will be spread out further. You probably won’t be able to give hugs or handshakes. We will have to be more intentional and measured about seating and dismissing. Kid’s ministry may not resume at the same time our large gathering does. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper will be different.

One thing we do recognize is that there will be a group within our church family for whom regathering will take longer. We want, as a church, to care for them well. We want, as I shared earlier, to do everything we can to maintain the unity of our church body. One of the ways we will serve this group is by continuing to make available some form of video of our Sunday morning worship and teaching. We certainly don’t want that to be an excuse for people to not come who can, but we do want to care well for those who, for whatever reason, are not able to be with us.

How I Hope We Will All Think About This

I think the virtues of the day will be patience and graciousness.  What an opportunity we will have to really love one another!   Some will naturally be more cautious. Some will naturally be more relaxed.  Let’s all consider one another. Let’s be eager to do good to one another. Let’s refrain from all uncharitable judgment.  Just think of how pleasing to God it will be if when we move into and through this time of regathering we are purposefully “looking to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). It would not be good if in our rush to reconvene we unnecessarily jeopardize even one person’s health. Far worse, if in our rush to reconvene we jeopardize the unity of our body.

One other thing in this regard. Let’s not be so focused on regathering that we miss what God is doing in our lives right now. There are many things God is likely doing throughout our church family during these days but there is one thing I’m sure he is doing – highlighting the importance of attending to our spiritual lives. So, may I urge you to listen to God’s Spirit. Spend some time each day focusing closely on your life in God, especially by hearing from his Word. And make it your aim each day to please the Lord. Desire to hear his voice at the end of each day saying to you, “Well done today.”

We are diligently preparing for the days when we can be together again so that when they arrive we’re ready with wisdom and with care. We hope it is not too much longer. We are fully confident in God’s promise to provide wisdom. We trust you are as well. Please continue to pray for us.  And pray for one another—for both physical and spiritual health.

We love you dearly,

Pastor Mike (for all the pastors and elders)

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