By now, most of you have heard of President Trump’s statement regarding the status of church and worship gatherings. If not, I am sure it is easily accessible to you on the web and I would encourage you to give it a listen. While I wholeheartedly appreciate the President’s clear declaration that churches and houses of worship be designated as essential services, the declaration itself does not immediately lift the legal and ethical restraints churches such as NorthPointe have been operating under since our “sheltering in place” began. I’m not a Constitutional scholar, so I’ll leave it to others to argue whether the President has the power over state Governors to direct them to change current sheltering orders. The President indicated that he is directing the Centers for Disease Control to issue guidelines on how churches can reopen safely. These remain to be seen. The President’s words that Governors should allow houses of worship to be open for services “this weekend” (direct quote) was premature in my opinion. I appreciate his heart and the overall gist of his statement, but don’t believe he realized the confusion his words have created for many, likely some of you.
So let me clear up any confusion as your Senior Pastor, (and there’s already been a great deal of it today since his announcement) – we will NOT be having “services as usual” in person this weekend, nor in the next few weeks for that matter. We won’t hold live, in-person services until we are able to get clarity on a NUMBER of issues related to the health and safety of our congregation, and the potential legal liability to our church as a corporation. Most people have never considered the multitude of details that are necessary to “do church” on the scale a congregation like NorthPointe operates on, and a Friday notice to be able to operate on Sunday morning isn’t in the realm of possibility for us. For that reason, though we’re excited by the possibility of being able to open up gradually and plan to do so, (even the President referred to this as a gradual process), for now, we will be continuing to livestream our weekly services as we have been doing over the last several weeks.
Please understand there are a HOST of issues we’ve been carefully and prayerfully considering in determining how soon and exactly how we’ll return to “business as usual,” and open our doors for large gatherings. The President’s words today unfortunately didn’t clarify or change any of those issues for us. The main value in his actions today, in my opinion, was to begin a serious conversation and to apply pressure on Governors to recognize churches as essential businesses and begin to return to “normal” business practices. That pressure will be felt all across America by the Governors. It doesn’t, of course, affect the Coronavirus, which has been the enemy all of us have been sacrificing together to defeat. We’re on a wartime footing against a common enemy, and must see it through.
In the interest of better awareness and perspective, I’m including a document from the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), a Christian legal firm that deals with religious liberty issues. They’ve been at the forefront of legal concerns about how sheltering in place has affected churches exercising their Constitutional right of assembly and “free exercise” of our faith. We’ve been a part of Zoom calls with this group multiple times over the last few weeks. In this document you’ll see the number of details the PJI is advising should be managed for churches to open up under CDC guidelines, to avoid potential serious liability. It shouldn’t take you long to see that the difficulty of trying to operate under the severe limitations placed on us would not be worth the benefit, compared to the relatively small percentage of our congregation who could attend. What we’ve been doing currently with our Sunday livestream actually allows us to minister in an effective, far-superior way when you consider the guidelines we’d have to follow to open up responsibly at this time.
This is a difficult time for all of us, but it’s also a time for us to continue to act patiently, responsibly, and lovingly with one another. I know we all want life to be “back to normal” as soon as possible. In fact, our current Sunday series is dealing with that very issue. While we’re still navigating these times of uncertainty, please guard your heart and seek to be controlled by Christ in what you say, how you say it, and to whom you say it in these frustrating days. There’s a world that’s watching how we as Christ-followers are conducting ourselves.
I know what I’ve written will not satisfy some in our congregation, will disappoint others, and will relieve still others. I can’t recall a time in my ministry like this present circumstance when so many people have second-guessed and been divided by leadership decisions of our church. I and our Pastors would appreciate your prayers for us as we seek to lead our church wisely in how we navigate these days effectively. Sometimes the only way “out” of something is “through” it, and this is one of those times, for sure.
Thanks for your trust, your support, and your partnership in the gospel!
God bless you,
– Pastor Steve