Three Christ City Church pastors offer some thoughtful guidance on not rushing back to ‘normal.’
While some churches are anxious to get back to their buildings and resume church as usual, quite a number are deciding to delay that return for several months.
Last week provincial leaders praised faith leaders for their efforts in fighting COVID-19 and confirmed that churches may cautiously begin to meet together again.
Pastor Trevor Vanderveen wrote this brief description of the government’s guidelines
The current limits of no more than 50 people, buildings at 25 percent capacity and physical distancing will most likely be in place through the influenza season this fall and into next year. Please maintain your current hybrid ways of maintaining services as you are best able. Dr. Henry was very firm about the ‘no more than 50 people’ limit. No exceptions.
(See my May 28 post, ‘We’re moving back to church at a good rate – or are we going too slow?’ for some detail.)
Following are two examples of churches which have elected to move back to their buildings slowly, and some helpful guidelines from one denomination.
Christ City Church
Christ City Church posted a very thoughtful YouTube video May 31: Is the church going back to normal?, in which three of their pastors described in some detail why they will not be holding any in-person gatherings for the next three months.
Pastors from their three churches – Brett Landry (South Vancouver), Brandt Van Roekl (Kitsilano) and Jake LeFave (East Vancouver) sat down for more than 50 minutes to discuss “personal expectations, Christian conscience and witness to the city during this next season of COVID-19 restrictions.” Their aim was “to get underneath the surface of why we have made those decisions” not to meet this summer.
Landry spoke of Christians living as a community of exiles in our culture, referring to Jeremiah 29 and other scriptural passages. Applying those passages to our situation, he said:
The principal that we want to pull from that is that you can sustain a level of thriving in the midst of this season if you have a right expectation. But if you just think it’s going to end and everything’s going to go back to normal, you’re setting yourself up for sequential disappointment when those timelines that you have in your mind don’t come to pass in the order that you think.
For us, as followers of Jesus, we have a long game in mind here. We’re citizens of the kingdom of heaven. We are citizens of Vancouver, but we have a heavenly-mindedness about us and we need to pay attention to that, and recognize that our decisions that we’re making today are actually not informed by public health guidelines for the next month. They’re informed by eternal realities, promises, not ideas or some skeptical forecasting of what might happen. We’re actually being informed by the promises of God.
So it’s importing the eternal mindset of who we are as God’s people into the present circumstances, giving up some of our idealism in that way, and doing the best we can with the situation we have.
LeFave raised the issue of the church’s witness to the City of Vancouver:
What is our witness to be in this season? How does our response play a key role in how those outside the church view us and understand us and think of us?
Van Roekl pointed to 1 Peter 2:13-17, which begins, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution . . .” He said, “We’ve got it easy,” compared to the believers of Peter’s time, adding:
The first thing I see in this text is, there’s a disposition that we should have in this situation, that I think is very clear. It is, what is the government calling us to do? If it’s not in direct conflict with loving Jesus and believing his gospel, then we should obey it. We can obey any temporary measure that is put on us in this season. We can obey it gladly for the sake of witness, for the sake of the glory of God in this city.
Should the Lord give us the days, my hope is that we’re pastoring churches in Vancouver 25 years from now. That means that I have to have that mentality as I consider the witness of the church in Vancouver. I want to have that in my thinking – that what we’re doing now is building a foundation for the witness to the truth of the gospel in Vancouver for decades to come.
Which means, if we rush something back that ruins the witness of the church in our neighbourhoods, there’s going to be damage done. We don’t need to add to the damage that’s been done in the relationship of the church to the wider city in the past.
We’re sitting in the South Vancouver building right now. I can’t imagine what that would be like if the people who live in this neighbourhood – I mean, there’s a house there right beside us, there’s houses across the street, we’re surrounded by homes – if hundreds of people spilled out of the doors on Sunday morning, after a gathering, and the people in the neighbourhood, who are obediently following the guidelines that are laid out, look at us and go, ‘What is wrong with those people! Don’t they realize that the church is just a super-spreader of this? They probably all got together and sang . . .’
They might not even know what we did inside, they might not know the measures that we took inside to be safe. They would just look at it and go, ‘Really?’
I don’t want to bring reproach on the bride of Christ. I don’t want to bring reproach on Jesus, because of the actions that we have. I want to be hated for the right reasons in Vancouver – and I don’t want anyone to hate us; I want them to know that we love them – but if we’re going to have a problem with the life of the church in Vancouver, let it be for our great love for the poor.
Let them reproach us for the way we care for one another. Let them reproach us for the ethical standards that we live by, which we believe are in scripture. Let them reproach us for the fact that we love Jesus and are seeking to obey the crucified and risen Lord – not because we have done something that is really only beneficial for us.
Coming back to Jeremiah 29, he quoted this passage:
Build houses and live in them, plant gardens and eat their produce, take wives and have sons and daughters, take wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
The Christ City pastors have helpfully broken the discussion down into subject areas:
- 0:43 What we are doing as a Church in this season?
- 2:00 What is our posture in this season?
- 5:04 What should our expectations be?
- 10:13 What is a sign that you are ‘holding your breath’?
- 16:27 What is Christian conscience and why does it matter?
- 20:36 What are the varying ways we respond to COVID-19?
- 22:32 How does the Bible speak to differences in conscience?
- 25:50 Principle 1: Judging
- 28:32 Principle 2: Faith
- 31:21 Principle 3: Love
- 32:37 Principle 4: Priority
- 35:33 Haircuts 🙂
- 38:05 How are we to be a witness to the city of Vancouver?
- 43:13 Where do we go from here?
The whole video is worth watching, but I particularly enjoyed the sections on ‘holding your breath’ and ‘how to be a witness.’
Christ City Church will continue with Sunday Zoom calls in East Van and Kitsilano, and house church online in South Vancouver throughout the summer, being flexible about the possibility of modifications if the situation changes.
St. John’s North Vancouver
Another church which caught my eye was St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church in North Vancouver.
Although Archbishop Melissa Skelton has given churches in the Diocese of New Westminster the right to return to their buildings as of June 14, St. John’s has chosen not to.
In a May 27 post, Rev. Patrick Blaney described the result of a May 23 meeting:
[W]e decided to postpone our reopening for in-person worship until Sunday, September 6, 2020. We will assess at the end of the summer if this date is still appropriate for us to proceed. The vote was unanimous and I believe we have made the right decision for our parish.
There were many factors involved of course, but chief among them was that a large majority of our parishioners fall within the vulnerable population and, despite our very best efforts in following the Diocesan Protocols, we could not guarantee 100 percent that all would be safe. We also felt what we are doing now, while not the same as in-person worship, seems to be working quite well.
St. John’s will continue with recorded, Zoom and telephone meetings. Go here for the full statement.
Go here to see the Anglican ‘Phased re-opening for in-person worship.’
Fellowship Pacific guidelines
The majority of denominations are urging their churches to follow provincial guidelines, and are allowing them to make their own choices about the rate of return to their church buildings.
One helpful example of that approach is the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in British Columbia and Yukon (operating as Fellowship Pacific), which has 40 churches in the Lower Mainland (one of which, Village Church, has 11 services in five locations in this area).
Their Restarting Church Ministries from COVID-19, posted May 27, begins with these words:
As we enter Phase 2 of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many questions and issues yet to be resolved. It is clear that any approach or plan to re-open church services must be held
lightly due to the possibility of a resurgence of the virus or a possible second “wave” in the fall of 2020.
Fellowship Pacific has been part of a series of telephone town-hall style meetings with Premier Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and the faith communities of British Columbia. . . .
Followed by ‘Considerations for Restarting’:
There are a number of options and hybrids of options open to churches as you seek to move forward into Phase 2. Please note that regardless of what your choices may be, you should address the following factors:
- All safety guidelines laid out by Provincial Health Authorities and WorkSafe BC should be implemented. These have been made quite clear by the authorities and include such things as physical distancing, regular disinfecting of common areas and washrooms, handwashing, etc.. These guidelines can be found at http:// www.bccdc.ca/health-info/diseases-conditions/covid-19.
- Your plan for restarting must account for all age groups of your church recognizing that while younger people and children may have substantially less risk from COVID-19, they may well become carriers of the virus and thus put others at risk.
- It is advisable to continue your on-line presence as you move forward. First, this gives due respect to those in your congregations who are at greater risk or simply do not yet feel comfortable returning to more public venues. Second, this allows you to continue and deepen your relationship and ministry to those who have joined you on-line, but have not yet joined you in-person.
- Please consider the witness to Christ and the message you send to your community. Be aware of how they may perceive your choices. Seek to communicate well with your neighbours and community as to how you are fulfilling safety protocols.
Then ‘Specific Options for Restaring’ (headers only):
- Geographic location
- Size of church
- Size and configuration of building
- Age of congregation
And some ‘Restart Options to Consider’ (again, headers only):
- Consider worship services online
- Begin single or multiple worship services
- Hybrid option
- Long term missional possibility
All of these points are fleshed out; go here for the full report.
Thank you for today’s Church for Vancouver newsletter or memo.
I have taken exception, as you will recall, to so many churches closing down and even now, showing signs of not wanting to reopen, as carefully and respectfully as this can be done.
You will recall the Longhouse Ministry never closed in the first place; to be sure, our modest numbers have helped with this, though open every day and most evenings of a week and, we have even extended hospitality space to some additional people in recovery from addictions (for which the “disease of isolation” particularly is harsh) over six noon hours each week. And, we have managed, modestly, to conduct funerals, facilitate a wedding and, of course continue with worship services and mid-week sharing circles.
It is also interesting to read of some pastors’ rationales for this above reluctance, one citing one of the Newer Testament passages (I Peter 2:13, a chapter which also includes, alas, slaves to be obedient to their masters) for obeying the governing authorities or human institutions, even. I often take exception to this, too.
Another such passage, from Romans 13 also partly expresses a call, via Paul, to obey the authorities – our authorities currently being given extraordinary powers and always subject, thus, to abuse – but then, thankfully, from verses 8ff goes on to state that we owe no one anything . . . other than “love” (a tall and sweeping order, of course).
But thankfully we have the prophetic witness, in all of its poignant abundance, to mandate otherwise.
In the peace of Christ: