Over the past few months, many of us have been waiting for the moment that our churches reopen their doors and we can gather together again in person. As many states slowly begin the process of reopening, churches face a new kind of challenge: deciding when and how to return to their buildings and, once there, how to adapt traditional practices for ongoing safety.
Last week, HDI held our first in a series of webinars on the topic of Considering When and How to Reopen Your Church, in partnership with the National Association of Evangelicals. We gathered a team of experts in a Town Hall format to frame the conversation and speak directly to the pressing questions as we enter this new phase, including:
Rev. Dr. Miriam Burnett, founder and president of Resources and Promotion Health Alliance, Inc., pastor of Historic Jones Tabernacle AME Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and leader of the Health and Healing Guidepost Committee and Disaster Preparedness and Response Committee for the Philadelphia Annual Conference
They helped us to start thinking about how we might approach how and when to start to reopen our churches. Here are some of the their insights on the most important things churches need to consider as they make decisions on when and how to reopen:
“The guideline to reopen is not the same as a command to reopen. If it’s a guideline and not a mandate, then we need some further principles to help govern our thinking. I encourage us to read Romans 13 which deals with governing authorities and obeying our governing authorities, and the second section, which talks about ‘love does no harm to the neighbor.’ One of the principles we’re going to have to consider as we reopen is being right before God with the best information we have available. We need to follow government recommendations and also go beyond and seriously think about the mandate not to do harm to others.
I know the church I lead right now will have very different sensibilities among congregants. I would encourage us to think about the principle of love as an expression of preserving the conscience and sensitivities of others. It may be okay for us to open up, but if we are putting others in a place of insecurity, of vulnerability, then we need to seriously consider our responsibilities to other members of our church that may not be ready to open up. It’s a very complicated thing to live out the command to love. It’s easy to say it’s about love, but living it out is nuanced and it requires a lot of humility and dialogue in order to fulfill.” — Dr. Walter Kim
There are no one-size-fits-all prescriptions when it comes to reopening church buildings; every church has its own unique context that needs to be considered. That’s why we’ve developed a new manual, Guide to Reopening Church Services: A Step-by-Step Biblically-Based and Research-Based Approach to Resuming In-Person Ministries, which you can download free now at reopeningthechurch.com, our new website in partnership with the National Association of Evangelicals. Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be adding resources and information to help your church navigate this process.
“What about African-Americans, African diaspora, all across the world who are still dealing with health inequities, which have made as many as 80% of a population more vulnerable? How do we deal with our seniors who are the ones that are going to drive the issue, but also cannot deal with the things that we have to do in order to prepare our sanctuaries as well as make sure that we are maintaining them?” — Rev. Dr. Miriam Burnett
“The pandemic, or any other disaster, does not impact everyone equally because the system does not impact everyone equally. So when we’re thinking about who is already vulnerable and who could be made more vulnerable in the reopening process and what does that actually mean for their lives—what does it mean for someone to be able to rejoin communion with one another in a way that is safe and in a way that actually augments and improves their overall health and doesn’t take away from it?” — Dr. Nicolette Louissaint
“How do we know the state of our church? Almost weekly—hourly—things are changing. We started with the Pastor Poll a few weeks back, asking pastors, ‘How are you?’ And we’ve had thousands of responses each week. It’s been fascinating to see what’s important now, and then also what’s coming, by asking some of these questions. When we started analyzing data based on size of the church, we really started seeing some differences based on the average worship attendance and what churches were doing based on their size.” — Christopher Nelson