May 14, 2020 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good. Greetings my wonderful and beloved church family. These have been such trying times for us, these last 6…7…8 weeks, as we have grappled with day to day it means to live in the middle of a pandemic; what it means for us personally, what it means for our families, for our work, for our children’s school, what it means for our church, what it means for our larger community. It has been such a trying time. And we have been holding deeply in our prayers all those who are ill with this virus, those who have died and their loved ones who grieve and cannot even gather in a full way and acknowledge that grief and be in comfort with one another. Our prayers continue with all those who are essential workers, especially those on the front line of the pandemic seeking to offer the best medical care possible in the midst of such uncertainty. Our prayers are with all of us as we wrestle day to day with what it means to live in the midst this new reality.
We understand that social distancing is so important and has played a critical role in the results we have seen thus far. Thank you all for respecting this social distancing, for wearing your mask, and for sanitizing your hands repeatedly all day long, and remaining at home as much as possible. This has been critically important and we cannot relax now but must continue so that we can protect one another and reduce the number of deaths from this virus.
However, all this social distancing leaves us grieving for all that we have lost. We yearn to be with one another, to be in contact personally, to gather in our sacred space and worship surrounded by such familiarity. This is perhaps made even more palpable in this climate as Governor Cuomo announces the release of some restrictions in certain areas around the state; as he begins to unfold his four phase program for restarting the economy and the day to day life of New York. Phase one start Friday, May 15th, and I know that makes us all eager to see that time when we can come together. But Phase One is only lifting very certain restrictions on a very certain group of businesses and other services in our community. I encourage you to go to the Tompkins County Health Department website (https://tompkinscountyny.gov/health/movingforward) and read about those particular restrictions and what businesses are affected.
Houses of worship are not included in Phase One. We all believe that our house of worship, our church home, is of essential value to us, absolutely. But in restarting the economy, houses of worship are not part of Phase One. Therefore, we continue to offer all of our worship and all of our connections through digital means where we gather through new avenues of grace connected by that beautiful Spirit.
In this uncertain time, as things begin to unfold and certain things are beginning to start, we will have these weekly updates…every week. We will share with you, to the best of our knowledge, where we are at that moment. Staff and church leaders are spending time engaged with scientific data, with recommendations from the health department and the CDC, with guidelines from the denomination and from other denominations and other faith communities. We are weighing all of this together so we can make the best decisions moment to moment as new information is unfolding. So we promise to share that with you each week to the best of our knowledge.
Our Church Council meets this week, and we will do that via Zoom (online conferencing), respecting social distancing. One of the things we are going to be doing is talking about how to strengthen our connections across this new digital reality we find ourselves in. We want to do so in a way that allows us to transition from digital life, slowly and gradually as conditions allow, into more and more in-person gatherings. Always respecting guidelines from the health department, social distancing, and the things that will minimize the risk of exposure to the virus.
We do need to note that probably the last item that will be allowed in how we gather in person will be full sanctuary worship. That will definitely be a Phase Four item in Governor Cuomo’s plans. And even then, those of us who are living in beautiful church facilities that are older, have a lot of work to do to make them safe, to make them meet guidelines for the safety standards from the health department. So we will do that to the best of our ability. We know that this will change what our worship may look like when we are able to come together in some way for in person worship. We ask you to be holding in prayer all who are discerning and trying to make the best decisions to keep us safe but allow us to be together in worship.
I know that that makes us grieve even more for those times of being together, singing together, praying together, hearing God’s word together, spending time in fellowship. But this pandemic does allow us an opportunity to truly discern our ministries and our life together as a church family. We have an opportunity right now to strengthen the ministries we currently have, or reinvent them so that they really meet the needs of our congregation and can be adapted for this new reality and these new avenues of grace. And, perhaps drop some ministries and create something brand new that truly reflects the life and future of our beautiful church family, that helps us truly create a compassionate community led and transformed by the Spirit.
Next week I look forward to coming together with you and sharing with you what happened at Church Council, and offering invitations into being part of this work that allows to truly deepen worship, and reform connections, and create new ways to be connected and in relationship with one another. Though our church building is beloved, the Spirit is reminding us quite strongly in this time, that we are the church even if we can’t come together in our building. The church IS the people of God at work in the world, filled with the Spirit. So I hope that you will join me and the staff and the leaders of the church in the work that the Spirit has for us this day. The Spirit is moving in the church. She is connecting us across new avenues of grace. Let us be in prayer and discernment together, and be in action to see God’s love grow in the world.