Posted 5/9/20 at 9:00am; revised 5/9/20 at 3:30pm. Written by David Washburn.
As churches are seeking to make safe, wise decisions about when and how to re-gather in person, BGAV has received a lot of questions. We are sharing with our pastors and church leaders some basic information and things to consider as each church weighs its options.
The Governor of Virginia has said we will likely move into Phase One on Friday, May 15, and he stated on Friday, May 8, that faith communities could meet inside at 50% capacity only if they are able to do so in a way that follows the Phase One mandatory requirements specified on their website (click here to read those). Strict social distancing limitations are still in place, for example, as are requirements regarding signage and facility/surface cleaning and disinfection. A list of best practices is also available on that same web page.
As I have been in conversations across the various regions of the Commonwealth, I have learned a very important thing: every church is having its own, unique COVID-19 experience. There are varying degrees of congregational connectedness, worship experiences, anxiety, engagement, struggle, and creativity. We pastors tend to compare ourselves to one another, and I imagine this tendency has increased during COVID-19. My hope is that we’ll learn from and encourage each another instead of trying to keep up with or surpass our brothers and sisters down the road. I also hope you’ll encourage this same perspective among the leadership in your church.
I want you to know that the witness of your church has not been damaged because you’re not gathered together inside your building. You have adapted and found ways to care for and to connect with your congregation and community. For centuries, our theology has told us that the church is not the building; it is those who profess faith in Jesus Christ and claim him as Lord and Savior. The Great Commission said go, and you’re still going in your own unique way. So please don’t let anyone tell you the witness of the Church has been damaged because you’re not inside your building.
When it comes to the church re–gathering, the most important thing to remember is this is not about how soon you re–gather, it’s about how safely you re-gather. The last thing you want to do is re–gather, realize you weren’t properly prepared, and then have to take another hiatus. This is too important to the safety of your congregation and community to rush in fool-heartedly and unprepared. It’s not about how soon you re-gather, it’s about how safely you re-gather.
In order to assist you in thinking through what’s next, I’ve compiled some thoughts and ideas about starting the re-gathering process. Please understand this is not an exhaustive or perfected list; it is a combination of ideas, thoughts, and resources from a variety of people—some of whom are pastors in Virginia churches and some of whom are thought leaders from across the nation. I don’t claim this as original material, but it’s a good mix of my thoughts with the insight of others. This information is now on the BGAV website with other helpful COVID-19 resources, and we will update it regularly as we receive further guidance from our state and local officials in the future.
David Washburn is BGAV Treasurer and previously served as Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church of Waynesboro, VA, and Chestnut Grove Baptist Church in Earlysville, VA.