Conference Statement on Lifting Meeting Restrictions

May 15, 2020COVID-19, News

The FMCSC Superintendent Team: Fraser Venter, Glen Prior, and Charles Latchison

We never cease to pray for you all and the grace of his Spirit within you.

Another week has brought new updates from the Governor of California addressing safe procedures for lifting Coronavirus related restrictions. The focus of this week’s announcement was centered on allowing essential retail and manufacturing businesses to begin to return to work but left existing restrictions for group gatherings in place and unchanged.

While we all continue in prayer that there will be a lifting soon that will allow us to gather our people together in worship and celebration, now is not the time.

Our Freedom to Be The Church

This past week, we received a list of nineteen churches from across the country that ignored the restrictions on gathering for things like choir practice, an anniversary party, small groups, and small services. As a result, hundreds are sick, several are dead, and untold numbers exposed and potentially infected. This is not a matter of fear but wisdom and love. Let us agree on this: we are a people of love and wisdom.

As you begin your planning to reopen programs and services in the future, keeping in step with both the Governor and County Health guidelines, we recommend that you seriously consider the impact any and all gatherings will have on those we serve. We strongly discourage any church from participating in either the movement targeting May 31st as a day to regather in defiance of public orders or joining the petition circulating asking churches to add support to the lawsuit framed as a matter of religious liberty. We believe both of these initiatives are incongruent with the values and mission of the Free Methodist Church.

When it comes to the consideration of whether the church is an essential service to our communities, let our actions speak on our behalf. A church that serves by feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, caring for the stranger or immigrant, or providing clothing and other essentials (Matthew 25:31-46) or partners with those that do is absolutely essential. In fact, according to the Essential Workforce guidelines, these activities are all encouraged and allowed. The state’s website asks for people to help their communities by volunteering in exactly these ways. Faith-based groups that engage in community support are still allowed to engage in support activities as outlined in this guidance:

  • Workers performing services in support of the elderly and disabled populations who coordinate a variety of services, including health care appointments and activities of daily living.
  • Workers who provide support to vulnerable populations to ensure their health and well-being including family care providers.
  • Workers who support food, shelter, and social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals, such as those residing in shelters.

The only thing being restricted for churches at this time is the public gathering for worship services, which is a decision based on the best intent to keep people safe. This is not an attack on churches or religion but the best efforts of public authorities to identify activities that have the potential to rapidly infect large numbers of people. Concert venues, community centers, playgrounds, theme parks, and religious gatherings of all faiths are asked to temporarily suspend operations for the good of our communities. We ask that you continue to prioritize the health and safety of your people, church staff, and volunteers.

Guidance for Reopening

It’s important to recognize that, with this latest announcement from the Governor, we have something to be thankful for and some important, new clarity to help us plan. We should not overlook the critical importance of the progress made thus far that allows many of our people return to work, which will help them to provide for their families – Thank the Lord for Work! With this step the Governor issued a brief list of expectations for employers (which will include churches when the time comes) on how to prepare the workplace for safe operation. These will be helpful for us as we think about how to prepare for the future in making changes to our workspaces, gathering proper cleaning supplies, and consider what jobs are essential at the workplace and which ones can still be accomplished remotely. A copy of the guidelines can be found here.

It’s essential that you and your ministry team begin reviewing these guidelines now so that you are prepared when the time comes to open your doors.

There is no doubt that gathering together in worship is central to our life together in Christ and should be held in high regard. We are encouraging all churches to do the thoughtful work of pre-planning to reopen by identifying how your church will rightly respond at each stage of lifted restrictions. The current, state-wide plan is to ease into group gatherings, and your plan will be unique to your group. Establishing and communicating a tiered approach will help your people know what to expect and what to do when the time comes. In the meantime, don’t grow weary of doing good and know that we are praying for all our leaders to have the stamina and strength to go the distance.

We recognize that the levels of fatigue and frustration are rising and as leaders you are facing the tension of how to manage the call to action and the need for patience. There is no simple answer to this reality, but we would encourage you to remain focused on the gospel call at this moment. Resist the temptation to join a political debate, to rally for rights, or to appease the demands of the people. Rather, proclaim the peace of the gospel in troubled times and, as far as it depends on you, ‘Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification’ (Romans 14:19), and, ‘always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love’ (Ephesians 4:2).

May the Lord bless you in all your work.