Guidelines on Reopening

Rick Summy, Senior Pastor

While I am eager to gather in-person again, as we all are, I am reminded of St. Paul’s warning in First Corinthians. In his letter he warned against our liberty becoming a stumbling block to others. He knew that there was nothing wrong with eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols, since idols have no power, but he was concerned for those who were offended by it. He concluded that “if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so I may not cause one of them to fall.”

How much more is his advice apt in the midst of a pandemic that can cause severe illness and death? When it is likely to cause danger to others, we Christians sacrifice what we want for their sake.

We’ve been working hard to blend the data available with our call to love our neighbors throughout this pandemic. We consult with public health officials, pay attention to CDC and MN Department of Health recommendations and guidelines, and converse with sister churches, especially ELCA congregations that are similar to us.

As a result, our preschool has been operating because the state approved its thorough COVID plan and deemed that its operation posed a high benefit to the children and families will posing a low risk. Our food shelf is operating because it provides for our neighbors in need of life’s necessities.

As we’ve considered further in-person ministry, the response of public health officials to our latest round of questions demonstrates that they are very concerned about large gatherings indoors, including in churches, particularly in light of the new, more transmissible variants of the virus. Their advice is to be “very cautious.” State guidelines still strongly recommend that churches meet only virtually.

At least two other things are also true, both potentially good news.

  1. Children are getting back to school. Officials have made these decisions because of student need and low risk of serious illness, the ability to keep them in relatively small pods of interaction, and because educators are being vaccinated. Even so, health officials cautioned us about “increasing interactions” for children and youth.
  2. Case numbers are dropping in MN and Dakota County. If this case number continues to drop (it was 45 on January 28), and the positivity rate dips below 5%, we will begin to open back up again as we did last October. The chart below details what we will do when.

It is important to balance spiritual and physical risk. Being the body of Christ is made more difficult when we are apart, which is why we have offered many ways to worship, learn, connect, and care in different ways during the pandemic. Still, we know it’s not the same as being together. At the moment, the physical danger outweighs the spiritual risk. Perhaps that balance will shift soon. Let’s hope!

While it is true that some churches are gathering in person now, it is also true that churches and funerals have been places of COVID-19 spread. Let’s remember that we would be limited in what we could do in worship. There would no congregational participation or response allowed. No singing. No spoken confession or profession of faith. No choirs or worship band. There would be no gatherings before or after. There would be no food or drink. There would be required masking and social distancing, of course. It wouldn’t be the same as before, but we could hear God’s Word read and proclaimed in real time. We could share communion in a different but safe way. We could pray together and look one another in the eye. We would still be apart but certainly would feel closer together.

So while we’re eager to gather again, we’ll continue to use the data available to ensure we prioritize caring for our congregation and community. I’m as antsy as you are. This has gone on too long and our patience is threadbare. But above all we need to remember this: God is with us across time and space even when we can’t be together. How much more will we value being together (something we had come to take for granted) when we can? Let’s pray that we can gather safely soon. 

We will continue to seek wise counsel, to discern our best options, and to keep you updated.