by Rev. Stewart Smith, General Presbyter
Weariness from the pandemic is wearing on all of us. The deadly coronavirus that we first heard about at the beginning of 2020 is increasing dramatically in our state and our nation as we approach the colder months of winter which will limit our outdoor activity. At a recent news conference (November 10), the governor of our state reported a rise in cases coming from communities of faith and announced new guidelines for services of worship. Those guidelines are ones that our congregations that have been having in-person worship have already been practicing. The guidelines require 6 feet of distancing and require wearing masks even for congregational singing. Health officials stated “unmasked congregational singing is the primary source of outbreaks at churches, even while members are socially distanced.”
After members of the Coordinating Team discussed the elevated rise in cases at its recent meeting on November 12, Carol Clark reminded me of Paul’s words to the Galatians: “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially those of the family of faith.” (Galatians 6:9-10)
We continue to be in a very difficult position as leaders in the church, for making decisions for the good of all in the family of faith. Paul makes an important distinction in his choice of words. He doesn’t say let us work for the good of me, or a certain group of likeminded people, but he says let us work for the good of all. We are being asked to make sacrifices for the good of all, especially those who are vulnerable by age, health conditions, or compromised immune systems.
The leadership of the presbytery (paid staff and elected staff) wants to commend your resiliency and faithfulness during this challenging year. We want to encourage and thank our pastors, CREs, church leaders and staff members for their tireless work in figuring out new ways to worship and provide pastoral care during this most difficult time. They are in a very tough position as they balance the need and desire people have for community and fellowship against the need to keep people safe for the “good of all”. We know and understand of the desire to be together safely, and ask that you be extra vigilant and take extra care and caution as you consider worship services and gatherings during Advent and Christmas in light of the increase in cases and the colder weather. We offer ourselves to your sessions to assist in conversations if you are at an impasse in making decisions about in-person gatherings. We encourage you to “not grow weary in doing what is right”. And we certainly understand that “what is right” will vary from congregation to congregation.
As some of you know, I utilize the service of a professional coach from the Presbyterian Coaching Network. She begins our sessions with a question, “What are you thankful for today?” It has reminded me that even in the midst of very difficult situations, I always have so much to be thankful for and I need to name it. Even though our celebrations of Thanksgiving will be very different this year due to the pandemic, I remind you that we have so much to be thankful for. And I hope that you will be able to name those things. I am especially grateful for this presbytery and all who have worked together to navigate this difficult time of being the church in the midst of a pandemic.
Our paid and elected leadership wishes you all a very blessed and happy Thanksgiving and we continue to be thankful to be partnered with you in ministry in this time and place.