Morning Worship at Pearl PCA Resuming May 31st
This has been a strange season.
Between March 15th and today (as I write this it is May 16th) has easily been the strangest time I could have ever imagined when I was in seminary preparing for the ministry. We have had no physical worship services for over two months. Even if we had experienced a natural disaster I could still imagine ways that we could gather to worship. But what do we do if we ourselves are a potential danger to the most vulnerable among us? That question has weighed upon us as a session during this season. It has been the longest two months, certainly of my own life so far. I feel confident and with a clear conscience that we have done all that we can to lawfully preserve the lives of ourselves and others, as the sixth commandment requires of us. This time has taught us all to be cautious around others and to be careful how we compose ourselves around others.
At the same time, there is a reality we must all come to terms with: we are not just organisms that need food, water, and sunlight. We are more than creatures that feel good if we have good things – we are spiritual beings – people who were not meant to spend our lives in total isolation. We all have needed the fellowship of the saints, the worship of God, and the in-person direct ministry of the Word of God.
We as a session of Pearl Presbyterian Church met on Saturday, May 16th and came to the determination that we should resume physical morning worship services. The following are a few questions that may come to your mind in light of this announcement:
When Will Services Resume?
Morning worship service is scheduled to resume on Sunday, May 31st at 11am. We encourage members to arrive close to worship time. Please do not come too early. There will be no coffee or fellowship time, and the youth wing of the church will be closed off.
We will stop recording the morning services in advance or distributing family worship guides. Instead, we will begin to Live Stream our worship services at 11am each Sunday from our church Facebook page. The audio of the sermon will be posted, as always, after the service. For those who do not come to the service this will hopefully be a great blessing and an encouragement not to take unwanted risks by venturing out when they should be staying home.
We will continue to provide an evening service online each Sunday evening via our church YouTube page. We will also continue to post Levi’s Sunday School lesson and the Wednesday night Bible Study. In the coming weeks and months the session will consider resuming other aspects of church life, but at this point the only truly essential, non-optional part of church life (Sunday Worship) will be restored.
Who Should Come?
Only those who are healthy and comfortable with coming to a physical gathered worship service should attend the in-person service. We ask that you stay home if you or a loved one have symptoms in keeping with COVID-19 such as fever, cough, or if you have had contact with another person who has had such symptoms.
In particular we are encouraging congregants and visitors who are immunocompromised to worship along with us live from home. We also ask others who are in such higher risk groups (such as those 65 and older or have other mitigating conditions, according to the CDC) to consider worshiping from home.
Anybody who chooses not to come because of these concerns is not in rebellion against the Lord; it is legitimate for God’s people to take reasonable precautions. Freedom of conscience is very important in situations like this. As people who know grace and charity from God, we know better than to judge one another in such matters as whether to worship in person or from home now.
What is Expected Of Worshipers?
We expect worshipers to practice social distancing. This means keeping a six foot distance between households. It means washing hands. It means not hugging or shaking hands.
We strongly encourage all worshipers to please wear masks. If you have one from home you can bring it, but we will also provide them if you need one. The church officers will be leading in this regard. Pastor Parker will remove his mask to lead worship, but when greeting he will also be wearing a mask.
Please remember: facemasks are not about the one wearing the mask; they are not to protect the wearer. They are to make it harder for the virus to spread from the wearer who may have the virus without showing symptoms. You can have the virus and not know it; and so the mask is for others, not for you.
Let me be blunt for a moment: we as a session know that there are people in the high risk group or older age who will probably still come, even against our advice. Social distancing and mask wearing are an added precaution to protect such members the best that we know how without barring them from attending. We do encourage the congregation also, however, not to divide or judge one another when it comes to the issue of masks.
Singing will happen during worship, but we ask that if you choose not to wear a mask, please do not sing. Singing produces an aerosol cloud of particles larger than regular speech, and possibly even larger than coughing (https://www.atsjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1164/arrd.19188.8.131.527). We also breathe and inhale more deeply when we sing, thus potentially inhaling more aerosolized particles from others.
The best evidence we have is that if we must sing then wearing masks will at least mitigate some of the risk and reduce transmission (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/340603522_Face_Masks_Against_COVID-19_An_Evidence_Review). Congregants will not be forced to wear masks, but we request that out of charity and love for the vulnerable that if you make that choice not to wear a mask that as a consequence you also choose not to sing. Remember that Paul says that “[Love] does not insist on its own way” but instead love “serves one another” (1 Cor. 13:5; Gal. 5:13-14).
What Will Church Be Like?
Church will not be what we think of as normal. In fact, we should set your expectations: it may feel weird or even unpleasant to be surrounded by masks, to be far apart, and to not have many of the regular parts of worship as a church.
We are encouraging people to enter the sanctuary and find their seats quickly.
There will be no hymnals or pew Bibles in the seats to be shared among congregants. Instead, the lyrics to songs will be on the screen.
We will be placing bulletins in the pews in the seats where we are encouraging people to sit. We have thoughtfully laid out the sanctuary so that people can have a good distance between families.
No Nursery will be provided, though a parent with a fussy child is welcome to personally take their child out of the sanctuary if things become challenging.
Offering will be done differently than we are used to. At the end of the service, right before the benediction we will give the offertory text and prayer, then we will be dismissed with the benediction. As congregants leave the sanctuary they will be able to leave their offering in the tray near the exits.
For the time being we will not be observing the Lord’s Supper. This is a season of fasting, not feasting; mourning, not celebrating. There is coming a day when we will not need to encourage older members to stay home, but until we can stop asking a significant part of the church to keep their distance we believe it would not be right to feast. Instead, we pray and weep and yearn for healing and deliverance from this season.
When Will Things Be Like Normal?
There will come a day when the nursery is open and spilling over with children. There is coming a day when we won’t wear masks to sing. There will come a day when we share fellowship meals together again with faces uncovered. I hope that we can resume these things by early Fall, but that’s just a personal hope for the time being.
I am confident that the day of normalcy is coming, but only God knows when that will be. We as a session are hesitant to put a date on it. How could we make such a guess? Instead, we leave such questions in the wise, good, sovereign hand our Father who loves us and promises that for believers he always causes every event in this life to “work together for good” (Rom. 8:28). The good that God has for us is spiritual good, and our Father has it in droves. Even as we speak he is pouring his goodness out on us, if we would only open our eyes to see it.