More on “When Can We Come Back to Church?”

Probably a day doesn’t pass without at least one person asking, “When are we going to have church again?” I get it. In this time of sheltering in place, people are anxious – and I use that word advisedly, since it means something more like “in a state of anxiety” and less like “in a state of anticipation and readiness.” In our case, I think it’s likely both: we are anxious because of uncertainty, and we are wanting to return to something closer to what we know as “normal.”

I can’t give you a date yet for when we will open the building. If we were a regular business, I might be tempted to blow smoke and give you an answer you want to hear, but because we are a church of Jesus Christ sitting at the foot of his cross, I must tell you plainly: We are in for a long haul. The re-opening of the church building is going to move in stages or phases. I’ll say more about that in a minute, but rest assured that there is a team of people keeping the CORE Council advised on ongoing discussion about making this work.

Let me give you the extreme answer first, and then I’ll scale things back into more manageable pieces.
So, we will not meet in the “normal” way until there is a vaccine that is widely available and/or there are medical interventions/therapies for people suffering from COVID-19 that are significantly effective. So that’s the longest-term answer I can give, and based on current projections, it may be late 2021 before those things are in place. A harsh truth, but we are about truth, not about pleasing answers.

But don’t lose heart! Between now and then, we will work in phases. Phase 1 is where we currently stand: strict physical distancing. For us that looks like entry to the church building only by appointment with appropriate masking and social distancing kept. It also looks like online-only worship.

Phase 2 is going to be a staged re-opening. This will still include limited access to the building for most people. It will probably be a long stage, since we will be anticipating during this time:
* A “flattening of the curve” (declining numbers of new cases for 2 weeks in a row)
* Increased accessibility to testing and diagnoses at the least for people who are experiencing      symptoms, plus those people’s close contacts
* More availability of PPE for first responders and healthcare workers
* Better contact tracing for all new cases

During this phase, we are all going to need to show a lot of grace and love and patience toward one another, because we will likely have to do a lot of back-and-forth, now-we’re-open-now-we’re-not maneuvering. And during this phase, access to the building will be limited to people 65 and under and without underlying health conditions that could make them vulnerable. Even so, people with access will be required to sign a waiver of liability stating that the congregation (a legal entity) will not be held responsible yadda yadda. You’ll get a copy of this at some point.

When we do open the building during phase 2, when waivers are signed, numbers of people allowed in will still be limited; masks will be required at all times; there will be no physical contact including passing of the peace; communal objects including the baptismal font, the offering plate for passing, the elements of Holy Communion will not be available; we will have no fellowship time, no in-person meetings or Bible studies, no in-person choir rehearsals; no choir performances (and very limited musical performances); no communal coffee available, and restroom access will be extremely limited to emergency use only.

And advanced/adaptive version of Phase 2 might include outdoor worship gatherings with masking and proper distances kept, and this might allow us to have some singing. Oklahoma weather will need to cooperate with us for a change in order for this to be feasible, though. In terms of Communion, we will recommend that you BYOE (Bring Your Own Elements). This is similar to what we’re doing online right now. It’s not sacramentally and theologically ideal, since the symbolism of a single bread and a single cup are very important, and yet we must adapt for the sake of health and safety. (Incidentally, intinction, which is less sanitary even than drinking from a common cup, will probably go away permanently, even as we enter Phase 3 and beyond.)

In order to move into Phase 3 (or “new normal” phase)  we will need to increase sanitation and hygiene measures in the building. We will continue to offer online worship and other online meetings for members and friends who are unable for any reason to be physically present with us. In phase 3 itself, we will be able to relax requirements on physical distancing and use of masks in most or all places.

So, there is the plan. We do have one, and we will work the plan. The timeline, as I said, isn’t ours to set. The virus is sort of “in charge” here, as is the behavior of the public insofar as it affects the way the virus spreads or doesn’t. Please know that our entire approach is based first on our love for all of you and our desire to keep you as safe as possible while we seek to return to the precious gathering of the saints in something like the way to which we have grown accustomed. It is a privilege and a joy to meet face-to-face, and if there is a silver lining in all of this (I believe there are several), it is that we are gaining clarity on how important public worship and Christian fellowship truly are in our lives.

Finally, I want to thank all of you for caring and continuing to care about what happens to this community. You really are a special People, First Lutheran. Your patience and care for one another are an example for the world of Christ’s love for one another, even as he has loved us. Keep fighting the good fight and running the race. Feed your spirits with THE Spirit through prayer, devotion, work for the sake of your neighbor. Please continue to support the work of the congregation with your offerings. It has been inspirational how faithful you all have been in that regard during this time. Be filled with blessing.

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you, wherever he may send you.
May he guide you through the wilderness, protect you through the storm.
May he bring you home rejoicing at the wonders he has shown you.
May he bring you home rejoicing once again into our doors.
(And may he do it sooner rather than later!)

Amen.

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Rob Martin

Morning Mediation & Movement 30 April 2020

Falun Gong Exercise 4

This morning we heard a bit from Fr. Richard Rohr concerning “original goodness” from his book The Universal Christ. Original goodness, aka “original blessing,” “original innocence,” original “unwoundedness” has to do with the entirety of creation bearing the thumbprint of the Maker. Everything is created in the Divine Image. We just forget about it, and pretty soon, we stop believing it. I think this is why there is so much self-medication in the world: We’ve forgotten that WE are bearers of that imago Dei, and we self-medicate in order to hide the pain of the thing we’ve lost. Maybe we use drugs or alcohol or food or that great, American form of Mammon — “busyness” or “productivity” — to do our hiding. But we do it, and it takes an un-blocking to reclaim that.

Today we learned the Falun Gong exercise #4. This one is called “Cosmic Orbit” and what it relates to in some ways, is the recognition that we are in the cosmos and the cosmos is in us. We are inseparable from the creation. But that’s another thing we forget. We isolate ourselves from the creation, and we isolate ourselves from the Creator. It’s sad and painful. But the good news is that this separation is illusory, and we can reclaim it. That’s part of the reason we do the exercises. We need to get back into our bodies, to know (as I borrowed it from Cynthia Bourgeault in some other post somewhere) “where our feet are.” Because we are embodied, created beings, made to belong in the context in which the Creator placed us. We belong! We are children of God! We need to feel our bodies, as well as our emotions, as well as our thoughts. To be human is to exist in that trinitarian mode: body, mind, spirit.

So we practice. If you don’t practice Falun Gong or Qigong or T’ai chi, it doesn’t matter. This is just something that I like and am happy to share with you. Find your own way, if this doesn’t float your boat. But remember, we all belong, and all of us — each part — belongs. It’s wholeness, integration, Shalom.

Anyway, I hope you have enjoyed this as much as I have. Feel free to share your experiences with what we’ve done here as well as the things YOU do that remind you of original blessing and the presence and image of God in all things. Looking forward to your thoughts!

Worship w/ Eucharist 29 April

Couple of sermon notes:

A smattering of anti-sacrificial texts
1 Sam 15:22
Ps 40:6
Ps 51:16
Hos 6:6 (also referenced in Matt 9:13 and 12:7)
Jer 7:22
There are LOTS more, as this is a whole field of study in and of itself. If you ever want resources, I’ll point you in the direction of some great ones.

“charcoal fire” mentioned in John 18:18 (belongs to the scene involving Peters three-fold denial of Jesus) and again in John 21:9 (belongs to the scene of Jesus’ three-fold forgiveness of Peter and his commissioning).

Jesus does not demand Peter to splatter blood on an altar. He demands no sacrifice to God for forgiveness of sins. Instead, he sacrificed himself to human betrayal and brutality, and in doing so, exposed it for its futility. God never demanded that, but humans did and attributed it to God. What God desires is not sacrifice, but mercy. Here Jesus enacts that mercy for Peter. Peter’s “sacrifice” will be to feed Jesus’ sheep and to tend his flock — not to kill them and offer them to God.

When Can We Meet Again?!

Greetings, friends! Lots of people have been calling and getting hold of us asking: “When will we have church again?!” I get it. “Where two or three are gathered…” and “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity” seem to almost smack us across the face when we can’t meet in person.

Now, let me step back a minute first and say that we are church when we are gathered physically, and we are church when we are scattered. We are church when we meet in person, and we are church when we meet online or watch videos after the fact. “Church” is nothing more than recognizing our unity, not in ideology, not in preferred worship style or denominational affiliation, or any external thing like that, but rather “church” is the assembly of God, called by the Holy Spirit, being of the same mind as Christ.

Nevertheless, apart from the COVID-19 thing and the dangers that lie therein, there will SOME DAY be nothing precluding us from meeting face-to-face. So, the original question is valid. When ARE we gonna be able to “have church” again?!

Tough question, but here’s a stab at answering it as best I can for now. There are plans taking shape. I know the Governor has given us the official “okie doke,” but leadership here still feels that it would be better to take our cues from scientists than from politicians, no particular offense intended to Gov. Stitt. And in any case, things will certainly look different once the immediate crisis is over.

Some of the things we have to consider include, but are by no means limited to:
* Will we have to wear masks, at least initially?
* How close will we be able to sit next to one another?
* How will we keep common surfaces sufficiently cleaned/sanitized?
* What about the restrooms?
* What about the baptismal font?
* What about Communion?
* What about choir, Bible study, rehearsals, etc., etc., ad infinitum?
* What about altar flowers?
* What about Assisting Ministers?

The list keeps growing. But the good news? We’re thinking about these things.

I was speaking to Catherine after worship last Sunday, and we had considered a “soft opening,” which would be “by invitation only” – just to intentionally limit the number of people here and thereby limit the risk of exposure. This may happen, and it may happen as soon as Pentecost. We are considering having me to preside and lead over worship, Catherine to lead the liturgy, a couple of willing voices from the choir (properly distanced from one another), and some sort of alternative version of Holy Communion, though what that will look like, we can’t yet say. All of this would be filmed and streamed live via Facebook then posted here on this page, as we’ve been doing. In fact, even when we open more broadly, chances are we’ll be seriously considering continuing to broadcast live – though that raises the question of who will run the camera and work sound, and whether we even have the proper equipment for making sure the sound and picture are properly clear and synched and all that jazz. It’s complicated.

So, the short answer to the original question is: We don’t know. But we’re thinking about it, and trying to plan it. I wish I could give you a better answer right now, but I can’t. In the meantime, thank you for continuing to meet with us. Thank you for continuing to support us financially. Thank you for your comments and likes and loves and laughter emojis, and for all the many ways that you continue to make this a worthwhile thing to do. The best way to love our neighbors right now is still to be separate physically, but we ARE all of the same mind as Christ, and we persevere in our love of God and one another.

Keep watching for updates, and remain open to the presence of God, even now, even here on the interwebs.

Peace,

Pr. Rob