We're coming into the home stretch here of Spring - the month of May is traditionally when the weather begins to take a turn toward summer, there are a number of events, Pentecost, Mothers Day, and the GCE all fall in this month. This weekend was the General Conference of Elders weekend, and Shannon and I had planned on being back in Cincinnati for the meetings starting Wednesday.
We had international meetings scheduled for Thursday and Friday, with the remainder of the schedule through Saturday, Sunday and Monday set for standard GCE meetings.
Obviously - our plans changed.
As with many of you, over the past couple of months, a number of things have changed, and going forward--into summer and fall--a number of other things will certainly change too.
This year's GCE was focused on the first 25 years of the United Church of God, and where we are going in the future. Focusing on where we've been, with a firm look into the future 5, 10, or 25 years into the future and consider the shifts that may be necessary to effectively preach the gospel and prepare a people.
Interestingly - this was not something that I would have predicted a month or more ago, but it has been interesting to see how something like this has brought the United States to its knees. Here in Oregon we have moved past the peak, and are on the decline now, but the number of diagnosed cases have been rising the past three days. The Governor said today that we may start to see some rural Oregon counties begin reopening sometime during the middle of this month. She also said, that we would likely experience physical distancing requirements until there is a vaccine or a treatment available for the disease.
The U.S. and some of the Canadian pastors met this past Tuesday in order to discuss the process for beginning to reopen our local services. We were provided a document that outlined a number of considerations that we would need to think through before we made the decision to return to in-person services.
Some of those considerations were
Federal, State, and Local regulations:
We were instructed to ensure that we met whatever social distancing, mask, glove requirements were in place. Based on current restrictions in Oregon, even in to Phase 3 of reopen - families can be seated together, but would need to be seated 6 feet from anyone who is not a part of their household. There could be mask or glove requirements put into place during the reopening phase as well - we're just not certain yet what that looks like.
Changes in The Way We Interact:
As a result of the social distancing requirements- many of the methods of how we have interacted at services in the past would potentially have to shift. Handshakes, Hugs, children playing together. Snacks and fellowship, all have the need to be examined, considering the restrictions in place and shifting as needed. It was suggested by home office to suspend snacks, as well as Sabbath School classes, and consider restricting the time people are allowed in the building and the time they can leave to a significantly shorter time frame to reduce the chances of transmission.
Increased Sanitation Procedures:
All common surfaces that would be touched by numerous people would need to be sanitized/cleaned regularly. That would include before services, during services to some degree, and after services.
Much of this is a moot point in a way until we reach a point where the State of Oregon enables places of worship to reopen. At this time, we have been informed that Salem-Keizer facilities are not available through June 27th, and Eugene facilities at Gilham Elementary until June 21st.
That doesn't preclude us from using another facility if the Governor loosens restrictions to the point we can meet for services, but the above restrictions will likely be in place.
When we were discussing the shifts affecting the United Church of God in the next 25 years, we certainly didn't anticipate this. But, as I'm learning to say with this whole situation, "It is what it is." We will do what we can to make the best of it with whatever circumstances we are provided.
These shifts and changes will be quite onerous, and put a very heavy burden on our setup crews. We would need additional help on those crews to be able to enable us to return to services with these restrictions in place. They would likely shift our fellowship, and the ways we have interacted to where it just won't feel the same, at first. But, ever since the beginning when God began to call people to His way of life, during the Patriarchal period, and then onto the period of the Israelites, and then into the New Testament on to today - the Church has always been the people who are in it. The Ecclesia, those whom God has called out and who make up the Body of Christ. It is these people who will determine how these shifts play out.
It is our own attitudes and willingness to roll with the punches, particularly when so much is out of our control that will determine how these shifts go.
The Boise congregation returns to services next Sabbath. Their state has reopened, and places of worship are in the first phase of opening. Here in Oregon, we are not. You will be hearing periodically too in the next few weeks of other states and congregations that have returned to in-person services. We are monitoring the situation here on the ground in Oregon, discussing these things with local leadership, and developing plans for when it is our time to do so as well. I know we are all looking forward to getting back together again.
Change is inevitable. When we do return to services, it will feel different, because it will be different. I hope it isn't the case, but we may never fully return to 'normal' again. We may have a future that is quite different - depending on whether this virus goes away, or returns in the fall with a vengeance, we might see additional lockdowns, restrictions, etc.. again, it all remains to be seen.
But our attitude toward it is important.
Thank you so much to those of you who continue to reach out to your fellow brethren, who are sending cards and letters, making phone calls to check-in on people, and seeing whether they're ok. For being willing to help out as needed -- picking up groceries, and other essentials for those who are in the high risk category. I truly appreciate you all.
I hope you have a wonderful Sabbath - tomorrow's service will be webcasted at 11:30, and is can be found at http:www.ucg.org/webcast. Have a wonderful Sabbath - I will email out local announcements tomorrow afternoon.