Dear Members and Friends of Hope Lutheran Church,
I pray for God’s peace and comfort to be in your heart, in these unsettled days. The good Lord promises to be with us in every circumstance, and his loving, strong hand ultimately governs our world and our lives. As we continue to react to the news around us related to the pandemic, I encourage you to trust in the Lord in all things, and to be confident in his never-fading love for you.
Like many in our state, I was eagerly anticipating the governor’s announcement earlier this week of a transition to Phase 2, in North Carolina’s three-phase re-opening plan. Previously, we had been informed that Phase 2 would allow indoor mass gathering limits to be increased, and for churches to re-open with reduced capacity and social distancing. We have been working hard here at Hope to prepare for such a re-opening, and were ready.
When the governor announced on Wednesday a modified, more cautious version of Phase 2, he explained the rationale. Based on the mixed range of statistical benchmarks guiding the three-phased re-opening plan, state officials are taking a more measured, deliberate approach. While I understand the modified approach and appreciate the rationale, I was disappointed. Specifically, Wednesday’s executive order continues to limit indoor mass gatherings to ten or less people, except for specific types of establishments.
Churches, however, are exempt from the restrictions of the executive order, due to a federal judge’s temporary restraining order granted late last week in response to a lawsuit brought by a group of North Carolina churches. A further hearing on this lawsuit is scheduled for May 29. For the time being, it seems that churches can legally make their own decisions regarding capacity for indoor worship services, as long as social distancing measures are followed. The governor’s executive order on Wednesday, while stating that churches are exempt, strongly urges churches to continue to follow mass gathering limits.
When it comes to deciding what to do here at Hope, we find ourselves in a rather peculiar position. We can decide to re-open in-person worship services immediately, based on the legalities of a federal judge’s temporary restraining order. Or we can decide to wait to re-open, based on the public health policies, recent statistical data, and recommendations of the governor and state health officials.
Pastor Lew and I have been prayerfully considering these options. We have wrestled with the various impacts of these choices upon the individuals and families of our congregation. We are aching to return to public worship, and to gather with you again in the sanctuary. We are, at the same time, mindful of the church’s responsibility to do what we can to stop the spread of the highly-contagious COVID-19 virus, to minimize risks where we can, and to protect the health and well-being of church and community members.
It pains me to say this, but the recommendation that we presented to Hope’s Ministry Leadership Team, and to which the Ministry Leadership Team has agreed, is that we continue to follow the state’s guidance. A longer suspension of worship services is the last thing any of us want, but is what we feel is the responsible, appropriate decision. Our hope is to re-open the sanctuary for in-person worship services on June 28, and we will keep you informed of schedules, capacity limits, and any further developments.
In the meantime, we are going to be offering brief, ten-person confession/communion services at Hope, beginning on June 1, for those who wish to come in. Sign-up details and other information will be shared early next week. In addition, our weekly on-line, virtual worship services will be available each weekend on Hope’s website (www.hopelutheranwf.org/worship-resources).
While I don’t expect every one of you to agree with these difficult, challenging decisions in every respect, I trust you will understand that everyone involved in the decisions is trying their best, in exceedingly challenging circumstances, to do what is best for the congregation as a whole. We humbly pray for God’s blessings on these decisions, and ask you to do the same. As a church, let’s stay strongly united, consistently focused on our mission, and unswervingly governed by Christian compassion as we move forward in the weeks ahead. These have always been Hope’s hallmarks, and let’s all faithfully make sure they remain.
I continue to look forward eagerly to seeing you soon!
Yours in Christ Jesus,
Pastor Wayne Puls