After two months of being closed, due to the Coronavirus, our church is reopening. Here is why:
1. The Trump administration guidelines for “Opening Up America Again” outline three phases for states to gradually ease their lockdowns. Phase 1 set the target date of May 1 to systematically reopen the nation, but some states may be able to reopen earlier. Phase 1 includes churches. It’s now the middle of May and time for us to begin our plans to reopen.
2. In addition to President Trump’s original guidelines, as of May 22nd he has deemed houses of worship, including churches, synagogues, and mosques as “essential.” We didn’t need permission before, but in light of this announcement we have the official “go ahead” from our president.
3. State executive orders have imposed restrictions that essentially command all churches (no matter the denomination or form of worship) how to worship – online versus in-person religious services, with approving parking lot services. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from prescribing the form or manner of worship. If people can be safe at a big-box store, with hundreds of people gathering there to pick up home improvement items, then the church can also reopen safely.
4. The Greek word for church is “ekklesia,” which means “assembly.” The word “synagogue” is also derived from the Greek word, “sunagoge,” meaning “an assembly of people” or a “place of meeting.” It’s who we are as a church, we are an assembly of people.
Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
5. The original plan for the stay-at-home order was to “flatten the curve.” This was a great strategy that we all supported in the context of a rapidly growing unknown virus. However, data is showing that the virus is less deadly than originally feared and primarily harmful only to a specific, identifiable portion of the population.
6. We know that the risk is out there. People make choices every day that increase their risk of dying. Your chances of dying while driving a car is real. We don’t ban cars. Hundreds of children drown in pools each year. We don’t ban pools. Five thousand Americans choke and die on solid food every year. We don’t ban solid food. The truth is, we have accepted that there are trade-offs between the risk of death and quality of life, and we make them every day.
7. The virus shutdown is saving lives but also hurting lives. Depression, anxiety, suicide, obesity, and all of the other risks from inactivity and isolation will result in death. We are seeing them and we are alarmed.
“But God said to obey the authorities in Romans 13”
1. Romans 13 is specifically referring to situations where the government is enforcing just and moral laws – for the Scripture says, “They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong.” By obeying the laws of the land, we keep a clear conscience. Only those who do what is wrong should fear the government.
2. But what happens when doing what is right is prohibited by a governing authority? What are we to do when the government itself becomes corrupt or puts laws in place that are anti-Biblical?
There are actually several examples in Scripture of civil disobedience.
Example 1: The Hebrew midwives disobeyed Pharaoh’s order to murder baby boys. They disobeyed the law of the land. (Exodus 1:17)
Example 2: Obadiah hid the prophets of God from Jezebel – in doing so, he disobeyed the governing authority. (1 Kings 18:4)
Example 3: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego disobeyed the laws of the land that commanded them to bow to and worship a statue of the king. (Daniel 3)
Example 4: The early church disobeyed the laws of the land by proclaiming the gospel.
– “The government is not stopping me from worshipping God.” My answer,“Countries where Christians are being persecuted like China, Russia, Venezuela, and Vietnam are also allowed to believe as long as they don’t assemble and they don’t preach the Gospel.”
– “You’re setting a bad example.” My answer, But shouldn’t our example be to obey God?
– “You’re going to cause us to lose what freedoms we have.” My answer, But if the exercise of freedom can cause me to lose it, is it really freedom? What then would be the point of having that freedom if I’m not free to carry it out without losing it?
– “Love your neighbor.” My answer, Is standing for truth not loving? Disobedience toward the Word of God – whether done in the name of love, convenience, or even safety – is ultimately still disobedience. “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands.” (2 John 1:6)
It’s simple: if ever there is a conflict between what we are commanded to do in Scripture and what we are commanded to do by a government, we are to obey the Word of God. Always. No exceptions.
Let us not trade obedience in the name of safety and peace.
Let us not act in fear and call it wisdom.
Safety measures we are taking:
1. We will start slow to reduce seating for in-person worship service. (Open first service on May 24th only to leaders and those in life groups, where we will practice social distancing and proper safety measures. The second service will be opened on May 31st and made public.)
2. Those who have had contact with a known Covid-19 confirmed case or who have flu symptoms should stay at home and self-quarantine.
3. Those planning to come to church are advised to perform temperature checks at home prior to coming.
4. High-risk individuals, based on age or predisposed health conditions, are advised not to attend in-person services at this time.
5. Our facility will be sanitized prior to each service.
6. We have taken preventative care to the air we breathe and the surfaces we touch in our facility using the Filterqueen Majestic surface cleaner and 4 Defender room air cleaners.
7. Attendees are encouraged to wear gloves or masks if they choose.
8. Attendees are advised not to engage in handshaking or physical contact.
9. Hand sanitizer will be available for use throughout the facility and each person will be given a squirt of sanitizer upon entering.
10. Cohabitating family units may sit closer together, otherwise, social distancing will be used.
11. Selected points of entry and exit will be separated from each other, establishing a one-way traffic pattern.
12. Doors will be propped open and held open by ushers to prevent the need for attendees to touch doors while entering the church.
13. Those attending are urged to thoroughly wash their hands before coming and signs will be posted around the church as reminders to wash throughout their time at the church.
14. The drinking fountain and coffee shop will be closed.
15. At this time, prayer for people in the front and coming to the front for the altar call will be paused. All ministry for people will be done from the stage until we reach the final re-entry phase, whereby practices will be able to proceed as usual.
16. Regarding communion, we will use pre-packaged elements set behind the pews by ushers wearing gloves.
17. The offering will be collected in a stationary receptacle in the lobby. Also, people can give on the way out by dropping their tithe in a basket monitored by an usher. Online giving will be strongly encouraged.
18. Kid’s ministry will be opening at a later time while we prepare the safety measures to be taken. Parents are advised to keep their kids with them in the service or leave at home with a parent or guardian.
On a Personal Note:
1. I, Pastor Vlad, ministered at a Church last weekend that has been reopened for a few weeks already. I see the need for people to be together. I go hiking, running, and biking, parks are full of people who are trying to get back to normal.
2. Last week I had the chance to be in a Zoom meeting with pastors and legal counsel in the United States, who outlined proper procedures to get the churches reopened, slowly but surely.
3. I have reached out to our Chief of Police, Sheriff, and Local state representatives. Many of them have already responded with positive feedback, as we are within our constitutional rights to be open. With our extra safety measures, as outlined in this memo, we are doing our part to protect our congregation. Some of our legislators even promised to come on May 31st to show their support for what we are doing and have congratulated us for leading with courage.
4. As a pastor, I wrestle with two things that God requires of a leader, carefulness, and courage. Caring for God’s people is what I am tasked with, but also leading with courage is what God expects of me. Those are two sides of one coin. We have closed the church for 2 months and have done what we can to help, but what’s happening now is becoming more about politics than helping people.
5. The DNA of HungryGen has always been courage. Whether doing deliverances on Sunday morning or other things that are not so ‘common’ today. We have shown great care and will continue to do so, but it’s time to walk in courage and boldness. My family experienced persecution for religious freedom where I came from. I know this pandemic may not seem like persecution, but after a 2-month lockdown where big companies can be open, but churches cannot, even though they have the constitutional right for assembly, it starts to make me question the motives of those who are imposing these regulations. When I came to the USA, I was told this is the land of the free and the home of the brave. I am beginning to see very little of both.
Finally, we are choosing to open because it is our constitutional right to do so. Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ have reopened in other states and are enjoying the freedom of assembly that was graciously paid for by our veterans who have fought for that right. To remain closed would not only dishonor God but those who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of this great country.
This blog was written by Vladimir Savchuk.
Pastor Vlad is the lead pastor of Hungry Generation Church, an author of “Break Free” and “Single, Ready to Mingle” and a founder of free online school “Vlad’s School.” To download free e-books, sermon series, small group study guides go to vladimirsavchuk.com
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