Here in Ohio, the recent public health stay-at-home orders explicitly exempt churches. Still, for a variety of reasons, here on the east side of Cincinnati, Christ Church has not been meeting in person. One of those reasons is that the school we meet in will not allow us to meet there currently. But the main reason is that we wanted to do our best to follow the spirit of the law, and the governor made it quite clear that he was hoping churches would comply.
On Monday, the governor made changes to the stay at home order, beginning to open things back up throughout the month of May. Daycares are still closed indefinitely, as are schools, but he did not even mention churches. So how are we supposed to think about when we should begin meeting again?
That same day I received an email from a group called Citizens for Community Values. The email subject was Guidelines for Re-Engaging in Public Worship. The email starts out…
Citizens for Community Values, Ohio’s largest Christian public policy organization, released guidelines for churches and other religious entities planning to resume public worship services over the next several weeks and months.
The guidelines were developed in consultation with the Ohio Ministry Network, Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and The Joseph Council, a coalition of Evangelical and Catholic ministry leaders. The guidelines also depend upon the latest updates from the Centers for Disease Control, Ohio Department of Health, and the latest information from local health officials.
You can read the whole email on their site.
Two things are worth noting immediately. First, they assume some churches will begin to meet in May, but they do not assume that all will, or that it is wise for all to do so. Second, though the guidelines (PDF of them here) were made “in consultation with” the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, the guidelines are definitely not from the governor.
Also linked in that email was a Scriptural reflection with much wisdom that read in part…
- Scripture shows us that one of the primary mandates of civil government is to protect its citizens from physical harm (Romans 13:1-8). Consequently, in times of national emergency, submission to temporary Stay-At-Home orders, for example, is God-honoring.
- “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful… We celebrate that, in Ohio, our freedom to gather for worship has not been abridged. However, most churches have made a prudential judgment and sacrificed their personal desire to meet in-person out of an abundance of an abundance of love and care for others.
It then goes on to point out that temporary measures such as virtual services can never replace the gathered body meeting in person. This is a truth which certainly needs to be stated in our culture where so many people and churches had already accepted having a video-preacher that is rarely or never present in their body.
I found the materials from CCV helpful in thinking about planning a specific course of action, and so I share the guidelines here. They consist of a three-phase plan with recommendations for when to implement each phase.
Our session has not made any final decisions, and our regular meeting location is still closed to us. Also, the situation in some other states differs dramatically from Ohio. However, I think church leaders around the country will be helped by this resource as they come up with plans for their particular circumstances. You can get the guidelines here.