FPC Response to Governor’s Reopening Montana
April 23, 2020
Dear Church Family,
I hope this finds you well in body and soul as we wait and watch together for the world around us to blossom into the spring of our Easter hope!
Yesterday Governor Bullock announced plans for gradually reopening Montana, relaxing his Covid-19 stay-at-home order from March. Perhaps you’ve heard that the Governor’s plan (found here) makes allowance for churches to consider gathering for worship again, even as soon as this Sunday. This is good news as we all look forward to the day when we’ll be able to be together again face to face.
For now, though, it’s noteworthy that the Governor’s plan calls for a gradual, phased return to larger gatherings. The plan continues to take precautions to protect those most vulnerable to serious illness. Beginning this Sunday, April 26th, Phase One limits gatherings to no more than ten persons in circumstances that will make it difficult to maintain safe protocols for social distancing. There is no clear timeline for when the state will move to a second phase of reopening. But Phase Two still limits gathering to groups of no more than fifty. In Phase Three there will be no limits on the size of groups that can gather, though even then all of us can expect to be entering a ‘new normal.’ Considering the size of our congregation, it will still be some time before FPC can safely return to gathering for worship .
As Christians, we’ve been called to pursue what freedoms we have on behalf of loving God and loving our neighbors. This means exercising our freedom to assemble in a way that takes considerate care for those at greater risk, even as this may take more forethought, time and restraint. (Apparently singing is not much better than coughing or sneezing for keeping germs to oneself, though masks may help.) As we anticipate reunion, First Presbyterian will plan for creative, cautious, and faithful ways to ‘do church’ that will begin to gather those who are able to assemble, while also including and caring for those unable to gather for a longer season. Home church gatherings? Outdoor worship on the lawn? Chairs six feet apart in the Fellowship Hall?
On Tuesday the FPC Session reaffirmed its plan to follow closely the practice of Missoula County Public Schools. The School Board will now be considering a host of factors (not unlike the ones we face) in determining when and how to re-open schools. They will likely make decisions on how to proceed May 5. As of now, FPC’s Session has suspended gathered worship and the use of our church buildings through May. This gives us some weeks to prepare for a ‘new normal’ in which our calling remains to love God and love our neighbors, bearing witness to our hope of the risen Christ in Missoula, Montana. How grateful I am in such strange times of transition to pursue this calling alongside all of you!
As always, please feel free to contact me or your elders if you have questions or need anything. Count this a prayer for the peace, perspective and power of Christ to hold up our hearts as we follow Him wherever he may lead.
Yours in Easter hope,