Water of Life Family,
Throughout our lives each of us has been surprised, shocked and disappointed by events or circumstances that were unforeseen. I think the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent quarantine would certainly fall into this category. When I think back 3 months ago to February, life was seemingly rolling along as normal. None of us knew what lie ahead. Fortunately, we serve a God who is never surprised by the things that shock us. He is never overwhelmed by circumstances or situations that sweep over us and threaten to overwhelm us. What we feel is chaos, He turns into destiny if we stay at His feet and allow Him to lead us. This has been and remains the goal of my life and ministry, to be led by Him. I think it is sufficient to say I never took a class in seminary on pastoring a church through a pandemic and quarantine. So, as I often say, school is life and life is school — learn your lessons well. Believe me, I am trying to do just that! But I must say the lessons have never been this tough to discern.
Over the past several months, I have listened to our Governor’s zoom calls and heard him repeatedly speak of every aspect of life in California excluding people of faith and places of worship. I have seen him deem churches as non-essential and bypass the need to worship while congratulating us on “doing the essential things like feeding the poor and caring for those who are shut in.” But as I have stressed to his staff in our interactions, we are not a social service club; we serve others because we believe what Jesus said: “If you do it to the least of these you have done it unto Me”. Our love for others and our care for the hurting are part of our worship directed to Jesus. But those serving Him also need to be fed. I hear week after week from many of you who are starving spiritually, hungering for fellowship and encouragement. Let me share a bit of an email I recently received so you can sense the needs of those on the front lines;
Greetings Pastor Danny, Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! For restarting live, in person, church services once more. You will be under a lot of fire and criticism for doing so at this time. However, speaking personally as a nurse at two large tertiary care hospitals, that are dealing with Covid-19 patients on a daily basis, I agree with your Spirit led decision to resume on site services. The church is very essential in this crisis. I have had many mornings coming home after working grueling consecutive 12 hour shifts, crying because I’ve listened to 2 or 3 Covid code blue announcements over the loud speaker calling for the team because someone is dying…and dying alone because no visitors are allowed. Just putting on the proper PPE and wearing it for 12 hours is very stressful. And both of my hospitals are running out of appropriate N95s which makes us feel that we’re not being protected safely to do our jobs.
The mental anguish and anxiety I am feeling I’ve kept to myself, as to not affect the quality of excellent care that I must provide for my patients. I am weary. Thank goodness for your Daily Devotions! I thrive on them for encouragement and redirected focus. Thank you for being obedient to The Father in guiding us through this pandemic and just in general. For my spiritual and mental health, I NEED to get out of my hospitals, this house and worship with our Water of Life family in person!
We have no desire to rebel against the Governor’s directives; Our goal is not to be activists making a point. I am a pastor whose job is to love, equip and serve the people God has placed in my care. But I do fear for the future of the church as our voice has been muted and our ability to care for those isolated, depressed and discouraged has been removed. We are not allowed to hold classes for those battling addictions, grieving a loss or struggling with depression. I have made many attempts to reach our Governor in order to discuss the role people of faith have as first responders during a crisis like this. Clearly, we have been disregarded, marginalized and counted as part of the problem not part of the answer. We are part of the answer. To quote June 30, 2015 News Release from the American Psychiatric Association;
“Many people facing a mental health challenge, personally or on behalf of a family member, turn first to a faith leader. And for many receiving psychiatric care, religion and spirituality are an important part of healing. In their role as “first responders,” faith leaders can help dispel misunderstandings, reduce stigma associated with mental illness and treatment, and facilitate access to treatment for those in need.”
We have worked tirelessly to build a plan that we believe allows churches and other houses of worship to open safely in California. The Governor’s staff have this document and they tell us that it has been passed onto the Covid Task Force. In their words, “It is a great document”, but in the next breath I was told, “We don’t want you to think this is going to happen anytime soon.”
After hearing the Governor explain on a zoom call two weeks ago that “Large gatherings of strangers make me anxious so please be prepared because Major League Baseball, the NBA and churches will not be gathering anytime soon.” It became apparent to me that our Governor sees worship in the same light that he sees entertainment. I knew it was time to pray and consider moving ahead in a very limited and very safe fashion to reopen our worship services.
So, I need to be extremely clear. We are not reopening as “Business as usual”. Initially we are going to offer one service for first responders, those isolated and depressed and those who have been sheltering in place alone. We will only use 10% of our worship center, 320 attendees, to allow for social distancing and safety. We will then expand the number of services we offer per weekend while maintaining the cap of 320 attendees per service.
All CDC guidelines will be followed including, requiring masks to be worn at all times, hand sanitizer throughout our worship center, temperature screening stations at all entry doors. All attenders will have to sign up in advance and have a reserved seat. We do not want anyone attending if they are feeling ill, immune compromised, or if they are in one of the high-risk groups
Please know that I understand 80% of you who answered the survey would like to return immediately. At this reduced capacity, it is likely we won’t be able to support everyone who wants to return live in the worship center – our emphasis will be on those who need to return. Know that this will be an ongoing process and we will continue to reach out to you throughout the coming days and weeks as we return safely and thoughtfully.
MOST IMPORTANTLY I want to ask you to fast and pray. We are certainly in a time of deep need and we need our Father to move in our midst and speak clearly as we seek His face. We will continue to offer our very best online services, morning devotions and Wednesday night Bible study for those of you not attending this live service, (which will initially be 99% of you). Please remain prayerful and patient as we journey further into the unknown and begin to reopen our church. Thank you for being the amazing followers of Jesus that you are!