Minister’s Message: COVID-19 Status Update

CONTACT: Rev. Dr. Chris Shorow, Senior Minister, and Rev. Dr. John Regan, Executive Minister,

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. — John 13:34-35 (NRSV)

This week, in Oklahoma and across the country, there has been a lot of conversation about restarting the economy and reopening businesses. Like you, we are eager to get back together. But when will that be safe, and how do we determine that? Throughout the month of April, there have been ongoing conversations with the elders, board moderators, committees, and the staff asking how we adapt to this great moment of disruption to “the way we have always done church.”

The most widely asked question we hear right now is “when can I come back to worship?” And we are wrestling with the add-on question of “when we do resume, how many people can we safely accommodate?”

We wish we could share a timeline for resuming in-person worship, however that is not yet possible. What we can share is that your church will make decisions based in love. Love, as we know from 1 Corinthians 13:4-5, is patient and does not insist on its own way. For now, our leadership has determined we will continue Sunday worship online only at least through the end of May. The elders will meet on Sunday, May 17 and the Church Board will meet Sunday, May 31. By the end of May, we will have more conclusive data about whether the spread of the virus in Oklahoma is rising, falling, or plateauing.

Beyond the question of when worship in-person can resume, here are some of the other questions we are considering;
-  When can our paid staff return safely to work onsite?
-  When do we open for the public?
-  When can we restart Sunday School and our fellowship events?
-  When can we make our building available to outside groups again?
-  What changes will we need to put in place for when we do gather again?

While we have not formulated detailed plans for everything we need to do and consider, there seems to be broad agreement that the core values of safety, caution, slowness, and love will guide our decisions. We take the health and well-being of our congregation, staff, and community very seriously. Wisdom dictates that we move deliberately and slowly. We believe a significant number of our members will be hesitant to return to in-person worship (particularly our older adults and those with health complications). When it comes time to resume in-person worship and other gatherings, we will need to make adjustments to many of our patterns of seating, greeting, and even practices like communion to limit the risks for contagion. As plans are made, we will update you on what changes will be in place when we gather in person.

We are not alone in making these difficult decisions. Our denominational leaders and other large churches are faced with these daunting questions. When we do re-open, we know our summer will look different. Already the Christian Church in Oklahoma has canceled all summer church camps. Our youth summer mission trips will not happen as originally planned, but we still hope to offer a mission experience later in the summer.

Last Friday Governor Stitt announced that Oklahoma is officially lifting its Sheltering Safer in Place executive order and all are asked to follow Phase I guidelines of the state plan called Open Up and Recover Safely (OURS). The OURS guidelines are informed by the “hospital and incident rates remain at a manageable level for 14 days”. The federal government guidelines Opening Up America Again have a different standard of “14 consecutive days of downward trends of key indicators.” This document prepared by the CDC outlines three phases and gating criteria to determine the level of social interaction that is permissible in different settings. The elders and church board will be considering both sets of guidelines and monitoring the trends reported in Oklahoma in the weeks ahead.

Both state and federal guidelines are designed to help leaders plan to open up cautiously without allowing the virus to rebound and begin to spread rapidly. While we all want to get out of our homes and back to some of our normal activities, none of us want to lose any ground in the flattening of the curve mitigation sacrifices we have already made.

Despite the delays and disappointments, there is good news to share! The church has applied for and received funds through the Federal Payroll Protection Program to ensure we can continue to meet our obligations to Child Care Center and church staff. Evolving regulations may limit our access to these funds, but our financial leadership is monitoring this closely to make cautious decisions about the use of the funds. We are pleased to report that the Child Care Center has reopened this week, welcoming about one-third of our enrolled children back to support those parents who are ready for this service.

We have always known the church is not just our building nor our staff. The church is YOU, the people of First Christian Church. This has become even more evident during these unprecedented days.
-  Breakfast on Boulevard continues to feed our neighbors in need by offering carry-out breakfast and lunch with streamlined crews practicing safe social distancing.
-  We’ve fed hundreds of children, providing over 6,500 meals to students at Northern Hills Elementary at the request of Edmond Public Schools, and restocking the weekend food pantry at our partner school Ida Freeman Elementary, along with sharing from the abundance you provided with our friends at Sunset Elementary!
-  Church keeps serving the Edmond community.

It is fair to say that throughout its history the Church has often been slow to adapt to technological innovations, and it takes time to discern the value of these tools. But we have a historic opportunity in these days. We have the chance to test new ways, to gather and learn creatively, to imagine new ways of addressing the most pressing needs in our community, and to be the church God calls us to be in the future.

We are grateful and amazed how our congregation and its leaders have responded to keep us moving forward as together we discern what comes next. Your Elders, Church Board, and staff will continue to monitor this situation. We will keep communicating with you. We all look forward to a future when we will be able to resume more of the day-to-day rhythm of our faith. As a faithful community, First Christian Church will continue to worship, pray, study, and serve in new ways until the risks of this pandemic are mitigated.

Friends, for right now, it is a loving choice to refrain from gathering to worship in-person. It’s hard to give up our own desires for being together with our church family. But the good news is that while this virus is very contagious, so are compassion, hope, and love! You keep demonstrating that and we give thanks to God for the ways you are serving and interacting. Stay safe, keep loving God, and serving your neighbor. We miss you, continue to pray for you, and can’t wait to be together again!