As a few churches begin worshipping in-person again, many of us are wondering when Rosewood will rejoin for worship and what the service or services might look like. On behalf of the reopening teams, I will give you our honest answer: we don’t know yet. I intended to keep these messages focused on what we do know and avoid speculation, but the more our teams talk the more I feel it’s good to let you in on the challenges we’re facing. This may come across as pessimistic, but I’d rather give you realistic expectations that feel disappointing than drag you along in the dark.
Below are three key challenges that don’t yet have clear solutions:
Worship // If you keep up with CDC guidelines and recommendations, you know that singing and shouting have been identified one of the easiest ways to spread the virus. Even basic surgical or cotton masks do not eliminate the risk of transmission. The Rosewood survey showed that half (50.9%) of us would prefer to watch service online rather than coming to an in-person service without congregational singing. We are considering some unconventional means of worship that would sidestep this health risk, and as more promising options emerge we’ll keep you informed. Our collective knowledge of the virus grows every day and we may be provided with new solutions.
Facilities // Ironically, many of the things we celebrated as a church are holding us back from making a move towards an in-person service or services. Before the pandemic, we had a packed house in the Sanctuary with one service, and our kid’s ministry rooms and nursery were so full and bursting with energy it looked like you kicked an anthill. These factors make reopening more challenging in a world of love through social distancing. Some churches with our size of facilities have a fraction of the adults and only a few kids, so reopening their church will be much easier. We are all learning that what works for one church may not work at another. Our reopening team dedicated to building safety has made significant headway towards a realistic entry, seating, and exit strategy. That way when conditions are right we’ll not waste any time acting on our plans.
Technology // Recent upgrades to our technology have made reentry easier, but we do not have what we need to broadcast services live online. We intentionally didn’t offer this before the pandemic because it almost always results in fewer people coming to church and reinforces the false notion that the Church is an event rather than an identity. As I said Sunday, my tune has changed. A third of Rosewood reported they would not return to worship for some time. Another third said they would come back, but only if the service was in line with their expected safety precautions. That means a significant portion of our church will exclusively be joining us online, so whatever we do in person cannot sacrifice the online experience.
Personal Conviction // I know I said only three, but this fourth one is just from me. I know many of you would prefer us to offer a service of any kind and let everyone make his or her own decision. I respect your freedom to choose, but I ask that you consider my choice as well. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I knew the risks and approved a church event that led to someone getting seriously ill or even dying. Even if the choice is left up to you, it was still my choice to allow it to happen. Some churches have begun worshipping again in-person and we have sought their advice to learn from their experience. To my shock, some pastors claim they wouldn’t feel bad if someone got sick from attending their church. I cannot disconnect my love of you so easily. When it comes down to it, I would rather receive more angry emails while we search for solutions than officiate a funeral because we were in a hurry.
We have spent countless, often frustrating hours in meetings trying to create a service that is safe and spiritually enriching, but a note I received recently summed it up well. The reason restarting in-person worship safely is so hard is because we are trying to make a practice that is widely held as dangerous, safe. However, gathering for worship in a defined physical space to pray, sing, and hear from God’s word is engrained in contemporary Church culture. It is a tradition that enlivens us spiritually, socially, mentally, and emotionally. This is hard on all of us, and we will not give up on creating a worship experience that works in a COVID-19 era. Until then, we will grow in the new soil God has planted us to discover new, organic ways of being the Church every day of the week.
Austin Vondracek, Lead Pastor, Rosewood Church