Dear Park family,
During lunch the other day, my son displayed some behavior that landed him in his “think it over place.” He sat there quietly … for about three seconds. Then he decided he was done and ready to get back to life-as-usual. Back to lunch. Back to playing with his sister. Back to freedom. When it became clear to him that he had to stay, he lost it.
As I observed my son’s tantrum, I could not help but relate to him. Maybe you can too.
After nearly three months of not worshipping together, the question of when the doors at 31 Park Road will open back up and we will get back to life-as-usual (whatever that will look like) looms. It has been on the forefront of my mind every day, and it has been the subject of many conversations among staff and elders alike.
Unfortunately, as the headlines testify, the question of churches reopening has led to rising tensions across the country, a tension I personally feel. Along with many of you, I long to meet together again. Gathering regularly for worship has always been a central practice for Jesus-followers. Not only does God meet and transform us when we gather to worship Him, but it’s also a time when the gospel is uniquely and publicly proclaimed before a watching world. Plus, Signe, the kids, and I just miss seeing you all. This has been hard for many of us. We’ve all felt it in different ways.
And yet, due to this global pandemic, we are in a situation where gathering in large numbers and doing things like singing, shaking hands, eating bagels, and taking communion perpetuates the problem. Our health care system is overwhelmed, and people are dying. This is serious. There are signs that things are getting better, praise God, but the experts seem to be warning that we shouldn’t assume we are out of the woods yet. Back in March when the decision to close our doors that first Sunday was announced, I shared the conviction that I believe not gathering during a time like this is one of the best ways we can love our neighbors. That conviction remains.
Which bring me to some basic questions I’d like to address:
When will Park Church “reopen”?
We do not yet have a date for when our first Sunday back together will be. I wish we did. I’d love to say that by September we’ll be back together. I hope it’s sooner than that. It might be later. It’s difficult to speak with much more specificity than that, not least of all because of the uncertainty of how long state restrictions will last, which leads to the next question.
What will be the criteria for determining when we “reopen”?
One thing I’ve learned as I’ve watched how other churches in different states have navigated this time is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach that applies to all churches across the country. The situations my pastor friends in Texas and Arizona find themselves in are substantially different than ours in New Jersey. While there is no neat formula, there are a few guiding questions I know I’ll have in mind as we discern when to open the doors:
What are the state and local restrictions?
As of May 22, for example, the limit on outdoor gatherings has been lifted from 10 to 25 individuals while the limit for indoor gatherings remains at 10 individuals. Both of these restrictions assume social distancing. While this does open the door to new possibilities for smaller group gatherings (like Community Groups), it still makes anything like a typical Sunday morning worship gathering not an option for us.
What are the schools doing?
This question is important because Park Church is unusually blessed with a high percentage of young families – which means LOTS of kids on Sunday mornings. The concerns of local schools in many ways reflect our own.
What are the leaders at Park discerning?
I am blessed to be surrounded by wise elders and wise staff. Their insights, questions, and perspectives will continue to be helpful as we discern together when and how to open the doors on a Sunday morning. We are praying for wisdom and we ask that you join us.
What will summer at Park look like?
That we will not be gathering for corporate worship in the near future DOESN’T mean that Park is “taking the summer off.” Here’s a snapshot of what’s ahead for this summer:
- We will continue providing high quality “Park@Home” video worship experiences.
- With restrictions being slowly lifted, our Community Groups will gradually begin meeting in person – while practicing social distancing. Each Group will also be “baking up some kindness” for essential workers during the month of June.
- Instead of weekly Zoom calls for each Community Group, for the months of June (starting the second week) and July we will be offering a mid-week church-wide Zoom call going deeper into the sermon from the previous Sunday.
- Our amazing Park Serves Team will continue finding and coordinating ways to bless and serve our community – thank you Park Serves and all you wonderful volunteers!
- YOU ALL will continue to have opportunities every day to be a blessing to neighbors, co-workers, family, and friends (to be Good News People!).
Despite there being things we still do not know, what we do know is what’s most important. So I’ll end with these reminders.
Jesus is the hope of the world.
This will never change. In Him we have all we need for a life of peace, joy, and faithfulness.
Park Church isn’t closed, just our building is.
The church isn’t a place or a program, it’s a people with a purpose centered around a person. Whether or not our building is open changes none of that.
God is inviting you to draw near to Him.
Look for ways to be silent before Him. Immerse yourself in the Scriptures. Find time to pray. Notice and thank Him for the little things.
Be Good News People.
Now is the time more than ever to display Jesus’ love to your neighbors. If you’ve never met your neighbors, introduce yourself (while six feet apart). Ask how they’re doing. Pray for them. Bake them cookies. Be a good neighbor.
I miss you all and so look forward to being together again.
Grace and Peace,