Pandemic Ponderings by the Transitional Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley

May 11, 2020

Last Friday, Governor Kay Ivey announced new guidelines for her Safer at Home Plan which had the effect of opening many small and close contact businesses effective today. Among the restrictions lifted was the limit on how many people could congregate (it had been no more than 10) meaning that churches could return to their sanctuaries and fellowship halls for worship and activities given they could insure the other guidelines of maintaining the 6 foot spacing (more if any singing is involved, see below), the wearing of face masks, and the constant need to disinfect surfaces. Sessions are once again faced with hard decisions that make sense for their context. As with any decision of this magnitude, it is critical to keep in mind the church’s core mission and core values. If, for example, a core value to the church is to not put vulnerable populations at risk, that would certainly shape the decisions reached. The Executive Council meets this Wednesday and may have some additional guidelines to share with the presbytery but in the meantime, the following document by the Wisconsin Council of Churches remains the most comprehensive guide to opening back up the physical spaces of the church campus and I share it with you again.

Andy Couch, former executive editor of Christianity Today, wrote a very thoughtful piece in late March that likened the unfolding of the current pandemic as to a blizzard, winter, and ice age. It looks like this:

Blizzard: You can’t go out — zero visibility and hostile conditions. Need to shelter,

Winter: You can go out, but not for long. Wear protective clothing and check the forecast for storms. Need to survive.

Ice Age: Things don’t grow the way they used to — but we’re finding new ways to live and even to thrive. Need to adapt and rebuild.

He firmly suggested that the blizzard we have been going through – sheltering in place, is giving way with the easing of restrictions to a long winter finally amounting to an ice age. He also suggested under these circumstances churches should look at themselves as start-ups since their underlying assumptions about what they do and how they do it no longer hold. As he writes, “The priority of leaders must be to set aside confidence in their current playbook as quickly as possible, write a new one that honors their mission and the communities they serve, and make the most of their organization’s assets — their people, financial capital, and social capital, leaning on relationship and trust.” To read the full article, which I commend, go to

In other news, as we’re all making decisions about beginning to open up our facilities and gathering again, singing, I am sad to report, requires some special attention because of the way aerosolization accelerates potential infection. Many of us can hardly imagine worship without singing so I do not share this with you lightly but I do share it with you because it is important.

Finally, you are warmly invited to join in the Zoom presbytery gathering this Thursday at 4:00pm where our topic with be best practices regarding thinking about and acting on opening our church facilities. But if your calendar this week looks anything like mine you may want to check out these strategies for avoid zoom fatigue:

 After another invigorating Sunday of high caliber worship, meaningful messages, heart-lifting mucic all around the presbytery, I leave you with Paul’s word to the Galatians. “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have opportunity let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”

With you in prayer,

Sue Westfall

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