Covid-19 Update June 8th 2020
With the threat of Covid-19 still upon us, we are in a challenging spot as a Christian congregation. On June 8th as part of Phase 3 of the Reopen Saskatchewan Plan churches are permitted to have gatherings of up to 30 people depending on their church buildings seating capacity. All of the precautions that we had already considered like reminders to avoid church if you are symptomatic, washing our hands, using hand sanitizers and refraining from personal contact while respecting physical distancing have now been recommended in a series of government guidelines for places of worship along with additional guidelines we had not planned for. The most restrictive is the guideline concerning how many people can gather in the church “The allowable occupancy is one-third of the defined occupancy rate of the facility to a maximum of 30 individuals for the initial stage of re-opening.” Mount Olive can normally seat just over 320 people without added seating. One third capacity for Mount Olive would be around 106 people. Restaurants in Regina are being permitted to open at 50% capacity. Following that metric half capacity for Mount Olive would then be 160 individuals. So with the restriction for churches being one-third of the defined occupancy rate of the facility to a maximum of 30 individuals we are actually being asked to accommodate less than 10% of what we could normally accommodate. We are also being told to wear masks when singing and to consider receiving Holy Communion as a congregation to be risky behaviour (It remains to be seen if that is actually the case). Remember we regularly have a weekly attendance of over 200 people.
What then are we to do?
Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20)
It looks as though we will need to get used to the idea of more frequent smaller gatherings for a while. The question is when do we begin to gather together? Both Pastor Giese and Albrecht are willing to provide more church Services for our members; we will however require additional volunteers to accommodate extra Services and it may take a bit of time to get things ready. More Services means greater demands on our ushers many of whom are older men, we would be happy to have younger men step forward at this time to join usher teams or form new ones. We will also need additional volunteers to help with cleaning. Members would need to register for Services and we would need to limit attendance to those who are registered. This is one of the hardest parts. The idea of turning someone away who is not registered to attend but who has arrived seeking to worship in the House of the Lord is wrong to us. As such the Board of Elders and the Pastors are recommending that we hold off on having regular Services until later in July.
They recommend this for two reasons 1) The restrictions on our numbers for gathering may be further relaxed by that time 2) This will give us time to see if the relaxing of restrictions on business result in an increase of Covid-19 cases. Also, as you might imagine, it is very exhausting to plan for changes only to have new guidelines come out as soon as you have accommodated the previous guidelines. If by mid July relaxation on these guidelines from the Province fail to materialize we will need to go forward with Services even if that means many Services at below 10% capacity. We cannot wait forever. Even still please be patient. If you are of a strong mind that we need to open more quickly and you are interested in volunteering to help make that happen, please let us know.
What then are we to do in the mean time?
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)
Holy Communion will still be available for members as will our online Services and we will continue to mail sermons to those who have no internet access. Members will still need to announce for Holy Communion by calling the church office where they will be asked some basic screening questions before being provided a time to attend the Holy Supper. This will continue to be provided for individual members, couples, and households or extended households within our congregation. As is always the case members of other Lutheran Church Canada congregations may also announce and receive Communion at Mount Olive especially if circumstances make it impossible to attend their own congregation at this time. We will send notification of their attendance to their home congregation. If you have any questions about attending Communion for yourself or others, please contact the office and talk to one of our pastors.
Even when we begin to gather we may likely hold off on having Holy Communion together for the first while on Sundays. For this reason we recommend for your spiritual welfare that you consider coming on the designated times of either Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday between 9 and 11am as these opportunities will continue for a while even after we start having more regular Services. If these times do not work for you and your family, please let us know. We may need to add a weekday evening time slot to accommodate those who are unable to attend the times we currently provide. Presently over 100 of our members have come and received Holy Communion some even attend weekly in this way.
Also please be encouraged to continue to attend Services online, or if you have not yet tried them give them a try. For now this will need to be the way in which we devote ourselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship. Members have been expressing their gratitude for these online Services which can be found at our church website, YouTube and Facebook. We have also heard encouraging feedback from members who have been receiving Pastor Giese and Pastor Albrecht’s sermons in the mail, many have been saying that they read and re-read them as they pray for the day we can all be together again.
As the days draw ever longer in this time of pandemic it is tempting to compare what others are doing to what we are doing. Some churches will open up sooner than others carefully following the same guidelines that we have been given, they may be in a better position to do so and we praise God that they are able. We pray for their success and count them as brothers and sisters blazing a trail forward for the rest of us. A larger congregation like ours at Mount Olive has concerns and challenges that they may not have and we ask them to be patient with us in Christian brotherly love.
We may also be tempted to ask if government officials are willing to permit protests which do not carefully follow the public health guidelines provided by the Province can we not also do as we like: is our need to gather together not worthy of such grace from the Province of Saskatchewan? Here again we are in a challenging spot as a Christian congregation. We are called to be careful not to despise or anger the authorities, but honour them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them even as we are also called to gladly hear and learn God’s Word and the preaching of it together as His children. When the command of God to gather together in worship is pitted against our obligation to honour the authorities which God has placed over us (Romans 13:1), as we at the same time strive to support our neighbour in every physical need, then we are left at an impasse. When our leaders need to hear the voice of the people they serve and care for what is the best way to be heard with respect to the dignity of those in greatest need? Jesus says we must “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) and St. Paul likewise writes, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:15–17) Ultimately as St. Peter and the apostles say, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
In these days, therefore, we pray for wisdom and we desire to be considered innocent when it comes to our actions yet also to be faithful to Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour. While we are glad that our pastors are beginning to have more access to members who are dying, we do however see that the restrictions being placed on places of worship, Christian or otherwise, are more restrictive than the guidelines enforced among commercial and industrial sectors of our society here in Saskatchewan. This causes us concern: especially when we believe that we could in fact carefully gather together if afforded the same opportunities as others.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:16–17)
With love yours in Christ Jesus,
Lead Pastor Ted Giese & Associate Pastor Lucas Albrecht,
the Board of Elders, and the Church Council of Mount Olive Lutheran Church.