A federal judge’s ruling on Saturday temporarily blocked Governor Roy Cooper’s executive order restricting indoor worship at North Carolina churches due to COVID-19 concerns. Churches are now free to return to regular indoor worship services as long as they take proper precautions. So, why isn’t Quaker Gap reopening worship services yet?
Speaking only on behalf of myself, I feel our Deacons have made a good decision in continuing to keep the doors to the sanctuary closed on Sunday mornings for the time being. We encourage adult Sunday School classes and small groups to meet outdoors as soon as they feel comfortable, while remaining socially distanced. Our Picnic Shelter is a good location for such meetings. We will make a decision regarding Sunday worship as we get closer to July, but for now we continue our internet worship, online meetings for children and youth, and take-out meals on Wednesday evenings.
One reason why this is a good decision is because the number of cases is still growing in our area. It took some time for this virus to affect us here in Stokes County, but the numbers are increasing. Now does not seem like the best time to risk exposing our congregation. Church buildings are not like grocery stores, where we go in, grab what we need, and leave. When we worship indoors, we sit in a room together for an hour singing and breathing recirculated air. This is why the risk is greater in church sanctuaries than it is in Wal-Mart. We must keep an eye on the numbers and be vigilant to limit our contact.
Another reason behind this decision is that our congregation has a number of treasured members who are high risk with regard to the outcome of the virus. These members are also conditioned to be in the building any time the door is open. As a spiritual leader, this is something I deeply respect about them. I don’t wish to set up a situation where anyone feels guilted into coming to public worship when they should be staying home. While the number of cases rises in our area, it’s best to stay safe.
I believe in religious freedom. We are blessed to live in a nation where religious freedom is protected, and the recent ruling by the federal judge is no doubt a good thing. With that in mind, however, I also believe that Scripture encourages believers in Jesus to use freedom with caution. Just because we are free to open the doors on Sunday morning doesn’t mean we should. Freedom needs to be exercised within biblical boundaries.
One of those biblical boundaries is LOVE. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul writes, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’" (Galatians 5:13-14 NIV) One of the questions we need to ask before exercising freedom is, “What is the most loving thing to do?” If my freedom violates the principle of love and humble service, then it’s not worth it. I’m willing to surrender the right to worship inside our sanctuary for a handful of Sundays if it protects the health of our community. That is exercising freedom within the boundary of love. What message does it send to our community if we risk our health and theirs by potentially spreading this virus? It’s more Christ-like to prove we love our community than prove we have the right to meet in our building. We serve a Savior who surrendered His rights and died on a cross to show the world His love and to offer life. It seems right to me that His people might be willing to temporarily surrender rights in order to demonstrate love and life to their communities.
I hope this explains why I believe our decision is right for Quaker Gap at this time. I don’t judge other church leaders for the choices they feel led to make. Each congregation needs to seek the Lord’s wisdom and use good discernment. I look forward to bringing the flock together under one roof again. But until that day we will continue to be unified in worship, spirit and love, if not in proximity.
Dr. Jack Darida