Indy faith leaders to hold online discussion on how to return to in-person worship

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INDIANAPOLIS – It’s a discussion faith leaders across the country are having: How can churches and synagogues balance the right to worship while considering public health because of the coronavirus?

It’s a conversation faith leaders in Indianapolis want to continue having.

Tuesday, five pastors from different congregations in the Indianapolis area will come together for an online discussion about how and when they should return to in-person worship. They will hold an online panel with the Christian Theological Seminary at noon.

While churches in most Indiana counties have been given the green light to reopen for in-person worship with restrictions, churches in Marion County are still under stay-at-home orders. But it is still a conversation they want to have.

Reverend Sarah Lund with First Congregational United Church of Christ says her congregation believes in the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.

“Our conversations are really through the lens of what would be the best way to love our neighbors,” said Lund. “So, we’re having weekly conversations as we continue online worship.”

Rev. Lund’s church is not being used, and they are holding all their services online.

Light of the World Christian Church has also moved worship and other activities online. Reverend Janae Pitts-Murdock says even when they can return to in-person worship they do believe they will continue to hold services online.

“We are interested in preserving and protecting the health of our entire congregation,” said Pitts-Murdock. “Which means that we give great care to those with pre-existing conditions, those who are the most elderly among us, and so to that extent, our leaders, the leaders of our congregation, are preparing a plan that is best for our congregation.”

Congregations across the Circle City have been having discussions with one another on best practices to hold in-person worship while also considering CDC guidelines.

First Congregational United Church of Christ doesn’t have a set timeline on when they will open their doors, but they are considering different approaches to hold services when they do.

“Looking at the science, it looks like there will be no in-person singing because of the risk of exposure,” explained Rev. Lund. “We’re looking at creating different zones in the sanctuary. So, a zone for me as a pastor to be in, a zone for the musicians, the organist, the pianist to be in.”

And then there’s the challenge of social distancing in a place of worship. Rev. Lund has also been looking at ways to achieve that in her church.

“We have pews, so we have to block off every other pew, so people more than six feet apart,” said Lund. “If you’re a family unit, sitting together, but otherwise spread out.”

But other parts of the service will also have to change.

“Not having fellowship time or coffee hour, not passing the peace on our physical contact and the preference that people, if possible, can wear the mask,” explained Rev. Lund.

Rev. Pitts-Murdock says Light of the World Christian Church is looking at similar challenges. They are working on their own plan on how services will look when they reopen.

“I am sure it will also include physical distancing by households, it will also include and augmentation of our rituals as it relates to communion,” explained Rev. Pitts-Murdock. “We are a part of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ, so we have communion every week, so it will include an augmentation of how we do that to maintain the highest safety protocols for our congregants. It will also include an adjustment to our worship format because we include a lot of singing, especially congregational singing, so there will be augmentation of that as well.”

Both churches plan on having worshipers wear masks if they can. However, many places of worship anticipate there will be other challenges they will face when it comes to honoring CDC guidelines.

“As a congregation how can you force the guidelines?” Asked Rev. Lund. “We have a person come to church, and for whatever reason cannot wear a mask or does not want to wear a mask…I think that poses a real challenge for people of faith. Do we turn people away from our houses of worship if they will not wear a mask?”

One thing is clear: All places of worship will face their own set of unique challenges with answering the question of balancing the right to worship and public health.

Both Rev. Lund and Rev. Pitts-Murdock agree that the COVID-19 pandemic has opened everyone’s eyes to what faith and practicing faith looks like.

“Worship is vital to our life of faith and it’s not the only reason we exist,” explained Rev. Lund. We exist to serve and to love our neighbors, and so perhaps this challenge around returning to buildings for worship is also an opportunity to think about our mission and our ministry beyond or in addition to worship—how might we use this time to re-imagine what it means to be church and to love our neighbors?”

Rev. Pitts-Murdock echos that statement.

“Our worship practices are 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, and while we may not be able to worship in this facility in the ways that we are accustomed, we still have personal practices of worship outside of the building,” said Rev. Pitts-Murdock. “So, our intimacy and God and intimacy with other believers will take on a new expression but that intimacy should still have the same vitality because the vitality of our worship is not measured by where we physically gather, but the vitality of our worship is determined by our connection to our God; our connection to our fellow community of believers.”

Joining Rev. Lund and Rev. Pitts-Murdock in the conversation are Rob Fuquay of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, Martin Tapia of Casa del Alfarero (Discípulos de Cristo) and Theron Williams of Mt. Carmel Church.

The conversation starts at noon on May 12. You can find more information by clicking here.

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