As we begin to evaluate when churches are ready to entertain the thought of public worship, Bishop Hughes says our goal is not to be afraid – our goal is to be wise. And to be wise means we have to think things through. (Time: 5:09.)
This is Bishop Hughes in the Diocese of Newark. On Sunday, I had the good pleasure of attending worship at three different services online. Three different churches in our diocese. And the thing that was surprising about all three of them, is on that particular Sunday teenagers in the congregation were an integral part of the worship. It was happening for very special reasons in all of the churches. For some of them it was teens who had just finished their confirmation classes and were getting ready for, were waiting for, confirmation to happen. And in some of them it was because it was Senior Sunday, so teens who were graduating high school that Sunday were especially being celebrated.
It was wonderful of course to see young people do the readings, lead the prayers, and in some cases to preach a sermon. And there was one thing in one of the teen sermons that really touched me. And that was when a young lady said that she always found it unusual when people would say to her that it was a drag to go to religious services, because for her, church was a safe haven.
I think that must be something that resonates with all of us, that church is a safe haven. And I think all of us know somebody that is saying something about church, about how it's a place that of the past, that it doesn't speak to the present. Certainly there was much said about church over the last week, week and a half as different people weighed in on what was essential and what's non-essential, who should be open and who should not be open. But I think for all of us who go, one thing that we would absolutely agree with is what that young teenager said and her senior sermon – that church is a safe haven.
I think always, we want church to be a safe haven; that's why we do some things exactly how we do them. We're careful about the number of people who are in a room alone with children. We make sure that people take all kinds of classes to make sure that they're aware of how we care for adults, how we care for children, how we care for staff, to make sure everybody is safe in church. And especially now, in pandemic, we are asking ourselves how do we remain safe?
On May 18th I put out a letter to the diocese explaining the steps that we will take in the coming weeks to evaluate when every church is ready to entertain the thought of public worship. For some of those churches, that will happen outside first. For others, they are simply going to wait until they are certain it is absolutely safe for their folks. For some, it may be that their first services will happen at that point where we're able to worship indoors. And some may decide to keep their worship online for months at a time. The question all of us will be asking individually, with the help of our clergy, is – is it safe? How can we make sure that church is a safe haven?
I think it's been really hard to watch the churches that have opened and then had to face the fact that some of their members came down sick with the virus, and they wound up having to close the church again. I feel for them. I can't imagine the level of disappointment and hurt and fear that they must have. Our goal is not to be afraid. Our goal though, is to be wise. And to be wise means we have to think things through. We need the best information – that we will all do this together, even though our timings may look different and the way we do things may look different. And we will do it in good order.
So in our diocese, we're already about this work. It will take some time for it to be taken care of at every single parish. But one of the things that we can count on, is that what motivates us is this sense of love, not only for God, not only for each other but for all of our neighbors. Because we want our churches to be a safe haven.