Some Thoughts on Regathering

    06.19.20 | Elder Updates by Ron Zacharias

    A MESSAGE FROM JRCC’S ELDERS – JUNE 19, 2020

    So you might be wondering, “When will the church open its doors for public gatherings again?” 

    While a definite date for re-gathering is not known at this time, we are preparing for a scenario that could see full capacity gatherings in the facility being delayed until next spring.

     This past month, the Province of BC moved out of phase 1 of our collective COVID-19 state of emergency[i] and into Phase 2. This has meant that many things are opening back up and places like retail establishments and schools have reopened under enhanced protocols. If transmission rates remain low or in decline, later this month, we are likely to move into Phase 3 (June – Sept 2020) where people can begin travelling throughout BC, select entertainment options (such as movies) will restart and hotels will open for business.[ii] 

    This has been challenging news for us to digest as elders and staff. But the process of regathering is a complex situation, which will require wisdom, flexibility and patience on the part of all involved.  Amidst all the unknowns, here’s what we do know…  

    We’re not going to wait to “do church” when the building is fully operational.

    We are doing church now. 

     At this time, we wanted to give you some insight into WHAT we as elders are thinking and WHY we are thinking it as we move into the summer months.

     Here’s Our Understanding of What is Guiding the Province’s Decision Making: 

    On May 25, detailed guidance for faith communities was presented and specific questions were asked regarding timing for re-gathering were answered on a conference call hosted by the BC Government for faith leaders by Premier Horgan, Minister Dix and Chief Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonny Henry. The Province reiterated that regardless of COVID-19 caseloads, the current limits of 50 people will be in place at least until the end of the next respiratory (Influenza) season (Spring 2021).[iii]  This is based on their modelling that includes the Oxford Stringency Index[iv] which indicates that even with social distancing in place, we can successfully increase our rate of person to person contact to a maximum of 60% of pre-COVID-19 normal if we hope to maintain a flattened curve.[v]

    Here are some of the philosophical and theological values guiding our discussion:

    • Church is not closed or cancelled - This is not actually a discussion about “reopening” the church. While it is true that the building (Jericho Centre) is not currently in use for larger, all-church public gatherings, the church (Jericho Ridge) was not and is not closed. Jericho Ridge is comprised of disciples of Jesus who embody God’s love everywhere we go[vi]. In the past three months, neighbours have been impacted, prayers of faith have been offered, mission initiatives both globally and locally have been advanced, compassionate care for lonely and isolated members has occurred. We have learned to worship and witness in new ways. The methods may have changed but the mission of the church remains unchanged.
    • Believing faith and medical science are not in conflict – God works in the world in many diverse ways, including scientific research and medical wisdom. While there is much that the global community is still learning about this virus, we do know that COVID-19 is spread through liquid droplets when a person infected with a coronavirus coughs or sneezes; the virus in these droplets can enter through the eyes, nose, or throat of another person if they are in close contact with the person who coughed or sneezed.[vii]

      Churches conduct a series of what are deemed high risk activities (such as singing) and several significant outbreaks both in Canada[viii] and internationally have been traced back to faith communities, even those who have followed all the rules in place at the time. So we are making a commitment to ‘staying in our lane’ and focusing on making holistic care decisions for Jericho ridge and relying on the Province of BC and Fraser Health to make public health care decisions for the greater good of our communities.

    • Care for our community – this discussion about re-gathering is not solely about Jericho alone but about what our decisions and actions communicate to our neighbours. There is significant hesitation and even fear about large gatherings at present. This invites us to think beyond our personal rights and ask “how do our neighbours understand our choices and what impact does re-gathering have on our witness?” The question of gathering is thus not a matter of curtailed religious liberty but a matter of public health wisdom related to understanding how the virus most easily spreads: amongst groups of people from different “bubbles” who gather for extended periods in indoor spaces.

      Romans 13 invites us to be subject to governing authorities[ix]. Here in BC, this means that we as elders respect and work within all the orders given by all levels of government (Federal, Provincial and Municipal) as well as our local health authorities (Fraser Health and the Province of BC). Whatever is happening in other places, this is the jurisdiction in which we work, worship and bear witness and so this is the place where we choose to be faithful.

     

    • Care for the overall well-being of our people – re-gathering presents both potential blessings but also significant potential risks. If we choose not to meet, there will be those who will be affected by the ongoing social isolation and the loss of community. If we choose to gather, there will be those who feel excluded because they choose not to attend. Part of our call is to care for the vulnerable so whatever decisions we make needs to take into account this aspect of our ministry and mission. With COVID-19, we understand that this means paying special attention to those who are over 60 years of age and those who have pre-existing underlying health conditions. Both are categories JRCC has in larger percentages than many congregations. Avoiding stigma, lowering stress, fostering community and attending to the mental health of our people are some of the things we are keeping in mind as we balance the risk and rewards of re-gathering.

    • Staff and Volunteer Capacity – Initializing and maintaining a strong online ministry presence has taken and continues to take significant effort. If we were to move back to re-gathering, this would mean an increased burden on our teams to do ministry effectively for both a live audience and a non-live audience. We have seen an average of 26% increase in new attendees per weekend since we moved our Sunday gatherings online and so we praise God for this and we envision this aspect of our ministry continuing and growing.

      We know that digital gatherings can be hard to engage with, but we currently have significant traction in our non-live setting (digital) from people who are seeking. So to throw this momentum away in favour of smaller, live in-person gatherings while it may benefit us, would not be a hospitable action to those who are new digital attendees to JRCC. Eventually we will have to figure out how to do both IRL (In Real Life) and URL (online) gatherings well, but we are not adequately positioned to do this over the summer months from a staff or volunteer or technical perspective. Our staff need rest and we will also be down a staff member as Mike transitions off staff at the end of June. 
    • How We Handle Disagreement Matters – There are and will continue to be multiple opinions on when and how to re-gather. How we handle disagreement is part of our witness to the world (Eph. 4:1-3): The impulse of our culture is to demonize, dismiss, or disdain "the other side" in pursuit of our side's obvious rightness. But what if we saw this time of contested decision-making as a time to practice "bearing with one another in love." Consider if the virtues we most want to exhibit in this time of contested decision-making are grace, humility, and patience more than exacting rightness. This time of challenging discernment may become an opportunity to witness to our world that Christians remain one in Christ, even if we disagree profoundly.[x]

     

    So with those things as the foundation,

    Here’s what we are committed to doing this summer 

    (1) Increasing options for the community to be together in person – We know that seeing each other beyond screens matters and we want to provide both digital and non-digital ways and places to do that safely. Here’s some exciting events for you to engage with:

    • Drive-In Church – On July 5 and Aug 2, we will be launching DRIVE IN CHURCH. We can host 50 vehicles in our parking lot and so we can all be together and follow all relevant protocols. Registration is now live for the July 5 event at https://www.jerichoridge.com/event/1826053-2020-07-05-july-drive-in-church/
    • Church Work Days – we’ll host another Saturday AM for you to come out and do some yard work and make the place look great while filling your community cup.
    • Join an In Person Small Group – Meg Sumner and Katy Kwon are looking to initialize a weekly drop in for Spiritual Practices (dates and times TBC) in the auditorium. We also have a Women’s Bible Reading Group that is meeting weekly and a Men’s Accountability Group that will continue through the summer months. Email Pastor Wally for more info on these.
    • We’re planning a Church Picnic (Sept 6) – we are confirming details on a location where groups of 50 people can gather outdoors for a socially distant Labour Day summer wrap up event and touch base with others as we navigate into the fall.
    • Youth and Fuel Events – From movie nights to scavenger hunts, we have lots of in-person events to help teens stay connected. Check out the website for details.
    • Worship in Song Events - We are working on hosting a hymn sing and a worship evening so people can experience this important aspect of congregational life.

    (2) Using the church property - The church property is available for you to use in this season when you need out of our house. You can host a tailgate party, use the playground after the school is finished and out for the summer or use the auditorium for a small group or as an air-conditioned place to let the kids run around when the summer sun gets too hot. (Email Tammy at for bookings). 

    (3) Staying spiritually vibrant - We’ve extended the DWELL Bible listening app subscription for JRCC to the end of the summer as we want to provide you with Scripture intake tools beyond Sunday. Pastor Jenna also put together and dropped off summer kits to parents so you can take the lead on discipleship with your children over the summer months. Staying spiritually vibrant means more than just watching on Sunday AM!

     (4) Increasing Communication between and amongst members – We are phasing in new content to our Friday emails that can help keep the relational temperature of Jericho Ridge warm while we don’t see each other as frequently. We have asked people to write out or send us a cell phone video themselves answering the question: “What is God Teaching You?” (send yours to ). This will serve as a reminder that it is not the staff’s job to produce content so that you are “fed” spiritually. It is your job as a disciple to keep pressing into God for growth and it will also help you meet other members of Jericho and gain wisdom and encouragement from their stories.

    (5) Continuing our online gatherings – our online gatherings are bearing fruit. People who do not feel comfortable joining in person are hearing the gospel and getting to know the church through these online services. In addition, there are many people who are more vulnerable to COVID-19 who would miss it greatly if we simply stopped providing this opportunity for connection. We are also working to prayerfully build bridges from the digital world to the in-person world through things like our prayer phone line, pastoral counselling (the Lounge is set up for socially distant meetings) and the return to some in person events. This summer, we will be studying the book of Daniel (July 12-Aug 30)

     
    (6) Pacing Ourselves – On upcoming Long Weekends (Aug 2 and Sept 2), we will not be providing live stream content. This digital sabbath will allow us to focus on each other and not on our screens. We also encourage you to monitor your digital input and output over the summer months. Make a plan to unplug for one day a week and one week this summer. It seems likely that a larger portion of our lives will be lived online as we move into the fall so take some time now to put that phone away or take a break from social media. Go for a walk out in nature. Read a book. Pretend it’s 1989 all over again.

     (7) Planning for the Fall - We are exploring opening the building Sunday mornings for “watch parties” which would be registration driven and hosted by our small groups. These gatherings (of under 50 people) would allow for us to ensure our physical distancing measures (reduced density in the building), our administrative controls (clear rules and guidelines) and protective measures are in place and ready for the time when re-gathering in larger numbers becomes a possibility. It will allow us to test things like “can we do singing without spraying?” and will also allow us to maintain a sense of relational connection and missional engagement with our neighbours as poor weather settles back in.

     As you can see, there is a lot to think about and so we will need time to digest what we are seeing and hearing and pray into as we plan for the fall. Jericho Ridge’s leadership will continue to evaluate our plans and maintain open communication with the church family. Regathering will require wisdom, flexibility and patience on the part of all involved so please pray for your elders as we continue to meet throughout the summer months.

    The church of Jesus Christ has the high calling to maintain its unity given by the Holy Spirit. In the face of a global pandemic and the suspension of in-person gatherings, this takes everyone’s efforts, since our tendency is to default to what we want and need. Our collective calling is to speak words of hope to our community. 

    While it can be easy to focus on what isn’t possible, we encourage you to flip the narrative and ask “What can I do this summer?” There are lots of activities you can undertake that can help us stay socially connected and spiritually vibrant while remaining physically distant.

    With humility and faith,

    The JRCC Elders team    
    (Ron, Miriam, Curtis, David, Katy, Wally, Lorne, James, Brad, Tyler)

     For questions or comments, email our moderator, Ron Zacharias

    Resournces:

    [i] Phase 1 ended May 18

    [ii] See “A Careful Restart” BC’s Restart Plan. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery/covid-19-provincial-support/bc-restart-plan?utm_campaign=20200526_GCPE_AM_COVID_6__ADW_BCGOV_EN_BC__TEXT

    [iii] Summary of call, accessed via  https://bcmb.org/resources-2/covid19resources/

    [iv] See https://www.bsg.ox.ac.uk/research/research-projects/coronavirus-government-response-tracker?bcgovtm=20200526_GCPE_AM_COVID_6__ADW_BCGOV_EN_BC__TEXT

    [v] See Figure 5, “The Next Stage of our Challenge” BC Restart Plan (as above)

    [vi] From our statement of core purpose. See https://www.jerichoridge.com/ethos/why/

    [vii] Covid 19 Guidance to Faith Based Organizations. See https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/health/about-bc-s-health-care-system/office-of-the-provincial-health-officer/covid-19/covid-19-pho-guidance-faith-based-organizations.pdf

    [viii] Living Spirit United Church in Calgary (see https://calgary.ctvnews.ca/i-would-do-anything-for-a-do-over-calgary-church-hopes-others-learn-from-their-tragic-covid-19-experience-1.4933461)

    [ix] Romans 13:1-7: “the authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good” (13:4) 

    [x] Helping Churches Discern Next Steps in COVID19 Ministry. https://www.thebanner.org/columns/2020/05/helping-churches-discern-next-steps-in-covid-19-ministry