Recently the Oregon Governor declared the limitation on church gathering sizes a public health recommendation and not an enforceable law. This has led some to wonder if Westside will open up our church building to larger Sunday gatherings immediately. As most of our congregation knows, our decision regarding reopening the building considered several factors, only one of which was legality. The other factors included, “Is it loving and wise to begin meeting en masse at this time?” (ethics), “How can we be the faithful and prophetic witness to our community God has asked of us?” (missional), and “What will it require for us to meet again safely?” (practical). These questions guide our decision-making around our gatherings and the size of our gatherings.
When faced with the decisions regarding reopening, we take Paul’s admonitions from 1 Corinthians 10:23 to heart: “ ‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive’”. Paul had in mind to limit his rights for the sake of love. Our first filter for any decision must always be love. If there is a high likelihood that a reopening at full capacity would put people’s health and lives at risk, the loving decision is to continue delaying the full-scale reopening of our building until we can provide a reasonable assurance of safety to our congregation.
What we do in these days, as the people of God, communicates volumes regarding our stance toward our community. It’s an amazing opportunity for Westside to help change the face of faith for tens of thousands of people regarding what the priorities of Jesus’ church will be. Therefore, we say to our community: we are for you – body, mind, and spirit. We want to stand with you in solidarity and show, with our actions, how much we love you.
On a practical note, we serve over 4,000 people as part of our church body, and gathering everyone together on a Sunday would not be practical at this time. Even if just a third of those came back to a service, we would not have space to provide a basic level of distancing and health precautions for the congregation.
Before COVID-19 became part of our reality, I encouraged our church to ask one question when it comes to decisions regarding how we live in community with people inside and outside the church: “What does love require?” It was more prophetic than we realized at the time. So, what does love require of us right now? What does love require of you right now? The way you and I answer that question through our actions in this moment will either reconfirm what people believe about Christians or could change the face of faith for someone seeking a relationship with God.
We love you, we miss the gathering of all the believers, but we know God will sustain us through this moment as he always has done in the past.