Dear brothers and sisters in Christ in the Iowa Annual Conference,
As you may have heard, President Donald Trump announced this morning that he is designating all places of worship, including churches, synagogues, and mosques, as “essential,” saying he wants them to “open right now.” He said, “We want our churches and our places of faith and worship, we want them to open.”
We all agree that our houses of worship play a critical role in our life here in the United States. However, we also have a separation of church and state, and it is the responsibility of the clergy and lay leadership of our churches to make decisions about when to reopen houses of worship with a high regard for the health and wellbeing of the congregation and its community.
The president’s words do not require you to have a full reopening this weekend. His words do not mean you must return to worship with full choirs, children’s time, passing the peace, etc. Nor do his words mean that the authority for reopening is no longer yours.
Here in Iowa, I have strongly encouraged our congregations to refrain from in-house worship through May 31 at the same time as we have been preparing for the time when local congregations would move toward re-opening. We have been faithful in responding to Governor Reynolds’ directives and continue to recommend phased reentry guided by our Simple Rules: Crisis Response Team’s Reentry Plan
. We are still recommending the red phase through this weekend and next week. Our standards of care and recommendations have not altered.
Even as we understand worship to be essential to our spiritual growth and witness, we are also committed to doing as little as harm as possible, especially to those who are most vulnerable. We need to be especially cautious in reopening our churches as a matter of safety, knowing that COVID-19 exposure can more easily spread when groups of people meet in enclosed spaces and also sing together.
I am deeply grateful for the creative ways in which our clergy and laity have practiced responsible grace by providing creative online worship for their congregations over the last several months. I will be issuing further guidance about how to safely reopen our churches next week.