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Returning to public worship

New PC(USA) resource offers theological and practical guidance for those deciding on when and how to worship in public again

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has just released “Returning to Public Worship: Theological and Practical Considerations” for congregations and leaders in the midst of making decisions about how and when to return to public worship in the wake of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

While strongly encouraging churches to follow state and local rules, regulations and guidelines as minimum standards for re-opening, the resource includes:

  • a pastoral statement on reentry to public life and worship
  • PC(USA) constitutional considerations and risk evaluation
  • a provisional timeline for resuming public worship
  • general considerations for returning to public worship
  • specific guidelines organized around the order of worship
  • links to additional resources that may be of interest.

According to the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), this resource will help churches make faithful and responsible decisions about reopening for public worship.

“We are a church in transition changing each and every day,” he said, “truly reforming to keep up with contextual realities of our day.”

The Rev. Dr. David Gambrell, associate for worship in the PC(USA)’s Office of Theology and Worship, worked on the resource with the Office of the General Assembly and colleagues in Theology, Formation & Evangelism.

Acknowledging this is not a one-size-fits-all document, and that sessions and presbyteries will make decisions based on the latest COVID-19 developments and local circumstances, Gambrell said one of his primary concerns was to provide resources to help church leaders think theologically and pastorally about their decisions.

“Congregations and leaders need to use their own wisdom and judgment, informed by other experts, as they prayerfully discern how and when to return to public worship,” he said.

For Gambrell, the critical thing is that PC(USA) congregations continue to be the church, and the body of Christ, in this complicated time as decisions are being made, even as information and understanding about the coronavirus is changing all the time.

“As we move through these challenging times, we must seek the mind of Christ, stay connected, care for each member and honor the gifts of all,” he said.

The offices of Theology and Worship and Christian Formation in the Presbyterian Mission Agency have released a one-page document,” Beginning Conversations for Re-Entry,” for use with both the “Returning for Public Worship” resource and an updated “Remote Faith Formation For the Long Haul with Guidelines for Re-Entry.”

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