We are in the wilderness. Today, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Tim Walz issued a “stay at home” executive order for Minnesota that will be in effect from 11:59 Friday, March 27 to 5 p.m. Friday, April 10. This critical time is to ensure the government can secure the necessary equipment and hospitals can build up the necessary capacity to care for the critically ill. If we do this now, we will save lives.
Faith leaders are listed as an exemption to the governor’s order in order to perform the absolutely critical and necessary components of their work (the following is the language used about faith leaders in the list of exemptions):
“Faith leaders and workers: This category includes officials, workers, and leaders in houses of worship and other places of religious expression or fellowship, wherever their services may be needed. This category also includes workers necessary to plan, record, and distribute online or broadcast content to community members.”
What does this executive order mean for churches? Here is how we would interpret it:
• Churches should not have in-person worship (read Bishop Ough’s latest message about this).
• Pastoral care visits should be done by phone or online.
• Staff, leadership team, ministry team, youth group, and other group meetings should be done virtually.
• Church volunteers should cease activities that require them to leave their homes.
• Having a few people record or live stream worship from your church sanctuary is permitted. If you do this, be sure everyone in the building follows social distancing guidelines and that the number of people does not exceed 10 in compliance with Minnesota Department of Health recommendations.
• Clergy can leave their homes in order to do essential work that cannot be done remotely; they should remain at home and connect with people virtually whenever possible.
This executive order means we need to stay at home as much as we possibly can. Closely adhering to this executive order is not only about keeping church members and staff safe but also modeling within and for our faith communities the critical behaviors needed to minimize the spread of coronavirus. We have long said that the church is not a building but a people. Now is when we get to put that to the test.
Think about Jesus being led into the wilderness after his baptism; 40 days he was there. He probably would have loved to leave the wilderness and get on with life. But he was called to stay put, and staying put in wilderness meant wrestling down some temptations: I just need to go run this one errand, I am healthy, it won’t hurt anyone, my work is so important, I am essential, I am the exception to the rule, it all depends on me, I don’t know who I am if I am not busy doing something. Do any of those sound familiar?
Jesus was shaped in the wilderness. He did indeed wrestle down those temptations, rooted himself in his primary identity as the one called and sent by God to be the Messiah, a Messiah who would save the world, not through power and glory but through self-sacrifice and humbleness of Spirit. Wilderness time strengthened his inner character and resolve, and it allowed him to live and lead in ways that were deeply centered and focused on the kingdom of God. It was not an easy time. He came out exhausted and famished. But angels ministered to him. He made it through.
We are invited to stay at home right smack dab in the middle of Lent. Wilderness. It is not forever. It is for a season. So how can we see this season as a forming and shaping time for whatever is coming next? It will be hard and require a lot of us, but we are not alone and without resources. We are the people of resurrection. We know who God is and what God can do. But we must remember that resurrection is not resuscitation. When the restrictions are lifted, we are not going to be able to go back to our former world and our way of being church exactly as they were. We will be forever changed by this pandemic. But in the midst of it, God can and will do something amazing that we can’t see right now. Unfortunately, you don’t get to resurrection without going through Good Friday. So here we are. We allow ourselves to be driven into the wilderness and we stay put until we are released for the sake of the greater mission: that all may be saved.
View our COVID-19 Response page for more information and resources. We will continue to provide frequent email updates to keep you in the loop and equip you as best we can to respond to COVID-19 within your congregation and community. If you have coronavirus-related questions for us, or things you’d like us to address in future updates, please email them to communications@minnesotaumc.