September 1, 2020
When we first decided to take a break from in-person worship due to the threat of coronavirus in our community, I remember talking at length with colleagues on the phone, trying to decide what to do. In over a decade of church leadership, I had never cancelled in-person worship before. At both churches I served before coming to Faith, there were snow days during which I literally put on my boots and trudged through empty streets to get to church, only to sing and pray with the few people crazy enough to join me. I believe in the power of community, of singing and praying together in the same space, seeing the image of God in each face, and caring for one another over cups of coffee and conversations. Cancelling in-person worship is something I would never do casually. I know that, even if we produce amazing online worship, it is not the same, and it doesn't meet your needs for community connections.
When we first closed the building in March, I imagined it would last only a few weeks—or we'd be back in the building for Easter at the latest. That was 26 Sundays ago. Six months. Half a year. Whole seasons have gone by, and our building doors are still shut. And while COVID transmission statistics in King County are starting to improve slightly, full relief from this pandemic is clearly still a long way off.
In the last several weeks, we have issued two "Reopening Surveys," in which you have made clear that you are not ready to gather as a worshipping community until things are much better in our area: the vast majority of you said you would not be comfortable gathering for worship until King County enters Stage 4 or there is a reliable and well-distributed vaccine for COVID-19. Our Reopening Team has been meeting for the last few months to make sure we are ready with safety protocol when we do gather, but we have also made the decision that we will not gather for in-person worship until at least January 3, 2021.
I know this is not a surprise to many of you, but it is still not the news you wanted to hear. I know you miss being together, as I desperately miss being in the sanctuary with each of you. I have shed tears thinking about what this means for the Advent and Christmas season, but we are putting our best creative thinking toward building meaningful worship experiences for you, even if we can't light candles in the sanctuary together.
We hope you will continue to log on for online worship—even if it feels like a chore some days—to greet and encourage one another, trusting that the Spirit binds us together even when we can't see and hear each other. Reach out to each other with prayers and kind words through cards, phone calls, emails, text messages, and physically distant in-person meetings. And let the church know what you need, whether that be prayer support, financial support, connections to local services, spiritual resources, relationship help, or anything else.
Knowing what we know from the CDC, King County Public Health, the Pacific Northwest Conference of the UMC, and your own concerns that you've shared with us, changing our immediate focus from "how to re-open the sanctuary for in-person worship" to "how best to be the church while the building is closed” is the faithful and right move.
This week, we have launched two new teams:
- Interim Leadership Team, led by our lay leader, Cathy Anderson: this team will work on immediate needs between now and the end of the year and how we can serve each other and our neighborhood even while our building is closed to in-person worship.
- Reimagining church team: this team will look at January and beyond for what God is calling us to do and how church can be different in the future.
This season gives us a unique opportunity to rethink everything we’ve known about church and the worship of God in word and deed. Please pray for these teams as they begin their discussions.
In the meantime, we will also be exploring how best to meet community needs over the next several months. We know that many households in our area are in need of help with childcare during online school; space for solitude when the house starts to feel too small; and support groups for grief, unemployment, relationship issues, parenting, and anxiety or depression. We know there are many physical needs as well, and we're partnering with the Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank, Youth Eastside Services, Friends of Youth, Issaquah Community Services, and other groups to help meet those needs. You'll hear more about each of these as needs arise.
It will be vitally important, as this physical separation lengthens, that all of us stay engaged. Our staff continues to work hard, but we are a small group, and we need your help. We want your ideas for how best to serve the congregation and community, but we also need your help to do this ministry. And we want to make sure the church is best positioned to begin 2021 on a solid foundation, ready to continue growing in faithfulness for years to come.
If you have any questions about this timeline or how we came to the decision not to pursue in-person worship until at least the start of 2021, if you have ideas of how we can best support each other and serve the community over these next several months, if you have gifts or time to offer, or if you're in need, please don't hesitate to reach out. I'd love to hear from you.
I remain grateful and honored to be your pastor, and I look forward to the day we can raise our voices in praise together again.
Rev. Elizabeth Ingram Schindler
June 28, 2020
On Sunday, June 28, members of Faith Church met online for the annual All-Church Meeting, during which Pastor Elizabeth present the plan for reopening. Much like Washington State, the United Methodist Church will be reopening in phases, defined not only by the guidelines and restrictions of county and state public health officials, but also by church conference leadership.
May 28, 2020 – Sammamish, WA
Last week a call went out for houses of worship to open up and provide gatherings inside our sanctuaries as soon as possible. The undersigned church leaders of the Sammamish Plateau long for the day when we can safely gather again in our buildings. We long to reach out to our community, shake hands, hug, receive the Sacraments, sing our hearts out, and experience Christ in all the old, familiar ways. The Holy Scriptures tell us, “Let us not neglect meeting together…” (Hebrews 10:25). However, we hold this holy desire together in loving tension with yet another command found in the Bible, “You are to love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).
For the time being, we believe that we can love our neighbors best by refraining from hosting large gatherings in our church buildings. For Christians, gathering in community to worship, fellowship, and share in the celebration of the Sacraments is deep in our DNA. It is not, however, what makes us the Church. Jesus' command that we love God with our whole being and our neighbor as we love ourselves is our foundation, our cornerstone. During these strange and unusual times, we are being called to love our neighbor in new and creative ways that protect the most vulnerable among us. We pray, serve, sing, encourage, support, laugh, and cry together through the online, written, and telephonic tools that allow us to do these things safely and protect our most vulnerable members and friends and the wider community.
The day will come when we will worship and meet in person again. Until that day, the undersigned clergy of Sammamish are committed to following guidance from our various judicatories, including the Center for Disease Control and the Washington State Department of Public Health, as outlined by Governor Jay Inslee’s 4 phase plan to reopen our state (Washington’s Phased Approach). We are clergy, not epidemiologists or doctors, and we rely on wisdom gleaned through these public servants to help us know when and how to phase our own reopening in such a way that we love our neighbors best and protect the most vulnerable who will gather in our buildings.
We are living in a time in which we’re experiencing the church as so much more than a building, and God’s Spirit as truly unbounded by walls, bricks, stone, or even denomination. Our willingness to give up that which we want for the sake of protecting the most vulnerable is a witness that will last long after the pandemic is over.
These are our priorities as congregational servant leaders on the Sammamish Plateau and they will guide our decisions moving forward.
In this we are united,
Debbie Boyce, Pastor Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church
Rev. Dr. Steve Danzey, Rector, Good Samaritan Episcopal Church
Pastor Eric Hanson, Sammamish Hills Lutheran Church
Kelly Hostetler, Pastor for Care and Families, Sammamish Presbyterian Church
Rev. Alan Johnson, Pastor, Regeneration Church
Dr. Jeff Lincicome, Senior Pastor, Sammamish Presbyterian Church
Pastor Mark Meredith, Pine Lake Covenant Church
Rev. Elizabeth Ingram Schindler, Lead Pastor, Faith United Methodist
Larry E. Thomas, Interim Pastor, Sammamish Hills Lutheran Church