Dear Providence Church,
It has now been 8 weeks since the stay-at-home order has prevented us from joining together as a congregation for public worship. I know for many of us this has been a challenge spiritually and emotionally. It has also become clear that there is growing unrest among the people of our nation, state, county and congregation concerning the open-ended extension of these orders. While we’re grateful that the projected danger of Covid-19 has in large measure not come to pass in our area, remaining under these orders grows increasingly difficult. To further complicate matters, the Governor of our state has adopted some of the stricter measures being used to combat the spread of the virus and, in relation to worship, has placed the church in a position where we may not be allowed to worship for months if things continue as they are. With all of these factors in mind, the elders met on May 7th to consider what would be the best course of action for Providence Presbyterian Church at this time. It was decided at that meeting that, in accordance with our own theological convictions, we would begin a course of action to respond to the undue hardships enacted by the civil authorities. This response would begin by petitioning all of our local representatives and expressing our concerns to them, asking them to loosen the enforcement of local restrictions on public worship, and to advocate on the behalf of the church to the Governor. We decided this would be the first course of action because the Bible does instruct us to honor those placed in authority over us in the civil sphere. It has been a standing Protestant practice, from the time of the Reformation forward, to appeal to lesser authorities in order to plead one’s case to greater authorities before taking the more drastic measure of defying said authority. In this way, one shows the desire to honor God ordained authority as a matter of first practice and civil disobedience as a matter of last resort.
In God’s providence, we never had the opportunity to send these letters. On May 8th, the day after our meeting, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to rescind all county mandates that went beyond the state mandated health orders and recommendations. On May 9th, the County Public Health Officer concurred, and rescinded the County mandates per the request of the County Board of Supervisors. While this did not give permission to churches to regather, it did show the disposition of the county to move forward in easing restrictions in light of the present data. This became all the more evident this week when, on May 12th, the County Board of Supervisors petitioned Governor Newsom and requested that the county be included in a fast-track for reopening in accordance with the state’s multi-phase re-opening plan. The most important item for us in this request is the County Supervisor’s request that churches be included in the current phase of reopening (Phase 2) and not the next, in effect opening all churches immediately. A final piece of news came on May 13th, when Temecula city officials petitioned the County to be given a regional special variance to re-open even sooner, since our local area already meets the guidelines that the State has set for counties to reopen.
All of these actions have convinced us as a Session to allow our local civil leaders to continue in their calling of working on our behalf. While there is a push by some churches to reopen earlier, and while we considered that possibility, we do not feel now is the time for us to disobey as it seems God may be using His normal means, ministers in the civil realm, to bring about the conclusion that we all desire. That said, we are prepared to reconsider this decision depending on the response to these requests. Lord willing, this will not be necessary. Please pray with us to that end. And please pray for us as we continue to seek God’s wisdom during these times.
Along with these matters, we are presently working with Linfield to make sure that we respect any concerns they might have prior to our moving forward with worship at their facility. Thus far the relationship is very positive and their disposition toward our meeting there as the Lord leads is supportive. Finally, we plan to send out a series of communications intended to encourage our congregation by discussing how our distinctives have shaped our practices during quarantine. We look forward to the day when we can worship and celebrate together again.
For the King,
on Behalf of the Session of Providence Presbyterian Church