An open letter to Governor Janet Mills and Dr. Nirav Shah and to Maine’s churches and the clergy who serve them,
Friday, May 1, 2020
The Maine Council of Churches, on behalf of our seven member denominations, their 437 congregations and 55,000 members, offer heartfelt thanks and praise to you, Governor Mills, and to you, Dr. Shah, for your wise and courageous leadership of our state through the difficult days of the coronavirus pandemic. And we applaud your decision to extend the stay-at-home order through May 31.
In keeping with your directives and guidance, we call on Maine’s churches and the clergy who serve them to practice restraint, patience and a spirit of sacrifice as we discern a way forward through the coming months. Congregations have exhibited extraordinary faith, creativity, compassion and courage in continuing to be The Church during a time when scientists and public health experts are clear: it is not safe or prudent to gather together inside church buildings for worship.
We know this has not been easy. And yet we are fervently asking Maine’s churches to continue to willingly refrain from in-person worship gatherings (including drive-in stay-in-car services—see our April 30 statement for details). Do this as an embodiment of the love you have for neighbor and self. Do this as a faithful response to the biblical mandate to protect the most vulnerable, the marginalized, the weak and defenseless.
To support Maine’s churches as they respond to this call, the Maine Council of Churches pledges to provide them with resources and guidance designed to assist with discerning the way forward. Toward that end, we are currently working with officials at Maine’s CDC to adapt the three-phase “Model for Returning to Church” (created by the Wisconsin Council of Churches and released on April 23, 2020) to include guidelines and recommendations specific to Maine. Until our Maine-specific version is available, we urge all denominational leaders, clergy and church members to study the Wisconsin document carefully and prayerfully and begin considering how it would apply to your congregation’s specific context.
During this season of patient waiting, restraint and sacrifice we call on people of faith to seek ways to redirect their energy and resources to assisting and advocating for the poor, the ill, people of color, and other marginalized groups hardest hit by the pandemic and its side effects.
Our prayer for this wilderness time echoes the familiar words of Rev. Eric Milner-White, written at the height of World War II in England: “Loving God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.” We pray for a spirit of discernment, for wisdom, and patience. We pray for researchers and medical professionals; for leaders and planners; for essential workers; for clergy and church members; for the ill and recovering; for those grieving and all who struggle with the challenges of these times. May the Holy One guide all our decisions, comfort all our fears, and inspire us to embody the best of what God created us to be. Amen.