To the people of our beloved communities in the Chapel Hill area: your clergy greet you in the name of God. We write again to share with you our continued story of solidarity, friendship, and partnership as we navigate together the challenges ahead of us in this new year.
In the early days of the pandemic, a diverse group of local faith leaders began to meet for mutual support, to share ideas, and to coordinate across our many institutions. We lead churches and synagogues of all sizes and denominations. Since the beginning, all of our conversations have been aided by expert medical and infectious disease advice. Very quickly we discovered our common ground: our houses of worship needed to suspend all in-person gatherings until the crisis had passed. We wanted to act together—not only to protect our members—but also our neighbors, friends, and families. We did not act out of fear; listening to the best science available to us, we acted out of the love nurtured by our faith in God.
For the last ten months we have met together weekly to discern together how we guide and lead our communities of faith. It is a new year and yet we are aware not much is different in our ongoing struggle with a global pandemic. Our faith communities continue to worship online, practice social distancing, and work hard to be good stewards of the communities and relationships entrusted to us.
We continue to hear of, and experience, the climbing numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths. With numbers far worse than anything we have seen yet, with the post-Christmas and New Year’s gatherings spike, with new COVID variants emerging, with cold weather making outdoor gatherings difficult and less practical, and with vaccine distributions behind schedule, we are now at the riskiest point by far to date in this pandemic.
There is hope. There are vaccines “getting in people’s arms” – we know some of them, you may be one of them. These vaccines promise a future of normalcy, economic boost, and in-person gatherings. We are weary and fatigued by the tasks set before us to continue to tackle this pandemic, but now is not the time to let our guard down. While there is hope for our future, we plead with our congregations and communities to continue the hard work in what it will take to battle this virus. Wear a mask, wash your hands, practice social distancing, and limit all gatherings with those outside your household.
We long to gather in person in our houses of worship, to sing a new song, and to share our sacred stories. We miss our rites and traditions. As your pastors, ministers, priests, and rabbis, please know that we ache for the day we can return to in-person worship, fellowship, and community. But that time is not now. We are still, at the least, months away from that reality. The love that caused us to suspend our in-person gatherings last year is the same love which calls us to keep the doors of our sanctuaries closed as we enter into this new year. The medical advice we have received is clear: it is not yet safe for us to meet in person.
All of our communities have discovered new ways of keeping in touch, gathering in virtual assemblies and minyanim, and loving God and our neighbors. Each of us can clearly say, by God’s grace, that while our houses of worship may not meet in person, our communities thrive and flourish. We pledge our help, our prayers, our service, and the strength and goodwill of our faith communities as we grieve, confess, heal, and restore. Our interfaith clergy group will continue to meet for support, to stay on top of the latest medical advice, and to make plans together. When the time is right, we will gather again in our sacred places. We will celebrate again. We will lift up our hearts in prayer and song together again. Until that day we stand in solidarity with you and walk with you in the days and months ahead of us.
Yours in faith,
Will Rose, Holy Trinity Lutheran and Lutheran Campus Ministry
Cameron Barr, United Church of Chapel Hill
Justin Coleman, University United Methodist Church
Jen Feldman, Kehillah Synagogue
Clarke French, Church of the Holy Family Episcopal
Damarcus Johnson, Life Church
Barry Jones, University Baptist Church
Jay Kennett, Hillsborough United Church of Christ
Curt Lowndes, The Gathering Church
Marcus McFaul, Binkley Baptist Church
Meg Peery McLaughlin and Jarrett McLaughlin, University Presbyterian
Elizabeth Marie Melchionna, Chapel of the Cross
Adam Seate, Orange United Methodist Church
Ben Williams, Christ United Methodist Church
Lisa Fischbeck, The Episcopal Church of the Advocate
Dottie Heninger, Chapel Hill Friends Meeting
Isaac Villegas, Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship
Donnie L. Jones, Amity United Methodist Church