Here is our plan in how to respond to the recent requests to help slow the spread of COVID in light of the recent uptick in cases.
Greetings and grace to you yet again faith family. I must say that our first 4 weeks back have been far beyond anything I could have asked or imagined. I know that we will continue to GROW UP TOGETHER in Christ as He leads us on this journey with Him to see His Kingdom come, His will be done.
We need to be together: to be reminded of all that is good and glorious about being His children; to be rehydrated in the Holy Spirit in this dry and weary land where there is no rest; and to be strengthened to invite others into the family. Especially in these disconcerting times.
One of the things that has saddened me most in all we see happening in our world is how politicized and polarized everything has gotten — and I mean everything. So many people are planting their flag and circling their wagons around things that are simply not the gospel. And if someone disagrees with someone else, the volume of vitriol that is seen is scary. Sadly, the church is not immune to these satanic attacks to the unity that the Holy Spirit creates and yet we are called to preserve.
Walk in a manner worthy of the gospel to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. — Ephesians 4:1–3
I AM SO PROUD OF US AS THE PEOPLE OF GOD BECAUSE YOU HAVE FOUGHT THESE DIVISIVE ATTACKS SO BEAUTIFULLY IN THIS FIRST MONTH BACK AS YOU HAVE LED WITH LOVE AND EXTENDED GRACE SO ABUNDANTLY.
Whether it be our new and ever-evolving ‘Flow of Worship’, gathering decisions, or physical distancing requests, there is much that the enemy could use to drive wedges, and instead you have let the Holy Spirit build bridges. I am beyond proud to pastor such a people. You are making the most of our gospel witness by walking in the power of His grace.
The aim of your church’s leaderships has been to over-communicate in an effort to not leave anyone behind in these strange times we are in. We also know that we cannot possibly meet everyone’s needs or expectations in all the decisions that must be made.
Here is what we have done so far:
For those who are not able to physically gather, we have worked hard to make sure that we are able to Zoom and YouTube LIVE the entire service.
For those out of town, we are continuing to upload the weekly messages in audio and video.
To help everyone that wishes to gather make their own decisions on how that may look, we have pressed into the gospel-centric concepts of leading with love and extending grace to those around us. To practically facilitate this we have:
Set up the space to make it possible to physically interact at the level you feel comfortable — tables spread out, seated as families, chairs along the back and changes in how we do communion.
Repeatedly reminded one another of the FREEDOM we have in Christ to come in and out of the space as you feel led.
Asked for your continued input and participation in what the gathering time looks like moving forward
All of these items are still in place and we will continue to function in this manner. And, as the Lord would have it, our attendance over these next few weeks will be down and allow for even more flexibility in regards to any physical distancing.
What needs to be done now:
The recent spike in COVID cases has caused the Governor, local municipalities, AND OUR LANDLORD to request and/or mandate tighter restrictions on physical distancing in the attempt to ‘flatten the curve’ so as to avoid the necessity of another state-wide shut down. Although the Governor’s Office and the State Attorney General have both exempted places of worship in the past (and we have received legal guidance that this is still in force), our desire has always been to demonstrate love for one another and also be a good witness as a contributing part of the community we are desiring to reach for the sake of the gospel.
(And because we do not own our own building, we must attempt to adhere to our landlords wishes as graciously as possible. We are currently the only gathering in which they are not making mask-wearing a full-time requirement. But they have very politely suggested we attempt to show an honest attempt to adhere to the Governor’s protocol for gatherings. And should things progress to another shutdown, it is a very real possibility that they will close their facility).
To not gather is not good for the soul. This we know first-hand. To gather in a way that dramatically hinders genuine fellowship is not God-revealing. But to gather in a way that potentially sends the message that we seem to not care about what is happening in our community or refuse to listen to what others are asking of us to be a part of their rental space, is not the witness Christ calls us to or modeled for us. Our earnest desire is to be a strong witness of His love even as we don’t get in the way of all we are seeing the Holy Spirit do in our gathered time. We want to continue to practice the freedom we have in Christ to be led by His Spirit. However, the devil (LITERALLY) is in the details (that have become so divisive) of how to best live out these objectives in a way that will glorify our God.
To that end, in light of the recent increase in restrictions, your leadership is asking you to prayerfully come alongside us in the following ways:
Increase the awareness of, and efforts to adhere to, physical distancing guidelines for the next couple weeks. Specifically we are asking you to:
Sit at tables with your family, or those in ‘your circle’ as defined by you
Take communion with those only from your table as opposed to larger groups
Maintain physical distance from others that are not at your table unless you are wearing a mask
If you don’t have a mask, we will have some on tables at the entrance outside for your use if needed
For children, the recommendation is 6 years and older if masks are needed to ‘physically distance’ during our gathering. However, we have never desired to put age guidelines on things and instead leave it to parents to decide how best to handle their own children.
What might this look like?
We don’t know exactly. It is all part of the glorious mess. But I trust that the Spirit will help us figure it out TOGETHER.
Here is what I imagine for me (as an example):
During the time we are in our flow of worship at our tables and taking communion with ‘your circle’ there is no expectation that you keep a mask on
so I won’t be wearing one.
During the times of fellowship before and after the service, EITHER
Wear a mask OR
Maintain a physical distance from others
Because the 2nd is next to impossible for me, I will do the 1st and wear a mask for those periods of time as a way to show my concern for those who may be in an at risk category or caring for those who are.
Use these fellowship times as a way to be super-sensitive to the Spirit’s voice as you engage with others. This is a wonderful ear-tuning training time He can use to lead us to better discern when we are “hearing a word behind us saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.’” (Isaiah 30.21)
There is no intention on the part of your leadership to become the ‘physical distancing police’ and mandate that everyone adhere to these requests.
(To be clear, we are NOT mandating that masks must be worn by anyone. If you heard that, please re-read the above information.)
However, out of love for Jesus, for one another, and for the watching world that needs to see His Light in us, we humbly ask that we all prayerfully put aside our preferences and prefer one another as an overflow of His love for us. I resonate with Paul’s pastoral heart here:
Though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you... — Philemon 8–9
We know that for some, this will not go far enough. We know that for others, it is going too far. I personally appeal to you to filter what you are feeling through the lens of scripture and not though what you may have heard and seen from other sources. To start gathering or not? Masks or not? Hugs or not? These have all become politically volatile, polarizing and divisive issues that are NOT the gospel. They are literally driving churches apart and leading pastors to resign in increasing numbers. (AGAIN, I AM SO PROUD OF YOU ALL FOR HOW YOU HAVE HANDLED THIS SEASON AS A FAITH FAMILY!)
The gospel COMPELS us to love one another well. And you have done a wonderful job with this so far — truly like no other church I know of in my many interactions with area pastors. I am so encouraged by all He is leading US to be through this time. We don’t want to quench the Holy Spirit by ruining the unity He has created. You have responded amazingly well to my weekly plea to not just ‘tread water’ or ‘get through this time,’ but instead use this God-orchestrated opportunity as a chance to refine US for His glory. We are witnessing it happening before our very eyes. These next few weeks will be no different and I know you will respond with the same amazing love, care and concern with which you have been doing up until now.