Church Family - Please find current updates below
This week, our county handed down a new health order that directly impacts our congregation and our weekly gathering. According to the county’s reopening plan, Phase 2.5 went into effect on July 1, 2020. As you are aware, it mandates wearing a facial covering for any indoor (and many outdoor) public activities. “Places of worship” were specifically noted.
The order does not unduly single out churches as distinct from other public venues and is therefore no infringement on our ability to gather or freely worship. As with previous orders, this one impacts everyone in our county, not just churches, and so, based upon the instruction of Romans 13, we believe it is biblically right to reasonably and faithfully comply with the order. Wearing a mask ensures we can continue meeting. If we were to neglect this order, it would needlessly jeopardize the potential of our gathering. A mask is a small price to pay for the joy of meeting together.
At the same time, we also recognize that the county’s new order is politicized, sensationalized by the media, and confused by conflicting medical advice. We all share a variety of convictions about the spread of the disease and these convictions often conflict. Our unity as a congregation is challenged by these issues.
As we navigate forward through a new phase of this uniquely shared experience, it is of the utmost importance that we keep in mind that Christianity is first and foremost about the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He is Lord above our government, above our American freedoms, above our political convictions, above our rational arguments, and above the spread of a virus (random viral particles do not exist in God’s economy). And we represent Jesus through our attitudes, actions, responses, imaginations, beliefs, conversations, and our worship. Jesus is Lord.
Let’s make sure we are representing Christ’s Lordship with Gospel-driven conviction. That means we will honor, not disparage our government. At this stage, it is not religious persecution to wear a mask to church. We encourage you to come and gather with God’s people and worship as the Body of Christ – with your mask on. If you don’t have one, we are happy to provide one. Our expectation is that those who attend will comply with the new order. Protesting the government’s directive on this point by avoiding our gathering sends the wrong signal of what we think of Christ.
And as we gather, we will not fear the spread of or catching the virus. As we take precautions, we will do so confident in Christ, unafraid of catching or needlessly spreading a virus. We are called to gladly risk our lives for the value of Christ. And according to the data available to us presently, our lives are not in reasonable risk by meeting together. Jesus is Lord. We do not fear a virus nor our government. We fear God – and we will aim to honor Him according to his word.
We have been so encouraged to see so many of you able to return to our Sunday morning gatherings. Attendance increased significantly this past week and we anticipate even more this Sunday. The enjoyment of your fellowship has been like fresh air in needy lungs. We will continue in our modified approach to gathering this Sunday as well.
We will meet at 10:30 am for our regular gathering. Thank you so much for your help in arriving at 10:00 am or after, so that all of those who are assisting with ministry in the morning can be prepared to serve you as you arrive. As you might expect, we always encounter technical issues that need to be resolved, last minute needs to be addressed, new concerns to care for, and ensure proper communication with all who are involved. Please help us with this by arriving after 10:00 am.
We will continue to provide childcare for ages 0-2. Parents, please continue to check in at the main check-in station located in the Children’s Hallway. Our aim is to expand childcare in July and we will be communicating more details soon.
We thank all of you who have responded so patiently to some of the challenges faced with our overflow room. We learn more each week and hope to respond better each week. Once the sanctuary is filled to our allowed capacity, we will be required to utilize our Fellowship Hall overflow which has a live feed of the service. We anticipate enhanced video and audio capabilities to be installed next week that will strengthen our live feed into the Fellowship Hall.
For those who desire more physical distancing, the Fellowship Hall would be a good place to choose to participate in our gathering.
For those who are not able to attend or for whom it is best that you not attend right now, we will continue to make the entire service available by livestream. You can access the livestream in two different ways. Our homepage (swbcls.org) has a “Livestream” link you can click on that will take you to a page with the stream and instructions. You can also access it through our Facebook page.
Video of the sermon will be uploaded to our website and YouTube (with captioning) later on Sunday afternoon.
Prepare your heart by reading, studying, and meditating on Genesis 32. Make use of both our Preparing for the Sermon and Preparing for the Gathering posts from our website. These will assist you in thinking through not only the passage to be taught, but familiarize yourself with the songs we will sing, and how to pray for those who will be leading us in the service.
We look forward to seeing you on Sunday!
Sunday was more than encouraging, it was renewing. For those who attended, I pray your hearts were full of praise and gratitude.
Sunday, June 14, we will meet again similarly to last Sunday. As we do, please remember the following:
- We have one service at 10:30 am. You do not need to sign up in advance to attend and we are open to any and all who desire to come.
- Doors will open at 10:00 am. Please assist us by not entering the facility before 10:00 am so as to ensure that our children’s area is prepared and that ushers, greeters, and those who have responsibilities in the service can all be in present and in place before 10:00 am.
- Childcare for children 0-2 years old will be provided. Parents, please use the check-in station in the children’s hallway and then enter the sanctuary across from the Nursery Station after taking your children to their room. If a child has any illness or fever, we will not be able to provide childcare for them during the service.
- At present our capacity in the Sanctuary is limited. When you arrive, please find a place to sit and place a Bible or your belongings on the pew to mark your spot. Once we have reached capacity in the Sanctuary, we will direct those who attend to the Fellowship Hall to participate through the livestream. Song sheets will be provided for those in Fellowship Hall.
- Feel free to utilize the Fellowship Hall if you have a need or concern for greater distancing.
- If you are sick (with any symptoms, even those you suspect to be seasonal), please delay your return.
- We will provide a livestream (10:30 am) of the service on our website or through Facebook. Video (with captioning) and audio of the sermon will be provided Sunday afternoon.
Yesterday, Governor Parsons announced that beginning Tuesday, June 16, all statewide restrictions will be lifted. We rejoice with this latest news. However, that does still mean that as of Sunday, June 14, our county remains under the Phase 2 reopening plan. The Governor has also indicated that local authorities still have the ability to regulate restrictions based on health concerns in their respective areas. That means we continue under Jackson County’s current reopening plan. Nonetheless, the light at the end of the tunnel is clearly visible.
As we anticipate our second Sunday back together, I want to remind us of a few important matters – both under one heading: Keep Christ’s Testimony Central.
Within our Restrictions, Keep Christ’s Testimony Central
Our area remains under a state of emergency that allows us to meet, but only so long as we maintain appropriate physical distancing. As we become more accustomed to meeting together again, please seek to maintain a six foot distance between you and others not in your family whether in seating or conversation. Regardless of your convictions about the virus, we remain in a period where it is necessary to pay attention to the conditions our county has asked us to maintain.
We also continue to ask you to refrain from physical contact in greeting one another as we gather during this present phase of our community’s reopening plan.
Within our Concerns, Keep Christ’s Testimony Central
While it is appropriate to honor our local governing authorities as they have requested our compliance with physical distancing, we also want to honor our ultimate authority, Jesus Christ, and His word in our responses to the virus. Be careful that you are not allowing sinful fear keep you from appropriate fellowship and worship.
Fear becomes sinful when the thought of preserving yourself exceeds the thought of obeying God. When the fear of hypothetical situations becomes more controlling of your thoughts and behavior than your revere of and confidence in God himself, sinful fear has likely gripped you.
Rational means of protection from a virus may be warranted by medical or physical conditions, or even necessitated by governing officials during a season like the present. But internal fear of risks that keep you from maintaining a faithful trust in the goodness of God’s sovereignty over your life may lead you to unfaithfulness. Sinful fear may be difficult to discern at times and we may need counsel and wisdom from others about how we are processing our concerns. But fear is never what governs the Christ-controlled heart. Confidence in his sovereign control over all things does.
As you prayerfully navigate your responses, centralize the testimony of Christ and the gospel above your freedoms and even above your fears.
We look forward to seeing you on Sunday!
What Will Sunday Look Like
We are gathering again this Sunday at 10:30 am. Here are a few details about what to expect. With all we have gone through and where we remain in terms of limitations, it is a necessity that we all be patient with one another.
We are aiming to making our service as normal as possible, even within the existing abnormalities.
With our current phase of re-opening, doors will be open at 10:00 am for our 10:30 am gathering. Both the Main Entrance and the West Entrance will be open at 10:00 am. These will be the only entrances available.
Doors will be physically opened for you and greeters will be present to assist with questions or needs you might have.
We will not be handing out bulletins, but a PDF of the morning gathering will be emailed to members ahead of time.
Masks are not required, but in concert with present CDC guidelines we encourage you to consider wearing one. We will leave it up to each individual as to the choice you make about wearing or not wearing a mask. If you desire to have one, masks are available at the welcome desk in the Main Entry.
One of the most important issues for us to give specific attention to is that of physical distancing. We are allowed to be open at the present capacity as long as we work hard at maintaining appropriate distancing.
Physical distancing means maintaining about six feet distance between you and another who is not in your family. This distance is needed both when in conversation with each other, as well as in seating. Please ensure that sufficient distance is maintained between you and another family or individual who is not in your family.
Every other pew is taped off and restricted from use. Please help us by refraining from removing the tape and avoiding sitting in those pews. Chairs will be spaced out in a variety of groupings behind the pews. Please do not rearrange or move the chairs without consulting with an usher.
Parents, especially during these beginning days of our re-opening, it will be essential for your children to remain with you at all times.
While it will be very challenging, we are asking our members to refrain from handshakes and hugs, especially in this present phase of re-opening.
For those sitting in the Sanctuary, it would be helpful and important to find your way to where you will be sitting and enjoy fellowship with those in that area, so that we can assess the level of occupancy in the Sanctuary.
We will be providing overflow seating in both the Foyer and the Fellowship Hall. Audio from the sanctuary will be available in the Foyer (video in the near future).
The Fellowship Hall will have varied groupings of chairs and a video/audio feed from the sanctuary. If and when the Sanctuary is filled to the allowed capacity, we will be required to use the overflow seating in the Fellowship Hall. Ushers will provide direction. Please do not rearrange the seating unless you have first consulted with an usher.
Singing is a vital part of our fellowship with one another on the Lord’s Day and we will be singing quite a bit this Sunday. We recognize that some experts have suggested caution in singing because of the possibility of an aerosolized spread of the virus. This is another reason why it is important to recognize the county requirement for physical distancing. This is the step we are asked to take in order to provide good-faith attempts to keep from any inadvertent asymptomatic spread of the virus.
We will be taking the Lord’s Supper together this Sunday. When you enter the sanctuary at any of our entrances (or the Fellowship Hall), you will see tables containing plastic covered cups and packaged crackers. Ushers will be present at each table to provide you with the number of items you need. Please pick these up before you are seated for the service.
You will need to keep the elements with you until the end of the service when we take them together. You can feel free to place them in the pew in front of you until that time if you like.
As we mentioned last week, we will not be taking up an offering during the gathering. Instead, ushers will be available at the Welcome Desk to receive your offering. You may also use the offering box across from the office entrance. Feel free to continue to contribute through our online giving portal or to mail in your gifts to the church office.
For June 7, we are providing childcare for ages 0-2. We have four rooms that have all been appropriately sanitized with adult volunteers who will be assisting. Please note that no snacks will be made available during this phase of our re-opening.
For those who wish to use childcare, please come down the children’s hallway from the Main Entrance to the Check-In station where someone will assist you. Once checked-in, proceed to the nursery station where a volunteer will assist in which classroom your child will attend. After dropping off your child, please only use the Sanctuary entrance from the nursery station to come in, rather than going back down the children’s hallway into the Foyer. Even if you will be sitting in the Foyer or Fellowship Hall, please avoid two-way traffic in the children’s hallway.
If parents who have young children with them in the Sanctuary (or additional seating areas) need to step out with the children for a brief time, we will have a large designated room in the children’s hallway you can utilize (CH301 – “the cubbies room”).
Please remember, we are unable to receive any children who present any symptoms of illness (fever, runny nose, etc.).
Parents who are members of SWBC will be receiving additional and more specific information about childcare for this Sunday.
For those Who Cannot/Should Not Attend
If you are ill, or exhibiting any symptoms of sickness (even if thought to be seasonal allergies), or if you are specifically immunocompromised or in a category of high risk, we would request that this Sunday not be your first Sunday back.
We are aiming to provide a livestream of Sunday’s service at 10:30 am.
A video recording of the sermon will be provided Sunday afternoon after it has been processed.
We ask for your patience. This will be the first Sunday we have attempted a live-stream. We will do our best to assess and correct any difficulties with the stream as we find them, and will look to strengthen our capabilities in the coming weeks.
Please consult the home page of our website (swbcls.org) for a link to and directions for livestreaming.
We are all beyond thrilled with our expectations of being back in our fellowship of worship together this coming Sunday. We anticipate a glorious Sunday with you.
We Are Regathering!
Before addressing the details of our regathering, we want to thank all of you who filled out the survey we sent out a week ago. It was very helpful in gaining a snapshot on how our members are thinking through regathering. We apologize if any of you did not receive it; please contact our office if you did not.
Fifty-five percent of our members filled out the survey and 85% of you expressed that you are ready to come back at the first available opportunity. Our oldest members were some of the most eager to return according to the age breakdown of the survey!
Another helpful insight from the survey is that 75% of those taking the survey desired to see some and will be taking some precautions as they return. Most who filled out the survey desired to avoid physical contact (shaking hands and hugging) and maintain the recommended physical distancing from governing entities. What was also clear in the survey is that only 25% of our members had no inhibitions or did not intend to take any specific precautions.
Sixty-four percent of the parents with children under 18 at home who took the survey indicated that they were ready to see their children back in their regular classes as we look to regather.
While we don’t want to make our most important decisions based purely upon a survey, the survey provided insight into how most of our members are thinking about regathering.
As we have given considerable thought to regathering as a church, we have sought to uphold a number of important priorities. The first of which is how do we communicate the best idea of what the church is, even if we cannot accomplish all of what we desire. In other words, our goal is not to merely provide an individualized in-person worship experience, but to get as close to a full congregational body-life opportunity as we can.
We recognized that in order to realize this goal, we would likely need to wait until our county moved into Phase 2 of their recovery plan. As stated in last week’s update, we were anticipating the county’s official announcement about enacting Phase 2, with a date and increased facility usage allowance. Under Phase 1, we did not believe we could accommodate our goal of having the vast majority of our congregation worshiping together as a church.
Last Friday, May 22, the county officially announced a first possible date for the beginning of Phase 2. It was not May 25 as we had hoped, which would have given us capacity for the church to gather. Instead, they announced that Phase 2, pending any significant progression of the disease in our area, would begin on June 1.
With that, the elders of Summit Woods are happy to announce that we are planning to regather on Sunday, June 7, 10:30 am for a full and as-close-to-normal-as-we-can-get worship gathering.
What Is Involved?
With the new building usage allowances under phase 2, SWBC can accommodate the full number of our average attendance within one service – our normal service.
Phase 2 means we can avoid asking people to choose a time slot and asking staff to manage when members can attend on a Sunday. We will have no sign-ups to gather as a church.
We are planning to participate in as normal a Sunday gathering as we are able. We will sing our hearts out to God and one another altogether, pray altogether, hear the Bible read altogether, commune with God as the word is taught altogether, publicly remember the Lord and demonstrate who we are as His body in taking the Lord’s Supper altogether (in a safe manner), and commune with each other in fellowship over the word altogether.
Because we are in the process of enhancing our audio/video capabilities, for the foreseeable future, we will also aim to livestream the 10:30 am service and continue to offer video (captioned capable) and audio of each week’s sermon online.
As Phase 2 begins on June 1, Summit Woods will resume our gathering for corporate worship together on June 7, 10:30 am.
While we will not begin by offering the full slate of children’s ministry during our worship gathering, we will be providing childcare for those ages 0-2 years. When you enter through the main entry, you will find members ready to assist with childcare in a way that avoids crowded hallways and waiting in bunched-up lines.
We are also looking to designate specific rooms for parents to take kids out of the service if they need to for any reason. Each of these rooms should have audio capability to continue to hear all that is happening in the sanctuary during the service.
If our county slows down or re-issues a different and/or extended date for the Phase 2 recovery other than June 7, we still plan to meet. We have developed plans that would be less than ideal, but allow a modified gathering to take place until Phase 2 becomes official. In any effect, we plan to begin meeting weekly again on June 7.
What Will Be Different?
We can’t live out Christianity effectively without socially engaging one another. But we do want to honor the guidance that calls for us to adhere to publicized physical distancing protocols.
Some pews in the sanctuary will be taped off for non-use. We simply ask that singles maintain the six foot (about 2 arm-lengths) distance from others while in conversation or seating. Families may sit together but should ensure that the six foot distance is left between them and another family or individual. We trust you to wisely, maturely, and eagerly maintain this standard throughout your time at church.
When the sanctuary reaches its capacity, we will use our fellowship hall for additional overflow seating. The seating will be appropriately spaced and cleaned and we are aiming to have a video and audio feed of the service on the large screen. We are also taking steps to outfit the Foyer with new video streaming of all that happens in the sanctuary. Audio should be provided throughout almost all of our facility, so that no matter where you may be during the service, you will be able to hear the content from the sanctuary.
We have been more than encouraged with the faithful financial support of our ministry together. Many have been using our new online giving capability through our website. Others come by and drop off their offering in the locked offering box just outside the office. Many continue to mail in gifts. You can continue to use any of these means for your giving. In addition, ushers will be standing with offering plates outside the sanctuary doors if you wish to drop your offering off as you leave the service. We will not be passing offering plates during the service.
Because of the physical distancing limitations, we are unable to adequately manage the flow of people and ensure the necessary cleaning protocols between our 9:00 am and our 10:30 am meeting times. With that, we are suspending our 9:00 am Equipping Classes for the summer session and will reassess how we can restart them beginning in September.
Honoring One Another
As we regather, we recognize that our varied congregation has a variety of convictions about issues related to physical distancing, handshakes, hugs, wearing or not wearing a mask, etc. Our gathering on June 7 should show a clear distinction between the condescending attitudes we are seeing from some in our culture. Our desire is to actually apply Philippians 2:3-11 to these issues and prefer one another above our selves. Many of these issues are similar to those described in Romans 14:13-23.
A significant number of people have indicated that they intend to wear a mask to the service. Hand sanitizer will be readily available. We encourage each other to avoid physical greetings without first asking and respecting another’s preference. Our campus should be a judgment free zone on matters like these. The glory of Christ, not our personal preferences, should be our singular emphasis when we gather.
We are excited and eagerly planning and anticipating your return to weekly congregational worship at Summit Woods. We encourage you to invite others to come. On June 7, our doors will be open and our gathered praise to our glorious God will be exuberantly expressed. We can’t wait to worship him with each of you.
OUR REGATHERING PLANS
In anticipation of regathering soon, we want to ask each of you to provide some feedback for us as to your preferences, expectations, and comfort-level in regard to regathering. This evening, our members will be receiving an email with a link that will allow you to fill out a form that will greatly assist us in solidifying our plans for regathering. Please take a brief moment to fill it out when you receive it through the weekend. Our staff will be evaluating the responses, preparing a report for the elders that will assist us with the many details involved in regathering.
This is the question on everyone’s minds. While we have a target date in mind, we are awaiting details from Jackson county as to whether they will move to Phase 2 of the reopening plans and what that will consist of. Even if the county chooses not move to Phase 2, we are making specific plans to accommodate meeting together under the current restrictions. Please know the staff and elders are as eager as the most eager to regather. We deeply miss the fellowship of God’s people together. As we think through the practical and biblical issues involved, we are prayerfully navigating many challenging implications.
Issues related to physical distancing, seating in the sanctuary, use of the foyer, restrooms, fellowship hall, entrances, greeters, ushers, music, musicians, parking, offering, the Lord’s Supper, bulletins, content of the service, use of video in other rooms, video for those who cannot attend, and several more issues are all being planned for now, with the aim of meeting again soon. Please pray for all who are involved in these conversations.
For this Sunday, May 24, we will continue with our video sermon and in-home worship suggestions. Be looking for communication early next week in regard to specifics regarding regathering in the very near future.
OUR REGATHERING EMPHASIS
One issue pressing on our minds is the vast variety of preferences and convictions, feelings, and thoughts we all have about what we have been going through, where we are presently, and what is best in moving forward. Thankfully, we are not left to ourselves to determine how we are to think about applying our convictions and preferences with others in our congregation who may think and feel differently. On one extreme side are those who feel very strongly that the current restrictions we are facing need to be immediately lifted, if not outrightly ignored. Another extreme is so fearful of exposure to the virus, they believe society is moving too quickly and dangerously in the attempts to reopen. What is vital for both extremes and all in between is not how to exercise your rights, pursue your convictions, or apply your preferences. What is vital for all of us is how will we obey God’s word in the way we treat each other despite our preferences and convictions. In fact, we have a choice. Will we be known for our rights and freedoms (even those spelled out in the Scripture); will we be known for our fears (even rational concerns); will we be known for our humble unity with one another that is more fixed on what exalts Christ and his word?
Ephesians 4:1-6 must be the unified expression from our hearts, toward each other, regardless of what our personal feelings, thoughts, convictions, and/or preferences are about our current situation.
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
What is more important, even than our physical regathering, is our spiritual fellowship through the gospel. Our unity as a single body of Christ, is of chief concern to God, and should therefore be ours as well. We need to think carefully about how we are apply Ephesians 4 with each other.
And the primary way to pursue such unity is through a kind of humility that prefers the good of another above our own personal preferences and convictions. We should all be resolutely fearless when fearlessness is called for. But what is better than being fearless? Being Christian. Consider Philippians 2:1-9 carefully.
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,
We are called to express selflessness, humility, and regard someone other than ourselves (likely someone who does not share our present confidence) more important than ourselves. In fact, the very reason you and I are saved is because Christ willingly surrendered the free exercise of his own privileges in the most humiliating of ways in order to accomplish what would be eternally best for us. And God exalted him with the highest possible exaltation as a result.
As we think through the details of our potential differences with one another, especially as we consider our regathering, let’s make sure that the portrait we display is that of our self-sacrificing savior – that’s what we are called to display as Christians. Let’s make sure that we are publicly known more for our citizenship in heaven governed by the document of the written revelation of God in the Scriptures than we are as citizens of any other kingdom governed by any other document.
Meeting as a Congregation
It has been a whirlwind of activity in our county over the last week, of which I am sure many of you have been hearing.
Jackson County has amended their restrictions of church gatherings, to allow churches to accommodate 10% of the facility occupancy (for those larger than 10,000 sq feet), meaning, we would be allowed to accommodate 152 people.
Our goal is to accommodate the vast majority of our congregation in worship at one time. At the present restriction, this is not possible. For convictional and practical reasons, we are not planning to offer multiple small venues. Our goal in traversing the restrictions is not merely to provide multiple venues within our facility from which small groups may view a service, but to accommodate the congregation in one gathering from which we can all participate as the body of Christ, carrying out the biblical priorities of a gathered assembly. Assuming the next Phase allows a greater number of people, we hope to accommodate the vast majority of the church.
Until that time, we will continue offering in-home worship suggestions and provide our teaching through video streaming.
Meeting in Small Groups
As the restrictions are lifting, we encourage you to consider meeting in smaller groups. In-home gatherings remain restricted to 10 people during the current re-opening phase. In the next week the elders will be discussing what accommodating larger groups at the church facility could look like (i.e., GSM small groups, Titus 2, Ironmen, and possibly some Growth Groups). As you would expect, careful thought and planning are required for us to move forward with allowing our members to use the church facility.
The Office is Open
Staff began working from the church office again this week and can accommodate small meetings and walk-in guests, as we continue to follow appropriate physical distancing guidelines.
We Praise God for You
Our congregation has been a tremendous blessing to be a part of during these days. Hearing stories of your service, meeting with many of you through video conferencing, praying, studying, encouraging, counseling, and assisting one another. We thank God for your expressions of love and care.
The Battle is Won First in Our Minds
While our spiritual life is more than what we think, how we live is often connected to how we feel, and how we feel is definitely tied to the way we think. For some, anxiety is not an issue. In fact, things are going so well and at such an easy pace compared to our pre-COVID environment, you won’t be disappointed with a few more months. I’m thankful for those who are finding a laid back peaceful time like this beneficial. A question for those in this situation would be, “Are you growing in your communion with Christ? Are you thriving at an accelerated pace in your affections for the things of the Lord? Are you stretching yourself to care for those who are in a very different place than you are? Are you involved in encouraging, discipling, praying for, and investing in others?” If not, or if you are at a sluggish pace in these things, realize, that is fundamentally a thinking problem. God hasn’t ordained these days for you to regress in spiritual fervor. It would be the quiet hiss of our enemy that says that the slower pace of present life should be applied to what stokes your heart’s affections for Christ. How we think about these days governs much of what we are feeling and how we are acting. Perhaps you need to activate a more robust biblical mindset, so that you feel more of the weight of need to grow deeper in Christ and more faithful to others. You may need to consider how to stimulate your thinking in more biblically saturated ways, rather than merely pragmatically driven responses to the present easy course.
For others, to even breathe the word “easy” during these days infuriates you. You are worried. You are worried about the virus, your job, your family, your bills, your way of living, and . . . well, the list could go on an on. This also is a thinking problem. God has ordained these days of challenge for your good. Perhaps to wean you from elements of this earth. Perhaps to reorient your affections to what is eternal more than the temporal. Perhaps God has ordained these days to clearly communicate to you that you are not in control. You cannot secretly manage your insecurities. You cannot be defined by your job, your ability to produce, your position of perceived influence, or your ability to think you are in control of your surroundings. God may in fact be weaning of us most everything – even good things, to remind of what is most important – himself, his Son, his grace, true faith, his Word, his people, and his glory.
Spend a moment meditating on Philippians 4:4-9. Dwell on the commands and consider the specifics of how they are playing out in your situation. Linger on the implications of the encouragements. Consider in writing what thinking on the things of verse 8 would look like in your particular environment of life. Who are the examples in your life of God-centered thinking and living and how can you emulate their faith? Who in your life isn’t enjoying the fruit of these verses? Take some time by text, phone, video, or even meeting in person to encourage them. Perhaps you are not even aware of how others are doing. This would be a good time to find out. They may need you. You might find that you need them too.
God has brought us into these days. God wants us to reflect him and his Word and true fellowship with Christ. Let’s be known more for that than anything else.
The doorway has been cracked open and we can begin to see light inside the room of a more open society within our community’s recent steps to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Jackson County released their plans for Phase 1 of reopening the area for regularity of life. The initial steps begin Monday, May 11, with the lifting of the Shelter-in-place order, which allows for groups no more than 10 to meet and some businesses to re-open. However, Phase 1 does not include our regathering as a congregation. We understand the caution as churches are in fact very unique venues for large gatherings of people singing, socializing, physically greeting, and being places for the easy spread of this unique virus.
What does that mean for us immediately? Please review our own Phase 1 plans that will begin next week and continue through May 24 (tentatively according to County regulations):
- The church office will be open for staff to work on premises, Monday, May 11, but not open to the public until Monday, May 18 (allowing us to make necessary preparations for walk-up visitors to the office). In-person appointments may be held by scheduling in advance so as to ensure acceptable numbers in the facility and physical distancing.
- Scheduled guests to the office will be encouraged to bring and wear a face mask or one will be provided. Staff will wear face masks for in-person meetings.
- Small discipleship groups are encouraged to meet in person if all are comfortable doing so and appropriate physical distancing and size (no more than 10) is maintained. However, no in-person meetings will be conducted in the church facility during this phase.
- All other gatherings (i.e., Growth Groups and our Morning/Evening Gatherings; Mid-Week Fellowship Ministries) are encouraged to take place through video/phone conferencing. No gatherings will be held at the church facility.
- Resources for in-home Sunday worship, including video recorded sermons will continue to be provided each week.
Jackson County has not released numbers associated with permitted size of gatherings for the remaining phases of their plan, therefore, it would be impossible for us to suggest any future plans, which includes any anticipated dates for our re-gathering as a congregation. As the County communicates and rolls out each phase, we will likewise.
As we anticipate our society beginning to open up again and as we face personal and congregational challenges, we would do well to consider the application of 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. These are momentary, light afflictions when you think of them as tools of preparation for the eternal weight of glory we will experience. Remember, our ultimate goal is not meeting together as a congregation here on earth (though we long for that time to come soon). Our ultimate goal is meeting together in glory together before Christ. And what is happening in our lives this very moment are feather-like afflictions in comparison to the concrete-like glory God is working in us through these challenges.
As we navigate these days together, we are here to serve you as best as we can. Keep devoting yourselves to prayer and meditating on God’s word. Invest in each other actively (meet together now). And guard your heart from sinful and soul-depleting anxiety (Philippians 4:6-9). God is preparing us now for something far more glorious than we could ever imagine.
Church family, allow me to express my gratitude to God and to you for the way you have been responding and serving each other in ministry over the last number of weeks. Our quarantine has yielded specific needs as well as detailed responses from you. It is marvelous to watch the body coming alongside to aide one another in trusting Christ and seeing needs met in a Christ-centered manner. I wish I could relay to you much of what I have been hearing and seeing. Rest assured, the Lord knows and I can’t help but think he is pleased with your heart and service. I thank God for you.
As we originally planned the preaching schedule for the year, next week and the week after were to be weeks where I and some of our members were going to be in Central Asia. With recent events cancelling that trip, the elders determined to continue with the planned schedule. With that, Dawson Bryant will be leading us in the study of God’s word this week, focusing our attention in Luke 11 and the application of Scripture to our prayer life. This is a consequential time for us to make the most of deepening our prayer life. I am looking forward to this time in God’s word and what it will yield across our congregation as we fervently pursue the Lord in dependent and faithful prayer. We will return to our study of Hebrews 7, three Sunday’s from now, and then look to launch back into our continued series in the book of Genesis for the summer months.
I know that this subject is on almost everyone’s mind. It is certainly the talk of TV news. And it is definitely an ongoing conversation among the elders and ministry staff. As parts of our region begin to re-open to the public next week, and the shelter-in-place order expires for our county in two weeks, when are we planning to meet again as a congregation? I wish I had a solid answer for that; but I do not. City, county, regional, and state governing entities are beginning to roll-out guidelines for re-opening society and we are paying close attention to them. From the latest communication we are seeing, it is difficult to imagine that we will be regathering in the month of May. Of course, that could quickly change if local authorities change course, but at present, limitations to gatherings of no more than 10 are being communicated for the weeks following the conclusion of the May 15 shelter-in-place order. With that, we are looking for ways to mirror the slow roll-out of re-gathering, perhaps beginning with Growth Groups meeting together. As we learn more, we will communicate more detailed plans about our own regathering.
WHAT TO EXPECT
What should we expect when we do assemble again? Whatever it does look like, I am certain it will look and feel a bit different than the last time we all met together. Personal contact will be different, seating will need to adjust, collecting the offering will look different, distributing the elements of the Lord’s Table will change, and even what we can initially offer in childcare will be significantly different.
What does this mean? It means we all have to be patient. Patient with each other, our leaders within the church and within our society. I am certain that some in our congregation will not, and more than likely should not, return immediately due to health concerns. Parents with young children may choose to delay gathering with large groups for a time. Some may expect everyone who is present to be ready for a hug. Some will be hesitant to even shake a hand. Again, when we do begin to meet together again, we will need to exercise a humble and non-judgmental attitude toward those whose initial convictions and comforts are different than ours.
All of this will provide a perfect opportunity for us to show the sweet smelling aroma of the knowledge of Christ as society begins to emerge from the implements of the present quarantine.
Second Corinthians 2:14-15 are verses I have been using today to pray for us as a church family. Consider these words prayerfully, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”
God is displaying through us, in every place we find ourselves, the sweet aroma of what it means to know Christ. The very thought of this should cause us to carefully consider our internal and external responses to the details of the quarantine and the expectations of our society re-opening. What we express needs to be the sweetness of knowing Christ, not merely our own personal convictions about any given situation. Let’s make sure that believers and unbelievers alike are seeing and experiencing from us the beauty of knowing our savior. That would mean a contented, joyful, confident, steadying trust in the goodness of God in regard to all that is going on around and within us. I am praying we all are good manifestations of God’s goodness, even as the stresses coming from the effects of this virus continue to impact us in ways we wish were otherwise. Christ needs to be seen and valued because of us during these days. May God show his glory in our responses together.
UPDATE ON SUNDAYS
We continue to provide weekly suggestions for in-home worship and the sermon by video and we plan to continue this approach the foreseeable future. We also recognize that the volume is increasing in our world about what and when re-entry to normal and in-person gatherings will look like. Our staff and elders are actively discussing and making plans for the day when we will all gather together in worship again.
As of today, our local authorities maintain a shelter-in-place order through May 15. The wisdom of Romans 13 calls us to continue to support and honor these authorities and the orders that have been issued. They have been ordained by God for our good. The restrictions are not applied to the church alone, but to the whole of our society. We want our testimony to match the Scripture’s call. It is possible that gatherings will be allowed to resume by degree (i.e., groups of 50, 100, 250). We will plan to move as slowly or quickly as our local authorities allow. Even with that, we are actively preparing for what smaller gatherings and our eventual regular church gathering will look like when they can begin again.
One of the greatest encouragements I have had through this period is to see how well people are caring for one another. A primary manner people have been connecting is through our Growth Groups. Each week, our staff reviews reports from our Group leaders about our various virtual meetings. Prayer, reflection on the application of God’s word, and tangible ministry to others is happening across our congregation through our groups in wonderful ways.
We recognize that some of our members are not yet connected to a Growth Group. Let me take this opportunity to encourage you to connect with one – and we would like to help with that. If you are not formally connected to a group, but would like to join one, please email me or Dawson Bryant and we will look to connect you as soon as possible to a group. You will benefit from the conversation, prayer, and ministry that takes place.
Today, our members Daniel and Courtney Martin were able to finalize adoption of their daughter, Alexandra. While meeting through a virtual courthouse, Alexandra has become a Martin. We are thrilled, especially in such unique days, this expression of God’s grace has been realized. Many of you have been praying for the Martins. Express to God your praise and to them your excitement.
One of our members and interns, Daniel Pentimone recently availed himself to the need for nurses in New York City. He was assigned, for 21 days, to a hospital in Brooklyn and has worked not only in the emergency room, but in ICU as well. Be sure to watch the video update above for a quick note of thanks and update from Daniel. Continue to pray for him. He is doing well and has remained healthy. In fact, he has agreed to serve for another 14 days beyond his original commitment. We are thankful for his heart to invest himself, his skills and training at this providential time of his life, during these providential days. Continue to pray for him and his ministry to others.
GRATITUDE FOR SUNDAYS
Since becoming a Christian, Sunday has always been a day I love. When it became apparent that we would not be meeting for a while, I could almost feel the creep of discouragement wrapping itself around me. I have been trying to actively fight back and work out of discouragement’s squeeze on my heart and enjoy what it is that God has ordained. I am confident, while congregational life cannot be replaced, that life in Christ can still thrive during these days. They are not ideal, but we dare not be idle in them. While not what I desire, it is still a day I love.
As our local authorities are extending our shelter-in-place order through the middle of May, God is extending the opportunity to be grateful for this unique time. Yes, we actually are actively and intentionally planning for what it will look like when we meet again, and we will communicate these plans to you as we learn more details from our local leaders. But until then, I am still grateful for what we are doing on Sundays.
IN WHAT WE ARE DOING
Few engagements in life are as life-giving to my soul than the ability to gather with you on Sunday. But, I am still grateful for what we are able to do on Sundays. Our family prays, sings, reads the word, and listens to the sermon together. We talk about the issues we are praying for, we think about the themes of the songs, we respond to what we have read, and we unpack what we have heard in Scripture. We are still meeting with our Growth Group and actively praying for and seeking ways to encourage each other. My soul needs that. Your soul is not different than mine. Let’s be grateful for what we are doing on the Lord’s Day.
IN HOW YOU ARE RESPONDING
My gratitude has flourished in recent weeks in hearing how you have been responding to these very different days. Whether in a phone call we share, an email we hav