For all of you who love the heat of summer (I am not a fan of summer) there are signs of the weather shifting to spring-like temperatures, though our winter may not yet be over. We remember those who have suffered mightily in the severe cold of Texas and the Midwest. Our prayers go out to the many who have had severe disruptions and even worse from the recent extreme weather. In almost apocalyptic ways, we have seen extremes of climate, political unrest, societal violence, and of course the pandemic. This brings to mind Paul’s writing in 2 Timothy 3:1-5: “but know this: hard times will come in the last days. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, demeaning, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness but denying its power” (CSB). It is good to know that when our world seems most troubled, we can be comforted, by Scripture, that shows God is firmly in control and we labor while awaiting a better day which is indeed certain for all believers.
This month marks the one-year anniversary of the global pandemic. Indeed, we have made progress in the management of the virus, and that is evident in our community as infection numbers have decreased. However, we await more people being vaccinated and fewer infections to really breathe a sigh of relief. I read an article this week that speaks of church attendance during the pandemic. In general, churches are seeing somewhere between 30% and 60% of their congregations returning to church. We estimate that on a typical Sunday our church has between 35% and 40% of our congregation back in attendance. Another 15% to 20% faithfully watches digital services, either by live stream, Facebook or later on YouTube. Where is the rest of the church? There are many good reasons for church members not to be in church during the pandemic. Some have been sick and are recovering. Still others are legitimately concerned about contracting the virus and remain away until their vaccination protocol is complete. Others await continued improvement in our community virus transmission numbers. There are senior citizens in these groups, but also there are many parents with school-aged children still concerned about the real risks in contracting the virus in daily activities like work, school and family contacts. These groups are not ready yet for church and this is very understandable.
But, I share the serious concern of many pastors and leaders in that another group may have permanently changed their church attending habits in the pandemic. Church experts warn that post virus attendance may decrease 20% to 30% because of these newly acquired habits. In every congregation, that is a sizeable number. Much competes with church for time and our habits easily can change in a matter of weeks. Therefore, if you have not returned because you are concerned about the virus for you and your family, we fully understand, and want you to return once you are comfortable with that decision. But, if barriers that kept you away because of the virus are resolved, I pray you will get back to regular attendance as soon as possible. Watching church at home is good when we must (and we will continue making that available for people who need to be home) but it is not a lasting substitute for in-person worship. I look forward to seeing you. As always, Scripture has a good word for us, “and let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25, CSB).
This request requires that our church maintain a safe environment for people to attend church. I think we have done well with that task. Mask wearing is nearly universal, families usually sit together properly distanced from other families. Most in attendance avoid physical contact with non-household members. Remember, we have seating in the balcony, main level of the Sanctuary and in the Fellowship Hall (with coffee and doughnuts). I am thankful you who attend have been so cooperative and that to our knowledge we have not had illness resulting from church attendance.
Mark your calendars for the following Easter week celebrations in our church:
-Palm Sunday, March 28, 2021, 11:00 AM – worship with the Lord’s Supper
(we will issue each participant an individual packet as we observe the Lord’s Supper together)
-Resurrection Sunday, April 4, 2021, 7:00 AM – in-person Easter Sunrise Service in our Cemetery
-Resurrection Sunday, April 4, 2021, 11:00 AM – Easter worship in our Sanctuary
I want to express to you, on behalf of Debbie, sincere appreciation for the many kindnesses you demonstrated to her in the loss of her Mom (Mrs. Willie Sneed) on February 9. You are a gracious and loving people. We love and appreciate you.
May God bless you all,
Rev. James A. Cohn