By my counting, we are 20 weeks into this pandemic and the subsequent alterations on everyone’s life. Nonetheless, it is without precedent that our church went 16 weeks without gathering and even now our gatherings are limited. Fortunately, we have been able to gather for the last four weeks and I think our gathering is working well. Worship together is wonderful! Some probably believe we should return to normal now, but we (our pastors and deacons) do not believe it is wise to ignore the guidelines published by public health professionals. While this is working well, I am concerned that for many the routine of attending church will be more difficult. It may be easier to “attend church” in our living rooms on TV than in person. Other events may take priority as things return to “normal” and no one knows when or what normal will look like in the future. A full return to church will require improvement in the pandemic control as well as an intentional effort by each of us to get things back to normal. Here are my thoughts as we look to return as a church:
-Return requires our church stay abreast of current pandemic guidance, that we adequately clean our facility, and that we are responsible in maintaining safety guidelines like masks and social distancing. Almost every medical professional recommends the use of face masks, especially in closed spaces. I think we will still ask that worship attendees wear them for the foreseeable future. You can expect and will find our church making sure it is carefully cleaned between uses and is ready for your return when you are ready.
-We will return to regular activities slowly and deliberately. This means we will not initially have large gatherings like homecoming, fellowship meals, or special worship services until it is safe to do so. We will wait as long as possible to make decisions on these scheduled events. For example, we can say now that we will NOT celebrate a homecoming meal in September, but have no decision on our annual Community Thanksgiving celebration in November. As the times draws closer we will make that decision. Of course, our job is to let you know these decisions as far in advance as possible.
-We will continue our on-line service for the foreseeable future. However, because of school and its effects on our worship staff (David Burroughs drives a school bus) we will need to move our Friday recording service to another day. Friday, August 14 will be last day of Friday worship services. We are attempting to “live stream” our first worship services on August 16. This means that the 11:00 AM service on August 16 will be broadcast live at 11:00 AM to our home audience. There are technical issues with this and we are working on those now. However, we still want to offer a limited attendance worship service for those wanting a “live” worship but not ready for the larger group. We are looking at Thursdays at 6:00 PM or Sundays at 6:00 PM. Early this month we will give you a survey so you can tell us if one of these options works for you. We will continue Zoom Sunday School and online Wednesday night Bible study for now.
-Church is about gathering together for worship, fellowship, and discipleship. It is also about going out to our community to spread the Gospel. Many have written that one of the “gifts” of the pandemic may be to force the church out of the building. I encourage you in this season to find ways to go out and share your faith within your family, circle of friends or neighbors. Part of this is build relationships with people who need to hear the Gospel. We are teaching for the next several weeks on Wednesday evening, ways to share your faith. I encourage you to watch these and let us know if we can help prepare you for getting the message of Jesus out to our community.
Some other information and events around our church:
Erin Wagoner, our secretary of four and one half years resigned to accept a full-time position. We appreciate Erin’s work in our church. The Personnel Committee is working on a way forward for this position. In the interim we are managing the office. Let us know if we can help you in any way.
On Sunday, August 30 we are having a one day food drive for our church for East Stokes Outreach Ministry. As you come to church that Sunday bring your canned food items, cereal, children’s snacks or cash donations for East Stokes. We will take the food to them on Monday.
God bless you as we labor together for the Kingdom. Please let us know if we can help you in any way. Pray for our church and the lost in our community as we go forward.
By my calculation it has been sixteen weeks since we gathered to worship as a church on Sunday morning. Though we have tried to maintain our worship, it is difficult to do so even with excellent technology. I am proud that you have adjusted so well to this necessary interruption in our routine. It is good we are coming back next week, July 5, to in-person worship. It will be different but at least we are coming back!
Our responsible return to worship requires we wear masks and practice social distancing to protect everyone from the COVID-19 virus. (We have a mask for you if you need one) Our deacons will serve as ushers to seat you as you arrive and to guide you on the way out. To make it easier for the ushers to seat you, please enter through the back sanctuary vestibule entrance. We ask that you limit your activity to the sanctuary, fellowship hall, and main level bathrooms. These areas are being cleaned before and after each service to make it safer for everyone. There will be plenty of hand-cleaning stations available.
We will not take an offering during the service but you can drop a contribution off as you enter, leave it in offering plates at the door, use our outside dropbox, mail it, or electronically donate.
We ask that folks not congregate after the service and maintain social distancing, along with no handshaking or hugs. Our worship service will be as normal as possible if you consider wearing masks and social distancing as normal.
The sanctuary platform is a little different as we make room for proper distancing to lead music and preach, as well as make cleaning easier and more efficient.
For now we will continue our online worship service, online Bible study, online daily devotions and Zoom Sunday School class. Though we are returning to worship we recognize that some are not yet ready and we fully understand that. For those that desire the Fellowship Hall will be available for use in the worship service with newly installed and upgraded audio and video capability. Our Zoom Sunday School will continue to meet on Sundays at 6:00 PM until further notice. Contact the church office if you would like to be added to the electronic invite.
For those of you who want to attend in-person worship but are not ready for the crowds, beginning Friday July 10 at 3:00 pm, we are inviting up to twenty persons to attend in the sanctuary for the recording of online service. Masks, social distancing, usher seating will still be used. The fellowship hall will not be used on Friday.
We will watch the status of this virus in our community as we assess the best time to resume other church activities. We are as eager to return as you but want to do it safely and responsibly.
As we return we will be preaching a series of messages on “When Jesus Sought Just One.” This is part of our July emphasis on personal engagement of the Gospel, one person at a time. It is perhaps more difficult this season to identify and contact “your one.” However, you still have personal, phone, or social media contact with someone with whom you can share your faith.
Pray about the “one” you can share your faith and look for opportunites to present the Gospel to this person. I encourage you to look to your family, close circle of friends, or co-workers, for the one person in your life that needs the Gospel. As always if you need help in any way please contact us.
I am sure you are concerned about the headlines of violence and unrest in our country. These events highlight the thorough brokenness of our world by sin and underscores our nation’s desperate need for the Gospel. I urge our church to pray how we can be “salt and light” in our community as we work to further the Gospel. Of all the needs in our nation, the Gospel is our greatest need. I further urge you to commit to showing the love of Christ to everyone you encounter, and look for opportunities to bring the light of Christ to a broken world.
As always, AJ, Luke and I remain available to assist you in any way possible. Please contact us at anytime as you need or have a question. God bless you as we labor together for the Kingdom.
Rev. James A. Cohn