A Pastor’s Note to Grace Covenant – September 9, 2022

Noted novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald mused: “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the Fall.” Well, while we still have more than a week before Fall officially arrives, and more than that before the air feels crisp, and the leaves reach peak colors, a new school year has begun and Labor Day is behind us, so for many of us our thoughts turn toward Fall. And at Grace Covenant, many things do “start all over again” in the Fall.

First, we resume our study of the Book of Hebrews. We began our study of this significantly rich (though too often neglected) letter last year at the beginning of Fall. We worked our way through the first 9 chapters, taking a hiatus for the Summer. We will pick up again on Sunday with the beginning of Hebrews 10, looking this week at verses 1-18; next week verses 19-25; and finish out September looking at verses 26-39. We will have opportunity to work through Hebrews 11 and Hebrews 12 during this Fall, before taking a break for Advent, after Thanksgiving. I expect we will finish up the final chapter, Hebrews 13, in January. For those who want to make the most of this study, I recommend checking out the brief overview and a few suggested resources. Check out Stay the Course: A Study of the Book of Hebrews.

Second, our Fall Discovery Class is scheduled to begin on Sunday September 18, running for 6 weeks. Discovery Class is designed to introduce the DNA of Grace Covenant – our beliefs, our values, and pathways to connecting – to those who are interested in learning more about the church. So, whether you are interested in becoming a member of Grace Covenant, or if you are just curious and maybe trying to decide if Grace Covenant is the church you would like to call you home, we hope you will participate in this class. If you have questions, or if you would like to sign up, we invite you to contact the church office – email: kathy@gracecovpca.org, or call 757-220-0147.

Other things of Note:

We invite you to pray for our middle school students, as this weekend they travel to Rockbridge (near Lexington, VA) for the annual MODGNIK retreat. Middle School and Junior High students from throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia for a time of worship, learning, and fun. For those who may be wondering, MODGNIK is the word “Kingdom” spelled backwards. It is a not-so-subtle reminder that to much of the world the Kingdom of Christ seems backwards. (Check out this decade-old article from ByFaith magazine that still paints a vivid picture of what this retreat is like: MODGNIK.)

On Saturday morning men of Grace Covenant will gather for our monthly Men’s Breakfast. The breakfast begins at 8am. Jon us if you are able. It is open to guys of all ages, meaning we’d be delighted to have guys bring their sons, whether they are teens or infants. If you are not able to make it this time, this is a monthly fellowship gathering, usually held on the second Saturday of each month.

This Sunday we will be hosting our annual College Student Lunch after the worship service. All area college students are invited to join us for a free lunch. No strings attached. Our purpose is just to get to know the students, and to let them know we are here for them, whether they are Williamsburg area natives or have come here only for school. While we wish we could invite the entire church, space requires that we limit the “non-students” to church staff, ministry leaders, church officers, and those who are part of the Grace Covenant community who teach or work at the college. But we do value prayer that Grace Covenant will be a welcoming and nurturing church home for the students during this pivotal years.

Finally, I’d like to invite anyone who is interested in working with children and/or teens at Grace Covenant to attend our next CARE Training workshop on Sunday afternoon, September 25. CARE Training is required of any and all who work with children and teens. It is designed to train all volunteers (and staff) to be aware of signs of potential abuse, and to protect the children we have as part of our church community. The children entrusted to our ministry are of utmost importance. Protecting these children is a major priority for us; it is something we take seriously. If you are interested in signing up, or if you have questions, please contact our Interim Children’s Ministry Director, Rachel Bartelmay.

That’s all for now. I look forward to seeing everyone on Sunday!

Grace & Peace,

W. Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor

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Stay the Course: A Study of the Book of Hebrews

Beginning Sunday September 11 we resume our sermon series “Stay the Course: A Survey of the Book of Hebrews”. During these autumn months we anticipate digging into Hebrews 10-12 together.

Hebrews is different from other New Testament letters that we call “the epistles”. Unlike all the other letters, the author of Hebrews never identifies himself (though many theories abound), nor are we specifically told to whom the letter is written (though almost universally it is understood to be written to Jewish Believers living, most likely, in 1st Century Rome). But it is not just the absence of those common elements of a letter that makes Hebrews unusual. Even more unique is the way the letter flows. As at least one commentator notes, Hebrews is “a sermonic letter”. In other words, it reads more like a sermon than like a letter. But, through it all, there are some common threads, most notably the frequent encouragements for the readers to endure, to “run the race” of life; and to keep our eyes on Jesus “the author and perfecter of our faith”. A repeated theme throughout the letter is “Jesus is Better”. “Better than what?” one might ask. Better than everything, seems to be the answer. And my hope for us, as we continue in this series, is that we will indeed see and be reminded of how true that is. Jesus is Better – by far.

Suggested Resources

As we study the Book of Hebrews together, we want to provide some resources that should prove helpful and beneficial.

First, I want to commend to you a short video from Bible Project. This video is an 8-minute digitally animated introduction and overview of the Book of Hebrews.

Second, we have Hebrews Scripture Journals available for all who want them. These scripture journals are helpful for keeping notes, whether during the messages or from your own study throughout the week. The Hebrews Scripture Journals will be available, beginning this weekend, in the Commons. We ask a recommended donation of $3 per copy. The donations are requested only. We do not want anyone who wants a journal, but who may be short on funds, to go without one. The reason for this requested donation is simply to defray our expenses for this resource. (Scripture Journals retail for $7; we get them for just under $4/copy.)

Finally, we want to re-issue a challenge to everyone: Read through the Book of Hebrews at least once per month during the months we are studying this letter together. In other words, at least once each during September, October, and November. Take a break, if you wish, during December, when we take a break from Hebrews and shift our attention to Advent and Christmas. We’ll invite everyone to pick up the challenge again in January, when we are looking at the final verses of this important (although too often overlooked) letter. It is amazing how the Word speaks to us when we read it again and again, especially as we are gaining new insights though our times of study together.

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A Pastor’s Note to Grace Covenant – August 20, 2022

With most of Summer now in the rearview mirror, we are getting ready to roll into the Fall. For many, myself included, Fall or Autumn is a favorite season of the year. Anticipation of the beauty of the changing leaves, cooler temperatures (eventually), are only a few of the reasons many look forward to the coming season. But it is not only the leaves and the temperatures that change. Our church also shifts out of Summer mode into our more “regular” rhythm.

Summer Picnic

Before highlighting some important things for this Fall at Grace Covenant, let me first offer a reminder that our final Summer Family Picnic will be held next Sunday afternoon/evening, August 28, from 4-6pm, at First Colony Pool & Clubhouse. These picnics, held the last Sunday afternoon of each Summer month, are a great way to connect with old friends and meet new ones. So, if you have not already, mark your calendar and plan to join us.

Fall Worship Schedule

Most significant of the things I need to communicate is a temporary change to our weekly worship schedule. While our usual pattern is to return to two weekly worship services, 8:30 and 11am, as we approach Labor Day, Session has made a decision to remain in a single 10am service through the Fall (and Advent, which is our normal pattern).

With the present patterns that churches all across the country are seeing as we continue to emerge from the wake of COVID, we believe we can fit into a single service for a little while longer, though some weeks may get a bit snug. So after considering input from our Deacons, ministry leaders, and Ben Robertson of RUF, Session has decided that, rather than just maintaining the status quo, returning to our planned two services, we would try to seize this as a season of opportunity. We want to remain in one service, and use it as an opportunity to welcome those who are new to Grace Covenant and connect people to one another – people who, in different services, may have little opportunity to meet. We expect to resume our two service schedule in January.

To maximize this opportunity, I do want to make a request of everyone for whom Grace Covenant is home. This is a personal request, meaning it is coming from me and not from the Session (though I have no reason to believe any of our Elders would object). I invite all – all who are willing – to adopt what is sometimes called The 5-Minute Rule. The 5-Minute rule is this: For the first 5-minutes after any worship service, find someone you do not know, or that you do not know well, and talk with them before they head for the doors. Talking with those you do not know before you catch up with old friends is a simple way for newcomers to be made to feel welcome, and for relational connections to be strengthened throughout the church. (John 17.20-21)

For those who are wondering, we will have our full range of ministries on Sunday morning. Children’s Sunday School and Adult Ed will meet at 9am; Worship at 10am; with Children’s Church, Kid’s Quest (Beginner Catechism), and Advanced Catechism offered as usual. Nursery will be offered for both Education Hour and during Worship – though children of any age are welcome to remain for worship if that is the parents’ preference.

Children’s Ministry

With Fall will come another change. Starr VanWingerden has been serving as our Children’s Ministry Director for the past few years. Starr has been on sabbatical from this position since Easter, but has decided that she would step down to give attention to other important things. I would personally like to extend my thanks to Starr for her labors on behalf of our children, especially as she was at the helm during a very difficult time when COVID caused shut-downs, isolation, and social distancing. When you see Starr, please join me in expressing appreciation for her.

For the past few months, Rachel Bartelmay has served as the Interim Children’s Ministry Director. Rachel has done a great job preparing us for Fall, and she will continue to guide the Children’s Ministry as we enter the new school year. But Rachel has chosen to not pursue the job on a permanent basis, and so will rather help to transition the next Children’s Ministry Director into the position. So, as with Starr, I want to express my appreciation for Rachel and the work she has done; and I invite you to thank Rachel for her work, as you have opportunity.

We have not yet appointed the next person for this role, but a recommendation has been made which the Session is considering. We’ll provide more details once a decision is finalized. But we do ask your prayers both for wisdom as the Elders make this decision and for the one the Lord is raising up to assume leadership of this vital ministry.

Discovery Class

Finally, our next Discovery Class will begin on Sunday September 18, and will run for six consecutive weeks. The class is designed to introduce the beliefs, history, and values of Grace Covenant to those who are interested in learning more, and for those who have interest in becoming a member of the church. That said, commitment to joining the church is not a pre-requisite for participation in the class. The class will meet in the church library at 9am each week. For more information, or if you would like to sign up, please email Kathy Buhl. If you are new or newish to Grace Covenant, and you are not yet a member, I hope you will join us for Discovery Class. It would be our pleasure to get to know you more personally.

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A Pastor’s Note to Grace Covenant – April 8, 2022

This coming Sunday is the beginning of what many Christians, of many traditions, call “Holy Week” or “Passion Week”. The first day of this week, regardless of whether one thinks of it as Holy Week or Passion Week, is commonly called Palm Sunday” – a day on which Christians often focus on the entry of
Jesus into Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark 11.1-11; Matthew 21.1-11; Luke 19.28-40; John 12.12-15). Those who refer to
this week as “Passion Week” rather than “Holy Week” tend to focus on Jesus’ suffering, culminating in his crucifixion and death on Good Friday. Our observance of Maundy Thursday is intended to focus our attention Jesus’ suffering, as a way of preparing us for the celebration of the resurrection on Easter Sunday. While Christmas season seems to get all the fanfare, it is the passion (i.e. the death of Christ) and the Resurrection that is the heart and soul of Christianity.

At Grace Covenant we will observe Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and, of course, Easter Sunday. As part of our Palm Sunday celebration this year, we have the joy of welcoming new members into our church family: Sharen Auger-Rizy, Alli Nuckols, Nancy Welsh Schulman, and Andrew Rogers. On Thursday of Passion Week we will be holding our annual Maundy Thursday service. This is a solemn, contemplative service, in which we remember the initiation of the Lord’s Supper by partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Maundy Thursday is one of two times each year we take up an offering for our Mercy Ministry, as a way of reflecting the mandate Jesus gave to his disciples to “love one another” as he has loved us. (The word “maundy” comes from Latin, meaning “Mandate”.) Our service will begin a 7:30, and usually lasts about 40-45 minutes. And our Easter service is a special time of celebration and testimony of God’s grace. Every year I hear people say how precious our Easter service is. Additionally, we will have choral offerings for all three services, as our Children’s Choir will sing on Palm Sunday, and our Grace Covenant Choir will sing both Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday. I hope you will be able to join us. And consider inviting an un-churched neighbor or friend.

The Sunday after Easter, April 24, we have called for a Congregational Meeting to be held during the Education Hour (10am – 10:45am) for the purpose of electing new church officers. Those who have participated in extensive study and training, and who are being commended by the Session (i.e. Council of Elders) after having been thoroughly examined, are Elder candidates Aaron Kota and Tim Nargi; and Deacon candidates Daniel Proctor and Justin Stevens. While the idea of meeting to vote on church officers may seem mundane to some, it is an incredibly important part of the life of any church. It is not too much to say that as the leadership goes, so goes the health of a church. And this is the opportunity, as well as the responsibility, of every member of the church to participate in building a strong future for our church. We invite everyone to pray, and we invite all members of Grace Covenant to come and participate in this important endeavor. While the Elders are commending these candidates for your consideration, each member must vote his/her own conscience. The election of church officers is one primary ways that the members of the congregation direct the ministry of a Presbyterian Church. Those whom the congregation elect to the respective offices will be ordained and installed during our Sunday May 1 services.

With Easter also begins a countdown ’til Summer. It does for me anyway, especially when Easter comes later in April. It’s hard to believe, but after Easter we are only a handful of weeks away from Memorial Day – which for many is like the un-official start of Summer. Just as a heads up, after a few years in which COVID was prohibitive, we will be returning to our traditional single service Sundays this Summer, beginning with Sunday May 29. While our sanctuary can get quite packed in a single weekly service, it allows us to minimize our need for as many volunteers as we do during the school year. This is important, as our volunteers deserve a break, and with Summer vacations and travel plans, it can be a challenge on some Sundays in the Summer to maintain the full roster. Additionally, as we had done for the few Summers prior to COVID, we will be suspending Education Hour for the Summer. Instead, we will have weekly times for informal fellowship from 9:30am to 10am in our Commons area, followed by our worship service at 10am each week. While I personal enjoy our services during any season, there is one thing I especially look forward to when we are in a single weekly service: our congregational singing when we are all together is … simply majestic!

This Summer will also have a few temporary adjustments. Both Camper (Associate Pastor) and Starr (Children’s Ministry Director) will be taking sabbaticals. Our Elders will step up to help with some of Camper’s responsibilities. While Starr is away her responsibilities will be divided – and ably covered. Jamie Field will be spearheading VBS this year; and Rachel Bartelmay will serve as Interim Children’s Ministry Coordinator until the middle of August, when Starr resumes her post. Jamie has already begun working on VBS, and we have every confidence that VBS will again be a fantastic week- as it always is. Rachel will coordinate the Children’s Church, Kid’s Quest (i.e. Catechism), and other day to day duties related to children’s ministry (other than VBS). Please pray for Jamie and Rachel, as they assume these roles for the Summer; and for Starr, that this time would be refreshing for her.

As we move toward Summer you receive more info about our regular Summer activities, beginning with our National Day of Prayer Congregational Prayer Dinner the first Thursday in May, and our monthly Congregational Picnics the last Sunday evenings of June, July, and August.

The Lord continues to bless us as a church. And I am personally thankful for you all!

Grace & Peace,

W. Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor

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GCPC Men’s Ministry March Madness Challenge 2022

GUYS! It’s March Madness time! The brackets for the 2022 NCAA Basketball Tournament are set. Grace Covenant Men’s Ministry is coordinating a March Madness Bracket Challenge, through ESPN.com. This group is open to any man/boy connected with Grace Covenant, no matter what age.

March Madness Bracket Challenges are fun for almost anyone – whether you are a basketball guru or you can barely bounce a ball. Upsets happen so frequently every year that even those who randomly guess can do as well as those who have been watching games all season. So we invite you to join in the fun.

Here is the link: Grace Covenant Men’s Ministry Bracket Challenge. If you do not have an account with ESPN, you may need to create one – but it is FREE. You will also need a Password for the group. The Password is GraceMM.

While a couple preliminary play-in games tip-off on Tuesday & Wednesday, you will have ’til Noon on Thursday to complete your bracket. Once you are signed in, you can check the group leaderboard after each round to see where you stand. And, ESPN usually allows participants to re-do their brackets in the week leading up to the Sweet 16 – so even if you start out slow, you still have a shot.

Just to make it a little more fun, the winner of the Grace Covenant Bracket Challenge will receive a gift card to Lowe’s.

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Grace Covenant Men’s March SIP Group Sign Ups

Proverbs 27.17 says: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”

In January, the leadership team of Grace Covenant’s Men’s Ministry Team launched a new initiative, SIP Groups, as a way to connect men to one another, who then encourage and sharpen one another through a rotation of daily texts. These texts contain a simple scripture verse, and a simple prayer. (The acronym SIP stands for: Scripture – Invitation – Prayer.)

The first round of SIP Groups has gone wonderfully well. We have had multiple reports of how these simple daily texts have brought encouragement, and of cases where guys who had previously been strangers have connected because of sharing in a SIP group. With the first round coming to a close, we are now having sign ups for the next round, which will run for 40 days this time, and which will begin on Tuesday March 1.

As a reminder, SIP Groups are simple. Each group will consists of 5 – 7 men. Each participant in the group will commit take one day each week, for the period of 40 days. (Groups of 5 are Monday – Friday; Groups of 7 are Sunday – Saturday.) On your assigned day you are responsible to send a simple group text, with a verse or short Bible passage, and a brief prayer related to the passage. (For examples click: SIP Examples; then scroll down to see a few examples of SIP Group texts.)

Sign up requires only two things:

  • We need your name
  • We need your cell phone number for the group texts.

To sign up for the next round of SIP Groups, which begin on March 1, please click: GCPC Men’s March SIP Sign Up. (NOTE: Please sign up by Saturday February 27. the earlier we receive sign ups, the easier it is to put groups together. Thanks.)

Click the link and join us!

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A Pastor’s Note to Grace Covenant – February 3, 2022

Good News! The Omicron spike has peaked. Medical experts who have studied this COVID variant say that as contagious as this strain has been, cases will also decline quite quickly. Case numbers are already rapidly dropping, including in our area. So, with that good news, I also want to let everyone know that the extra protocols put in for precaution at Grace Covenant have expired. Beginning this Sunday, February 6, we will resume our normal – or, rather, our “normal-ish” – schedule. The protocols will return to those we had in place through the holiday season, into the new year. We advise everyone to be wise, with regard to the lingering risks of COVID. We urge the wearing of masks during worship services and whenever in the church building. We encourage families to space themselves adequately, as you are able, even though we will be removing the cords that have been separating rows these past few weeks. And, of course, if you, or members of your household, have tested positive for COVID, or if you are showing COVID-like symptoms, we would ask that you join us via LiveStream until you come to the end of the recommended quarantine period.

Beginning this Sunday, February 6, nursery will be available to toddlers and infants during both services. Children’s Ministries, including Children’s Church and Kid’s Quest (formerly called “Catechism”) will resume during the 8:30 service. We look forward to eventually resuming all children’s ministries in both services, but as the effects of COVID still linger we do not want to strain our pool of volunteers.

Also, this Sunday, we begin our Discovery Class. This class is designed to introduce those who are curious about Grace Covenant to our history, our church’s DNA – our beliefs, our values, and our ministries. If you are new, or relatively new to Grace Covenant, I invite you to join in that class. This class is designed to serve as our New Members Class, but a commitment to joining the church is not a pre-requisite. But the class would give you an opportunity to explore important aspects of the church, as well as an opportunity to connect with others. One more comment about Discovery Class, while it is designed for those who are new to Grace Covenant, it is open to everyone, even those who have been part of the church for a long time. Participating in this class would enable you to connect with some who are new, as well as offer an opportunity to think more deeply about some of the foundational aspects of our Faith.

Another thing of note beginning this Sunday is a designated time of prayer during the Education Hour. Each week, during the Education Hour, from 10am – 10:45am, throughout the month of February, one of the Elders of our church will lead in a time or corporate prayer. Each week will likely have slightly different formats, but all are intended to join us together praying for one another, for the health of our church, the strength of our mission, the flourishing of our community, and the Shalom of God upon our country and the Nations. We have designated this time for a couple reasons. Pragmatically, we realized we do not know what COVID variants will do, so we did not want to just jump into our next Adult Education series, only to have to postpone it again. But more important, we are always in need of prayer; and we are always in need of being a praying people. For God himself has said: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56.7) So we invite you to join us in the sanctuary at 10am each week during February. Join us in praying, whether you participate for the whole hour, or if you can only stay for the first few minutes.

One more note about praying, once again this year we will encourage everyone to participate in praying for our community during the weeks leading up to Easter. For the past several years we have provided some prayer guides, and encouraged folks to download the app, Seek God for the City. We will give more info in the coming weeks, but I thought I would mention it now to put it on your radar. The weeks for Seek God for the City this year will be from March 2 through April 10.

Finally, I’d like to invite everyone to join us Sunday evening, from 5pm to 6pm, for our annual congregational meeting. Sadly, will not have the dinner this year because, in planning, we were not sure whether we would be in-person or online. Fortunately we will be in-person. But planning for a dinner with only a few days notice would have been challenging; and to have prepared for the meal but to have had to cancel it would have been wasteful (not to mention frustrating for those who put in the work). Having already had to postpone the meeting once, we did not want to do so again. So we set the date for February 6, and kept watch on the COVID cases. All that background to say, come join us as we take an hour to look back on what God did for and among us in 2021, and as we look forward to, and pray for, what God will do through Grace Covenant in 2022.

Grace & Peace,

Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor

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Befriending Newly Arrived Afghans Across the US

In their most recent newsletter, Mission to North America Refugee & Immigrant Ministry highlights Grace Covenant’s Mary & Allen Slade and Nathan Kieweit for their labors to lead our church in outreach to Afghan Refugees here on the Peninsula. We have reproduced the post here:
Have you resolved to do something new in 2022? Something that will allow the Lord to deepen your spiritual life in fresh ways?

Upon her recent retirement, Mary Slade of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Williamsburg, VA, prayerfully set a new goal for this season of her life:  to form a friendship with someone who might not ever walk through the doors of her church! The Lord answered, providing her a chance to befriend a newly arrived Afghan family in her area.  She started by offering to drive the young Afghan mother and her pre-school daughter to shop at Walmart, and then to a local park with playground equipment. 
“When we got to the park, I realized it was their very first time,” says Mary. “The little girl was frightened! After an hour, though, her countenance totally changed. You could see the stress melt away! Her mom enjoyed it, too–getting away from the confines of the apartment and her many worries, to a peaceful place with trees. And she was relieved to see her child happy.” 

When the little girl’s older brother found out that they had gone to the park on a school day without him, he asked Mary if they could go again, so he could get in on the fun! 

“Now their mom calls me ‘Mom,’” says Mary affectionately. “Knowing that they don’t have their own mom or grandma with them, it’s such a special thing to be able to just be there for them in that capacity as they begin to navigate life in the US!” 
Acts 17:26 and 27 tells us that God has always used the movement of people for His purposes – and that whatever causes people to leave their homelands (in this case, fleeing to a safer place), His sovereign purpose is “that they might perhaps feel their way toward Him and find Him.” But this doesn’t happen in a vacuum – He has brought them to OUR communities – into proximity with believers so that we might be “the aroma of Christ” in how we welcome and befriend them.“Knowing that they don’t have their own mom or grandma with them, it’s such a special thing to be able to just be there for them in that capacity as they begin to navigate life in the US!”
Have you heard that Afghan arrivals will be resettled in your area? If you haven’t yet, it’s very possible that you will soon. While the evacuation flights initially took approximately 70,000 Afghans to US military bases around the country for processing and vaccinations, only 16,000 now remain on the bases, and those are expected to leave for local communities before Feb. 15th.

While most previous refugees have spent years in camps waiting for a chance to resettle in a safe country, these Afghans have not had that experience. Many had been working in respected roles with US troops or US-funded aid programs, and had been relatively comfortable financially, until their country fell to the Taliban and they found themselves in imminent danger. Suddenly they had to leave everything behind, and those fortunate enough to make it onto evacuation flights were brought directly to the US. 

Not having to endure the protracted trauma of refugee camp living is positive, and the Afghans are very grateful to be in a safe place. However, the whiplash of rushing to evacuate – with no chance to prepare, very few possessions, anxious about family members who didn’t make it out – and now suddenly finding themselves in a new culture where their previous roles and/or professional credentials are not transferable – is a huge challenge. Having put their lives -and the lives of their family members – at risk to help Americans, their hopes of how they would be welcomed here may be high. “For these families, it’s hard to adjust to the reality that they need to accept an entry level job and start at the bottom,” says Mary Slade. 


Suddenly finding themselves in a new culture where their previous roles and/or professional credentials are not transferableis a huge challenge.After arriving in a new country, refugees have to rebuild their lives from scratch, usually with significant assistance from the local resettlement agency that picks them up at the airport and walks with them through the first few months. But – due to critical staff shortages caused by the erosion of federal support for the refugee program during the previous 4 years – and due to the sudden, unanticipated evacuation of 70,000 Afghans to the US in 6 weeks’ time, rather than the usual “controlled flow” of refugees into the US – many of the local resettlement agencies assigned to help the Afghan arrivals are overwhelmed, currently only able to provide limited support in this process, once the refugees are sent to local communities from the US military bases to which they were initially evacuated.
And yet, partnership with resettlement agencies is vital. “For the US government, there has been no ‘Plan B’ for helping refugees to settle in the US,” explains Pat Hatch, MNA’s Refugee and Immigrant Ministry Director. “Federal government and state agencies depend on the local resettlement agencies as the sole conduit of information and processes crucial to establishing the refugees’ identity in US databases and providing access to transitional benefits and services for which they are eligible.”

As you reach out to your local resettlement agency, be gently persistent in offering to supplement these important services,  using their online contact form or organizational email address. If you are specific about what you can offer (transportation to and from appointments? a storage unit for donated items? a housing unit for a year? furnishings in good condition? ESL tutoring?) and let them know multiple ways to reach you, you’ll be more likely to get a response.” (Find your closest resettlement agency at https://www.acf.hhs.gov/orr/map/find-resources-and-contacts-your-state.) 

Mary Slade definitely sees her efforts as supporting the resettlement agency in their time of need: “The agencies are overwhelmed. They’ve never had this many refugees come through this fast, at a time when their staffing levels were so low. We are just filling in the gaps.” 
[Photo: Volunteers organizing donations at a storage unit in Tucson]

Another Grace Covenant Presbyterian member, Nathan Kiewiet, reports that “when we first met our Afghan family of eleven, they only had the clothes on their backs.” Simply taking new arrivals to Walmart to pick out some additional clothes can be a huge blessing. The church has donated money as well as household items, responding to specific needs expressed by Afghan families themselves, since “we want to get things they need, not presume what we think they need or overhelp.” For example, while some families may appreciate tables and chairs or sofas, many may – at least at first – prefer donations of clean carpets on which they can spread out a cloth for meals and for socializing, as has been their tradition. 
URGENT NEED: HOUSING! 

Finding housing in local communities for refugees is always challenging for the resettlement agencies, since it needs to be on public transportation routes, near jobs, and at a rate affordable on an entry-level wage.  (And since the refugees don’t yet have either a job or a credit rating!)

But with the Afghan arrivals, this has been compounded because there is a nationwide shortage of affordable housing, and also because many of the Afghan families who are arriving are quite large – often with five or more children, requiring larger units. 
“We want to get things they need, not presume what we think they need.”As a result of the shortage, once they are sent from the military bases to the local communities, many resettlement agencies are finding it necessary to house the Afghan families temporarily in extended stay motels until more permanent housing solutions can be found.
(If you as a parent or grandparent have ever had a vacation rained or snowed out and have been trapped in a hotel room for 24 hours with small children, you can begin to imagine how difficult it is for families who have been through so much trauma already to live this way for weeks or months, in a confined space, with many children.)

Many of the adults have not yet received their employment authorization documents that are still in process, and most of the children have not yet been enrolled in school, so they are just “sitting there in limbo, with nothing to do.”  If the local resettlement agency will permit, this is a tremendous, time-sensitive opportunity for church volunteers to step into the gap and provide meaningful activities and begin friendships (a few volunteers at a time, is best at first.) 
Essie Wu of Catalina Foothills Church in Tucson, AZ shares that her church has teamed up with a local Afghan-run organization, Tucson Afghan Community, as well as with Tucson Refugee Ministry to go to the hotel where Afghans are are living temporarily and help provide donations and diversions to those with little to do.  Activities have included crocheting (a popular pastime for Afghan women), soccer games, music, Q&A with an immigration lawyer and children’s activities.“You can’t imagine how rewarding it is to meet a family right at the beginning! They’re so grateful, and you become part of their story, burned into their memory – someone they’ll never forget!”
Though living in motels makes it impractical for these families to receive most household items yet, they have been very grateful for donated electric tea kettles (which don’t require a stove) and teacups, “which are culturally so important to Afghans, to allow them – even in their hotel rooms – to cope with their day in a familiar way, and to be hospitable if they have visitors.”
This is a tremendous, time-sensitive opportunity for church volunteers to step into the gap and provide meaningful activities and begin friendships. Christi Triplett shares that Westminster Presbyterian Church of Rock Hill, SC, is seeking to “stand in the gap” regarding lack of housing for Afghan new arrivals by offering the two small furnished houses owned by the church to be rented by Afghan families for up to two years. They expect to receive two families soon through Samaritan’s Purse, which is working with one of the resettlement agencies, Church World Service. Other churches might consider if there are housing units owned by the church (perhaps a former manse or parsonage?) that might be used for refugee ministry in a similar way in this emergency!
It is a truly special thing to meet a family in their very early days in this country and then to continue the relationship as the years go by, says Essie Wu. “You can’t imagine how rewarding it is to meet a family right at the beginning! They’re so grateful, and you become part of their story, burned into their memorysomeone they’ll never forget!” Essie can attest to that: She is still dear friends with some Somali Bantu refugees that she helped resettle twenty years ago!
Our next newsletter will continue to look at initial resettlement needs and provide ideas for building long-term friendships with Afghan families.
PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS FOR CHURCHES WORKING WITH REFUGEE FAMILIES:

Linda B. and her husband Bruce, who have been working with a few others from Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD, to help a young Afghan couple get settled in the Washington DC area advise: “Use Google Sheets – user-friendly spreadsheets that can be edited by anyone with the link!” Keeping a shared spreadsheet allows church refugee team members to be on the same page and avoid duplicating each other’s efforts.

New needs can be reported to the group on this shared document, and progress can be tracked, as team members add a brief description of who did what on what date, subjects discussed, what items have been donated, etc.

Wondering what household items Afghans most frequently request? Here is a starter list:

tea kettles and tea cups,
serving platters, serving dishes, 
old-fashioned pressure cookers, 
large cooking pots, 
cookie sheets, or roasting pans for oven roasting 
irons and ironing boards
vacuums 
large, clean area rugs 
A very helpful 17-minute video by missionary to Afghanistan, JW, on Afghan cultural considerationshttps://tinyurl.com/3scts37m.

January 31st : Culture and Considerations: How to Best Welcome Afghan Newcomers (a 45-minute webinar by Church World Service): Staff of the Afghan Association of Michigan tell how we can best welcome our Afghan allies and new neighbors. 
(https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/1398188883658257419).

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Grace Covenant Men’s SIP Groups

Proverbs 27.17 says: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”

As a way to connect men to one another, and to encourage men to sharpen one another, Grace Covenant Men’s Ministry is launching a new initiative we are calling SIP Groups. The acronym SIP stands for Scripture Invitation Prayer.

The idea for SIP Groups were born out of a an interdenominational event at the Brother Bryan Mission in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, in February 2020. Participation has grown from a few to more than 50 congregations, from a variety of denominations, in 11 states, as of the end of 2021.

SIP Groups are simple. Each group will consists of 5 or 7 men. Each participant in the group will commit take one day each week, for the period of 40 days. (Groups of 5 are Monday – Friday; Groups of 7 are Sunday – Saturday.) On your assigned day you are responsible to send a simple group text, with a verse or short Bible passage, and a brief prayer related to the passage. Here are a few examples:

1 Timothy 1.8-9

“But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,…”

Thank you Father for waking us this morning and thank you for your word and law for without we would just be lost. Help those that are lost like we have been and allow us to be a blessing in others lives bless us with a wonderful holiday season and thank you for sending your son Jesus Christ to die for our sins even though we did and do not deserve it bless and protect our families in Jesus mighty name we pray amen!!!

Psalms ch 40 v 16

 “Let all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; Let those who love Your salvation say continually, The lord be magnified!”

 Dear Heavenly Father! We thank you for this day, for the blessings you will bestow upon us.  Thank you for your love that shines upon us in the darkest of times, we know you are with us. With your hand reaching down to us, helping us in our troubling times!! Please forgive us of our sins, let us have a  heart of gratitude putting you first in our lives!! For its in your great name we pray!

Psalm 84:10

 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

***

Lord, God Almighty, Grant that we may be given even a glimpse of your glory; let us behold your splendor, so we would be reminded that NOTHING compares with you. We thank you that you have sent your son, Jesus, in whom and by whom we see you. Thank you that in Him we will dwell in your presence forever. ~ Amen

Occasionally someone may add a comment about the verse before offering the prayer.

Good morning SIP Family!!!

 Colossians ch 3 v 16

 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God!!

 Let us lift each other up, encourage each other and pray for each other. To serve God and each other with love!!

 Our great and glorious Father!! Thank you for this day you have given us! Thank you for the love you have shown us. Dear Father . help us today to be more Christ like, to serve each other. Let your spirit be our guide, to glorify your Name in we do. It is in your great name we pray !! Amen!!

No matter what, the text message is short and simple. But, it is amazing how encouraging you will find it to be.

Those who are the recipients of these message often reply with a word of thanks, or with a comment how the verse or prayer has encouraged them on that day, or with a simple thumbs-up emoji. In this way, SIPs are connecting and mutually affirming.

Grace Covenant Men’s Ministry would like to launch our first round of SIPs to begin on February 1. To do this we would need for participants to sign up by Saturday January 29. Just click on the sign-up page link: Grace Covenant SIP Groups.

Sign up requires only two things:

  • We need your name
  • We need your cell phone number for the group texts.

Click the link and join us!

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A Pastor’s Note to Grace Covenant – January 5, 2022

Dear Grace Covenant Family,

With recent spikes in COVID cases and hospitalizations in our area, including several members of our Grace Covenant family; and with informed projections telling us that this present spike has yet to reach its peak, the Grace Covenant Session has chosen to initiate some temporary precautionary measures. These protocols will go into effect this Sunday, January 9, and run through the end of this month. They will be reviewed again by Session at our February 1 meeting. 


Chief among our temporary measures will be the postponement of the resumption of Sunday School for all ages, and the temporary suspension of nursery, Kid’s Quest (catechism), and Children’s Church on Sunday mornings.  Obviously we are concerned for the health of our children, many of whom may not have yet had opportunity to receive vaccination. But our concern is also for those who teach – and for those who coordinate these activities for our children.


Second, we will encourage intentional social distancing, as well as reiterate our present policy which strongly recommends wearing masks during our worship services. Along with that, as strongly as we affirm the importance and benefits of worshipping together, we do want to encourage anyone with underlying health issues that might compound the effects of COVID to consider worshipping with us online for a few weeks.  


Finally, a few other recommendations and minor adjustments will be made by various ministries. Most immediate among those adjustments will be the postponement of our annual Congregational Dinner Meeting to Sunday February 6. Ministry leaders will notify those involved of any other adjustments that will impact their respective schedules and activities.  


Like many of you, I have grown weary of all these restrictions and adjustments. I long for a day – hopefully a day sometime soon – when we are back on the road to normalcy.  As a Session we are not predicting anything, nor do we want to inspire fear or undue concerns.  We are simply taking some temporary proactive measures intended to protect the people in our church, with as little disruption as possible. It may prove, in  few weeks, that these temporary measures were un-necessary. Nothing would make us happier. But few things would cause us more regret than for us to take no preventative actions, then later realize we should have.  We ask for your patience with us, and for your prayers. We are always in need of wisdom, but perhaps at this time more than almost ever before.  


Speaking on behalf of all of our Elders – those presently on Session, those on sabbatical, and those who are Emeritus – I will paraphrase the Apostle Paul: We give thanks for you all, for the grace God has given you is evident, and an encouragement to us all. 


Grace & Peace,


W. Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor

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