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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A Pastor’s Note to Grace Covenant – October 29, 2021

This coming Sunday, October 31, will have a dual emphasis at Grace Covenant. It is both Reformation Sunday and the kickoff of our Global Missions Week.

Reformation Sunday & Global Missions

If you’ve been around Grace Covenant for any length of time, it is likely that you have heard mention of the Reformation, and likely heard it said that we are a “Reformed” church. Both of these statements reflect the roots our our tradition, our “Tribe”, which are connected to the great Reformation that shook Europe in the 16th Century. While there were a number of precursors, it is widely recognized that a set of 95 Theses, penned by young German monk named Martin Luther, and posted to the front doors of a church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, provided the spark that ignited what became known as the Reformation. The posting of these 95 Theses was a “shot heard ’round the world”.

As the Reformation gained steam, a handful of common themes emerged. Among these was the “priesthood of all believers”, which recovered the biblical understanding that Jesus alone is the mediator between God and Humanity, and that anyone who puts his/her trust in Christ is able to relate God and pray to God on his/her own, without need of any other human intermediary. Additionally a handful of biblical truths, widely known collectively as “The Pillars of the Reformation” or as the “5 Sola’s of the Reformation“, were recovered: 1) God’s Glory Alone is Our Primary Purpose in Life; 2) Scripture Alone is our Authority for Faith and Practice; and reconciliation with God, which is needed because of our sin, is accomplished 3) by Grace Alone; 4) through Faith Alone; 5) in Christ Alone.

I believe these 5 pillars are also appropriately expressed as three values that are central to the life and ministry of Grace Covenant:

  1. The Glory of God – We take God seriously; and we find our greatest joy and satisfaction in Him.
  2. The Authority of Scripture – Since “all scripture is God-breathed”, the Bible is God’s Word. It is God speaking to us, revealing to us everything we need to know about Him, about ourselves, and about how we ought to live.
  3. Gospel-Centrality – the gospel is the “good news” about Jesus Christ, the long-promised “Redeemer” and “King”, and what God has done to redeem a people and reconcile them to himself through Jesus. The Gospel is “good news” NOT “good advice”. The three pillars (listed as 3-5 above) are all key components of that gospel message: Salvation comes by Grace, through Faith – faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

So we have good reason to recognize, and to be thankful about, the Reformation, and to recognize Reformation Sunday. For those interested, here are a couple short but helpful articles:

The Reformation is an important period in God’s redemptive work. The Reformation resulted in the recovery of the clarity, and the simplicity, of the gospel. But whether or not we experience the benefits of this recovery depends almost entirely upon how we “relate” to the Reformation.

I believe there are two primary ways people who appreciate the Reformation relate to to the Reformation: 1) By Living in Light of the Reformation, or 2) Living in the Shadow of the Reformation. Here’s what I mean:

  • Living in the Shadow of the Reformation is the mere remembering and celebration of the historic event. Practically speaking this happens when the day is marked as a holiday on the calendar, and primarily observed by “re-living”, commemorating or “re-enacting” the events of that period of 16th Century European history. It’s not that re-enactment is itself a bad thing. It is a means or re-telling a story. But when remembering and re-enacting is the primary objective, it fails to recognize that the same God who was at work then is still at work today. It also has a tendency to highlight the differences among Christians of various traditions rather than the unity that Jesus prayed for us (John 17.20-21) and secured for us. (Ephesians 4.4-6)
  • Living in Light of the Reformation is focused more on living our lives, today, in the 21st Century, in light of the principles recovered in the Reformation. It is not an eschewing of the past. It is certainly appropriate to remember the dates and events. But the reason for remembering is to live in the light of freedom of God’s grace, and to continue to cultivate lives rooted in that grace that was recovered in the Reformation. In a sense, the recognition of Reformation Day for those who are living in light of it is somewhat akin to a healthy American celebration of July 4.

But why are we observing a global missions emphasis on Reformation Sunday? For some this may seem somewhat incongruous. There are many who have assumed that the Reformation, and the Reformed tradition with all emphasis on doctrinal purity, is not missions minded; some even suggesting it is “anti-missional”. But nothing could be further from the truth! Some of the greatest missionary heroes in history were part of churches in the Reformed tradition! This included William Carey, widely considered the Father of Modern Missions; John Eliot, David Brainerd, etc. As one writer expressed:

“The most lasting impact of the Reformation is gospel-centered mission. So the Reformation – with its return to the gospel -unleashed a movement that continues today as Christians everywhere take the good news to the entire world.”

For those interested in exploring the vital connection between the Reformation and Global Missions, check out:

Why a Global Mission Week?

Global Missions conferences were once a common event in Evangelical churches. In recent years such events have become much less common. I’m not sure this is for the better.

Some months ago I stumbled across this graphic about awareness of the Great Commission and the average churchgoer in the USA:

As you can see, the statistics are somewhat stunning. I do not think that they are a reflection of our commitment to global missions at Grace Covenant. But I am certain that we do not want this to become a reflection of Grace Covenant. So to fortify our understanding and ongoing commitment to the commission Jesus gave us to “make disciples among peoples of all nations” (Matthew 28.16-20) we want to highlight our missional emphasis in a variety of ways. Included among those ways is this upcoming missions emphasis week.

{NOTE: If you are someone who is unsure about the Great Commission, this note is not in any way to scold or embarrass you. Rather, the reason for our missions emphasis is to help you deepen your clarity about what Jesus called and commissioned his followers to do in this world.]

Global Missions Week at Grace Covenant

Global Missions Week at Grace Covenant will involve a series of opportunities. Most prominent of these opportunities will take place in our worship services these next two Sundays – October 31 & November 7. Each week we will gather for worship, as usual, with the goal of engaging with God, but with an eye upon what God is doing in this world. Our missionary speakers will offer the message from God’s Word. Each will also introduce a distinct mission endeavor that Grace Covenant is partnering in:

October 31 – Rev. Craig Pohl will introduce the Japan Project. The Japanese are considered the second largest unreached people group in the world. Roughly 95 percent of the Japanese people have never met a Christian. Craig will be joining others serving on teams to reach Japan with the gospel. To see what God is doing in Japan, check out: MTW Japan

November 7 – Rev. Robert Davis will introduce us to the West Africa Project. The West Africa region consists of 18 different countries, predominated by Islam and animism but, where God is doing amazing things to bring people in from out of the darkness into His radiant light!

Sometimes people have this idea that missions Sundays are not like regular worship weeks, and maybe use those weeks as a time to travel, or do something else. I hope you will join us these next two weeks!

Education hour each week, from 10am – 10:45, will provide a deeper insight into these projects, and help you see how you can be of help.

Finally, on Wednesday November 3, we will be holding one of our quarterly Congregational Prayer Dinners. The focus of our prayer will be for the advancement of the gospel to the Nations. Please join us for this important event. Prayer is not just a primer for the work of the Kingdom; Prayer IS Kingdom work!

This is a long note, so I will stop here. In ending I will only again urge you to participate as much as you are able in these important missionary opportunities. And if anyone has questions about global missions (or the Reformation) please know if would be my privilege and my pleasure to talk with you.

Grace & Peace,

W. Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor

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A Pastor’s Note to Grace Covenant – September 4, 2021

Noted novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald mused: “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the Fall.” Well, while we still have a few weeks until Fall formally arrives, and a few more after that before the leaves reach peak colors, the recent relatively crisp morning air, the start of a new school year, and this being Labor Day Weekend all lend themselves to beginning to think thoughts of Fall. And here at Grace Covenant many things do “start all over again” in the Fall.

Fall Sunday School/Adult EDucation

Among those things that “start all over again” are our Discovery Class and Sunday School & Adult Education – all of which will launch next week, on Sunday September 12.

Discovery Class is designed to offer an introduction and overview of Grace Covenant. Discovery Class covers a range of subjects: our history, our beliefs, our connections, our values, etc. In short, Discovery Class is designed to share the DNA of our church. While Discovery Class is most commonly comprised of those who are relatively new to the church and who are exploring church membership, a commitment to join Grace Covenant is not a prerequisite to participation in the class. We welcome anyone who is even just a bit curious. Our hope is that the clarity that can be gained by participating in this class will be beneficial to you whether, at the end, you are ready to join or not. And just as this class is not limited to those who are committed to joining the church, neither is it limited to those who are new – or new-ish – to the church. At times we have had long-time members participate, just to get a refresher on some of the subjects, and as an opportunity to meet new friends. So, regardless of who you are, we invite you to participate in our upcoming Discovery Class – a 6 week course beginning Sunday September 12. It will be held in the church library (space permitting) during the Education Hour (10-10:45am) each week. And one final note, if you are interested in participating in Discovery Class, but you know you will be away or unavailable for some weeks this Fall, we are happy to have you the weeks you are available, and we have a way to help you cover whatever material you may have to miss. If you are interested in participating in Discovery Class, we ask that you sign up by e-mailing Kathy Buhl in the church office. Kathy will putting notebooks together for all the participants, and we want to make sure she has a notebook for you. If you have any questions you would like to have answered before signing up, feel free to email me (dennis@gracecovpca.org) or Jack Tuttle, the class coordinator. We would be happy to discuss your questions with you.

We are excited to be able to begin offering Sunday School and Adult Education again. It has been nearly 18 months since COVID and social distancing requirements have allowed us to do so. During our Education Hour, from 10-10:45am each Sunday, children will be able to participate in their age/grade designed classes, each led by caring, committed volunteer teachers and teacher assistants. For those new to Grace Covenant, the children’s classrooms are down the hall immediately opposite the worship area. This Fall, during Education Hour, we are pleased to be offering the course Relational Wisdom 360 – or RW360. RW360 was designed by Ken Sande, the same person who founded Peacemaker Ministries. While Peacemakers is designed to help resolve conflicts, which we all experience at one time or another, whether we are involved in the conflict or the mediator between others, Relational Wisdom is designed to be an “operating system for life”, helping to strengthen relationships even before there is any conflict, and renewing relationships in the midst or after conflict. Our entire Session (i.e. Council of Elders for those newer to Presbyterianism) went through this course together a couple years ago, and we all commend it wholeheartedly. The class, which will meet in the worship area from 10-10:45am each week, will involve instruction, brief video clips for illustration, and discussion. Even if it has been a long time since you have attended a Sunday School class, we would urge you to participate in this class. And please know, this is not a course just for the relationally challenged, or those who have difficulty making or keeping friends. This is stuff that will benefit anyone, no matter who you are or what your situation.

Now, here’s the question some of you have: What if I want to do BOTH? What if I want to participate in Discovery Class AND learn about Relational Wisdom? (We know that are asking that question, because some have already asked us that question!) If that is your question, just let us know. We have an answer for you. I won’t go into the answer here, but if you will let us know that you would like to do both, we will make arrangements for you to be able to benefit from both classes this Fall. Just contact the church office, and we’ll set you up.

Fall Sermon Series

As autumn comes, and things “start all over again”, so this Fall we will begin a new sermon series on Sunday mornings. the series is called “Stay the Course”. It is a survey of the Book of Hebrews. During this Fall we expect to study the first three chapters of this inspiring and important – though too often neglected – letter.

Hebrews is different from other books in the New Testament; it is not like the other letters we call “the epistles”. Unlike all other epistles, the author of Hebrews never identifies himself (though many theories abound), nor are we told to whom the letter is written (though almost universally it is understood to be written to Jewish Believers living, most likely in Rome). But it is not just the absence of those common elements of a letter that makes Hebrews stand unique, it is even more so 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 in this series is that we will indeed see and be reminded of how true that is. Jesus is Better – by far.

As we did for our recently completed series through the Book of Romans, we want to provide everyone with some resources that should prove helpful and beneficial for our study of Hebrews.

As we did during out study of Romans, we will make 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 is short on funds, to go without one. The request is simply to defray our expenses for this resource. (Scripture Journals retail for $7; we get them for just under $4/copy.)

There are two videos I want to commend:

Finally, as we did throughout our series in Romans, we want to 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 to our Advent series. Pick up the challenge again in January. 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.

That’s all for now. I hope and pray everyone has a refreshing Sunday, and an enjoyable Labor Day holiday.

Grace & Peace,

W. Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor

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A Pastor’s Note to Grace Covenant – August 7, 2021

Jesus tells his followers “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.” (Matthew 6.34) Still, I find I have spent a fair amount of time this Summer looking ahead, not so much to “tomorrow” as to Autumn, to September and the days that follow; and not so much with anxiety as with excitement. Each week I am reminded of the blessing it is to be part of our Grace Covenant community; and seeming every week, for some time now, God has been bringing new people and new families to be part of our community. I find that exciting. And for this (and many other things) I give thanks to God.

For those of you who are at least relatively new to Grace Covenant, I want o invite you to participate in our upcoming Discovery Class. Discovery Class is a 6 week introduction to Grace Covenant offered during the Education Hour (10am -10:55am Sunday morning) every Fall and every Winter/Spring to help those who are new to Grace Covenant to explore our history, our beliefs, our connections, and our commitments. It is a pre-requisite to membership at Grace Covenant, though there is no expectation of commitment to join the church to participate. The class is designed primarily to allow you to get to know us as a church, and to allow us to get to know you. For those interested in participating, we ask that send an e-mail to Kathy Buhl in the church office to sign up. For those who may be curious, but have questions you would like to discuss before signing up, please know I would be happy to talk with you about whatever questions you may have. Feel free to email me, or call me in the church office (757-220-0147). Or email Jack Tuttle, who coordinates the Discovery Class for us. Jack would also be more than happy to talk with you about any questions you may have.

Another thing that I am excited about is an initiative to love and serve our neighbors that we have scheduled for next Saturday, August 14. Speer-headed by Mark Mortier, coordinator of our Men’s Ministries, we are inviting everyone who is part of the Grace Covenant community to pray for area schools – students, faculty, staff, administration, etc. We want to pray for God to be at work in the schools – public schools, Christian schools, private schools, homeschool coops, etc. – and to bless the students and staff. While praying for schools can be done from anywhere, there are some who plan to gather together on various school grounds to pray. Why are we doing this? In part we see it as one way to be faithful to God’s instruction to his people who were living in exile: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29.7) Further, it is an expression of our commitment to children and families. And, perhaps ultimately, because participating in prayer is one of God’s appointed means of drawing ever-closer to Him. While many may assume prayer is just a mere precursor to the “real work”, I am convinced that prayer IS the part of our “real work” in the Kingdom of God. So please join us next Saturday by praying for the school where your children or grandchildren attend, or for the school(s) closest to your neighborhood, or for whatever schools God may bring to your mind. Together, I hope, we will cover every school in our area with prayer. If you want to join a group that will meet at a particular school, please invite others to join you, or email Mark Mortier, who might have an idea of where an when people will be meeting. Additionally, Mark sent out a suggested prayer guide earlier this week in an to those who serve on our prayer teams. I am sure Mark would be more than happy to provide the guide to anyone who inquires.

Finally, for this note, I want to touch on our plans for resuming Sunday School this Fall. Due to the pandemic, we have not been able to offer classes for nearly 18 months! I am excited that we not only about the opportunity to resume, but by what we will be offering.

Of course, first thoughts of Sunday School are often about what we do for children. Grace Covenant has a long-tradition of excellent ministry with our children. We are looking forward to resuming our Children’s Sunday School beginning Sunday September 12. In the coming weeks our Children’s Ministry Coordinator, Starr VanWingerden, will provide an overview of what the children will be studying through the Fall. In the meantime, Starr is busy coordinating with the those who will teach. If you are interested in being involved with Children’s Sunday School, Starr tells me there are still some opportunities. Email Starr to let her know of your interest.

But Sunday School is not just for kids! As we resume on September 12, we also will be offering a class for the adults. Throughout this Fall we will be exploring the life-changing relational principles God has gifted to us through his Word, in a study called Relational Wisdom, or RW360. This class will be interactive, interspersing teaching segments from author-attorney Ken Sande, and illustrative movie clips, with discussion about the principles being presented. This is a tremendous practical course, one that will benefit not only those of us who have some challenging relationships in our own lives, but it will also equip you to encourage others you may know who may experience challenging relationships. More info will be provided in the coming weeks, but for now I invite you to check out this short intro video:

Have a great weekend! See ya on Sunday!

Grace & Peace,

W. Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor

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