Grace Covenant family,
I want to express my thankfulness for you all! We are now in our third week of social distancing, now under order rather than mere request of the Governor. During this time I have been tremendously encouraged as I hear of how you, the Grace Covenant community, have been reaching out to one another, and caring for one another. Further, as a whole you have all been very gracious with your feedback regarding our remote worship experiences – receiving and responding to the services far better than they have been produced.
We are all mourning the passing of Connie Schaub earlier this week; and we continue to pray for Peter, and for Peter & Connie’s daughters. On the positive side, I am thankful that, as of this morning, no new cases of COVID-19 have been reported by anyone connected with Grace Covenant, nor have we had report of anyone new being tested. So we give thanks to God for his mercy thus far.
I mentioned the Governor’s newest mandate, issued on Monday, that prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people until June 10. While I am hopeful that this order will be amended or rescinded, until it is we should expect that we will not gather for worship before mid June. We will continue to worship as households, perhaps altering some things, or experimenting with a few ideas, in the weeks following Easter. This order will also effect other ministry activities, such as our Maundy Thursday service, our May Congregational Prayer Dinner, and likely and most notably VBS. We are still working on possible options regarding Maundy Thursday (which is next week), and we have a good idea for our prayer meeting on the National Day of Prayer. We’ll let you know more as those plans are finalized and/or the days approach. As for VBS, please know Starr is evaluating the situation and considering some possible alternative dates. We’ll keep you posted.
As for the governor’s order, I know it has been received in different ways. I suspect most have no concern, as long as this is what is best to protect the population, and especially the most vulnerable, from infection. Others – and I have heard from some, both within and outside of Grace Covenant – who question whether the governor has the right to prohibit church services. My take on it at this time is that the governor, who is the civil magistrate appointed by God over our state, has authority – and the responsibility – to do what is in the best interests to protect the citizens of the state. While the order significantly effects churches, it is not specifically aimed at churches, and so therefore should not be viewed as an expression of religious oppression or persecution. Is the governor our ultimate authority? No. God is. However, while God has declared that we should not forsake coming together, he also has declared via the 6th Commandment the importance of preserving life. Our Shorter Catechism interpretation of the 6th Commandment “requires making every lawful effort to preserve ones own life and the lives of others.” (See WSC #68) So unless otherwise informed, I expect that we will comply fully with the governor’s mandate. Of course, this is just my perspective, not necessarily that of the Session nor of any other individual Elder, so my view is subject to correction should the Session deem that faithfulness requires us to do otherwise. (NOTE: For those unfamiliar with Presbyterianism, the “Session” is the Council of Elders, or the collective voice of the Elders.)
So where does this leave us? I think the first priority has been to care for one another. You all have done this, and continue to do this; and we will continue to improve our care for one another as we are made aware of needs and/or any ways we have to date neglected. Now, I believe, it is time to begin thinking about ways we can also serve our neighbors. Throughout history the Church, and individual Christians, have always stepped up to the plate whenever plague or crisis has threatened the masses. Many times those who have stepped up have done so at the risk, and even the expense, of their own lives. This is an extraordinary calling that God has historically raised up some to serve. (I recently listened to a great podcast on this subject: Christians in Time of Plague.) The question for us, as a church and as individuals, is how can we love and serve our neighbors with the love of Christ?
What can we do to care for our neighbors? What does the gospel compel us to do? Are we all called to extraordinary heroics and risk to our own lives? I do not believe so.
In fact, I believe the first way that most of us can serve our neighbors is by staying home. The present order for social distancing is designed for the good of all. Staying home is acting to lawfully preserve your life, the lives of your family members, as well as the lives of our neighbors. You can love and serve your neighbors by your willingness to be bored!
A second way to love and serve your neighbors is to pray. Pray for the virus to be defeated. Pray for the health of your neighbors. Pray for the healthcare workers who are caring for our neighbors. Pray for the researchers who are looking for the antidote to this virus. This is a way to serve your neighbors while social distancing. Another step in praying for your neighbor may be to reach out by phone or note, asking your neighbor how you can pray; offering help if there is need in their home. Another possibility, on nice days, when you want to get out for exercise while still social distancing, is to practice what is called “Prayer Walking”. As you walk by a home, pray for all those who live there, even if you don’t know their names. If you notice things like toys in the yard, pray for the family and the children. But praying is serving. And while praying for physical health, pray also for a movement of the Holy Spirit in the homes and the lives of your neighbors.
Finally, there is practical help. Some of this may involve various levels of risk. I urge each of you to be wise, and consider not only yourselves but your family, before engaging in what may be risky. There are those who are called. I would be unfaithful to God if I stood in the way of those who he may be calling. But I would also be unfaithful to God, and to you as your pastor, if I did not point out that sometimes we mistake our own ego, our own desire for glory, for God’s calling. There is no shame in serving safely. It is what most are likely called to do. Nor is there any real glory in engaging in risky behavior, behavior that endangers your family or neighbor, if it is not God calling you to it. That said, if among us there are some who feel compelled to serve more broadly, there are opportunities & community needs that we will make known in coming days. (There are some of our Grace Covenant family already serving the community in such ways.) My point, at this point, is not to mobilize, but to ask you to begin praying about how the Church as a whole, and how Grace Covenant in particular, might be God’s hands the serve a frightened and needy world.