A Pastoral Note to Grace Covenant – June 6, 2020

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Those who keep in tune with the Ecclesiastical calendar – the Church Year – know that we have now entered into the season referred to Ordinary Time – the weeks between Pentecost and Advent, in December. As much as I wish we were entering into an ordinary time, I think we all sense that the times we are now living in are anything but ordinary. Just when we are beginning to emerge from our months-long “stay-at-home” orders, we now are in the early days of serious nationwide civil unrest. For some this is gut-wrenching; for others it may be merely discouraging; for many, I suspect, it is difficult to evaluate exactly how we feel, because what we feel is numb.

This week, at Grace Covenant, we do begin our first steps back toward some normalcy, as we begin preparations to re-gather for in-person worship. Our target is to “re-open” on Sunday June 14. This week, June 7, we will have a “soft opening”, live worship with a limited number of people, enabling us to work through our protocols, and LiveStreaming the service at 10am Sunday morning.  If all goes well, and we are able to accomplish the necessary safety precautions and sanitizing after the service, and barring a new outbreak of the virus in our area, we will begin to welcome all who are comfortable worshiping in a public gathering next week. But a major point of emphasis from all of our Elders & Deacons is that we urge anyone who falls into any of the “at risk” categories, as it pertains to COVID-19, or any other health issue, to remain home, and join us for worship via LiveStream.  The same goes for anyone who is still uncomfortable about the idea of gathering; please stay home, and join us online.

Obviously there will be some adjustments, not only from our norm, but also from what we have been doing these past several weeks. The primary change for those who will continue to worship at home will be that the services will no longer be pre-recorded. They will take place in Real Time, at 10am this week, then at 8:30 & 11am throughout the rest of the Summer. As always, the sermon audio will be recorded and posted to the Resources on the Grace Covenant web page. Knowing that there are likely to be some hiccups, we will continue evaluating ways we can improve the worship experience both for those gathered and those scattered.

For those who are planning to join us in-person in the coming weeks, here are some of the important things you need to know:

1.We will be practicing social distancing in our seating. We will welcome a reduced number of people into each service, roughly no more than 120-130 in any service.  Seats have been set in clusters, each cluster is at least six-fee from the next cluster. Families may sit together, and should try to find a cluster that best fits the number of people in the family. For example, it is preferable that a couple coming with no children would not sit in a cluster of 6 chairs. This probably means an adjustment for some as to where in the sanctuary you sit; but hopefully, if that is the case, you will find the change to be refreshing.  Our Deacons will be monitoring the seating and making adjustments throughout the Summer.  At the present time, we do not plan to require sign-ups for any services, though if one service begins to draw a crowd in excess of reduced capacity, and another service has a lesser number, we may make some adjustments for the safety of all participants.

2. We will require everyone over the age of 10 to wear masks as you enter the building, and during the service.  We know this is a controversial issue for some. We understand that there are differing opinions about this issue, and that such a requirement may be disappointing. Please know, we as church officers are uncomfortable with the word “require”, but we did not feel that there was an adequate alternative to convey the importance of wearing masks in our services at this time. “Require” has the ring of law, and legalism, and maybe not of grace and liberty.  But we are appealing to everyone to wear the masks out of love – love for those around you; love for those who are understandably concerned about the potential infectiousness of the virus. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians:

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.

If you have questions about the masks, please speak with either Camper or me; or with one of the Elders or Deacons.  For those who do not have a mask, yet who want to participate in our services, our Deacons have secured a supply of masks, which we will will be happy to provide to you when entering the church building.

3. There will be no nursery or children’s ministry programs on Sunday mornings at this time. Children are always welcome to participate in our services. (A great resource for parents to acclimate their children to worship is a short book titled Parenting in the Pew by Robbie Castleman. I highly recommend it. It was a great resource for us, as Carolyn trained our children for worship, even essentially like a “single mother” on Sunday mornings.)  To make this participation easier for families, our services and sermons will continue to be shorter.

4. Restrooms will be available, but should be used only if necessary. We encourage everyone, as much as possible, to use the restroom at home before coming to the church. Among the benefits of the shorter services is it minimizes the need for use of restrooms. That said, as always, if you need the restroom it will be available – and it will be clean.

5. Our Deacons will be sanitizing the building – sanctuary, commons, restrooms, doors, etc. – after each service.  The building is also cleaned and sanitized during the week. We want to ensure that your time of worship is as safe and clean as possible. On a related note, if you would be willing to help our Deacons to sanitize after each services, I am sure your help would be appreciated.  Our Deacons have all necessary supplies both for the cleaning, and for your safety.

6. We will have Greeters, all of whom will be wearing both masks and gloves. They will open doors, and welcome you, but they will not be shaking hands, or offering hugs – at least not just yet.

7. No bulletins will be printed. As we have been doing for the past several weeks, we will be sending out links to a digital worship outline and a .pdf of the worship outline. We encourage you to pull these up on your phone or tablet, if possible; or to print out the .pdf to bring with you. (We also ask you to please take it with you after the service.) We will project song lyrics on the wall, as usual, but you will need access to a bulletin to fully benefit from participating in the service.

8. During the service no offering will be taken up. Offering boxes will be placed by the doors exiting the sanctuary, for those who want to bring their tithes & offering. For most we encourage continuing to use the online giving option, or mailing your gifts to the church. I think it only appropriate for me to again express how thankful I am – how thankful we all are – for your faithfulness and generosity.  During this season of distanced worship, there have only been two weeks when we received less than we need each week to make budget – and your gifts the other weeks more than made up the difference of those shortfall weeks. We are blessed by your gifts. And because of your faithfulness we have been able to keep pace with our budget during a time when many churches across the country have struggles. So, again, Thank You!

9. When entering the church building, come through the front doors, as always. Once in the Commons area, you can enter the sanctuary through the usual doors. However, in order to minimize cross-traffic, and to avoid unnecessary contacts, we will be encouraging folks to exit the sanctuary after each service through the doors that exit to the outside pathway – the gardens and the buffer zone between the church and our neighbors in Settler’s Mill.

10. For those planning to watch via LiveStream, the link can be found on the Grace Covenant web page. On the home page, the “front” page, scroll down to the section heading “Worship With Us”.  There you will find the link to the LiveStream. Again, the service will begin at 10am tomorrow.

I know this is a lot of information, but we wanted to get it out to you. We plan to have this information sent out during this next week in a simple bullet-pointed document. But if anyone has any questions at all, please contact the church office.

I also know this note is already pretty long, but there are a couple other items I feel I need to touch on.

I assume you, like me, are likely still feeling the sadness, discouragement, frustration, and even anger, over the civil unrest throughout our country.  It is a complicated web of issues, some of which are clear, others perhaps less so.  As Christians we can in no way accept bigotry or racial oppression in any form. At the same time, the violence and destruction of riots that have evolved from originally justifiable and understandable protests is concerning. For some the riots have confused the issues, and maybe even dulled the sense of righteous outrage that we almost universally felt when we witnessed the brutal killing of a handcuffed man, and other recent social and racial atrocities.  I am still trying to process my own thoughts about all of these things. I have been writing, but nothing I am ready to publish yet.  That said, there are two opportunities related to these issues I want to make known to the Grace Covenant community:

  1. First, on Thursday of this week, June 11, Ben Robertson & I are going to co-host a discussion via Zoom. For those new to Grace Covenant, Ben is the RUF Campus Minister at College of William & Mary, and an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). I had been asked by a few people if we were considering some kind of discussion or teaching. Ben graciously agreed to join me. Neither of us claims to be experts, but we have both been wrestling with these issues for some time, at both a theological/philosophical level and a practical level.  I know Thursday is not ideal for some, and that many of our home groups will be meeting via Zoom; but if you are free, and interested in participating in a discussion of a Christian perspective about race, justice and injustice, please plan to join us. Details and Invite link will be sent out early to mid week.
  2. Tomorrow afternoon, June 7, at 2pm, a Community Rally will be taking place in front of the Capitol Building in CW. I have been invited to this rally, and asked to invite you, by some other local pastors, but I cannot give too much info about what to expect. I am just an invitee, not a leader nor a participant in the planning of the event. However, I am told – even promised – that this is NOT a protest event, it is a rally for unity involving community leaders, faith leaders, law enforcement, and everyday neighbors.  If you are interested, you can participate either in person, or online. For those unable to be there in person, or uncomfortable attending, the event will be streamed on Facebook live (CBC Word Ministry), and Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/425294573).

I’ll close with a couple of personal notes. First, Congratulations! to Josh & Michaela (Allen) Jahnsen, for being wedded today (June 6).  Second, more of a sad note. Williamsburg has lost a great spiritual leader. I received a text this morning informing me that Bill Warrick, longtime pastor of Williamsburg Community Chapel, has died. I am thankful for the friendship Bill extended to me these past few years. His passing is no doubt his gain, after several years of serious health issues, but I will miss him. I know many others around town will as well. Please join Carolyn and me in praying for Bill’s wife, Lindy.

If you have gotten this far reading this note, thank you for your perseverance.  There is a lot going on this week. But like most of you, I am looking forward to a more ordinary time.

Grace & Peace,

Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor

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