For the past several days I have been musing and mediating on the first several verses of Ecclesiastes 3, the portion of Solomon’s wisdom that begins “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven..” (Ecclesiastes 3.1-8)
Well, while not one of Solomon’s expressed categories, we have been in a season of hibernation. And just as Spring is beginning to give way to Summer, we are now beginning to emerge from our seclusion. While the dangers have not entirely passed, things seem to be trending in a positive direction, with more and more things in our area opening up each day.
For us at Grace Covenant, we have come to a day that many of us have been looking forward to – the first Lord’s Day when we are able to re-gather for worship. While it won’t be ideal, with many for whom wisdom dictates to remain cautious and safely distanced from from potential viral infection worshiping with us from home, I am excited for these first steps.
Having conducted our “soft opening” last week, with a limited number of church staff and church officers, with their families, in the building; and having worked out our protocols, aimed at protecting participants, without any hiccups, we are prepared to open the doors again tomorrow, Sunday June 14, for two service, 8:30 & 11am – open to all who feel comfortable coming. With that said, there are a few things that I feel need to be reiterated.
First, if you are in an “at risk” category, someone in one of the categories for whom this coronavirus has proven to be particularly threatening, we urge you to stay home and worship with us online. The same encouragement goes to any and all who are still uncomfortable about being out and part of a gathering of people. In as season like this, when a reasonable threat is not entirely extinguished, neither being in church nor remaining at home is necessarily a reflection of commitment to Christ. I know we all look forward to worshiping together, but the question of when to do so is still a matter of conscience and personal discernment.
Second, for those who are planning to join us in-person for worship, please be advised of some important practices put in place by Grace Covenant’s Elders & Deacons for the safety of all who come:
- First, if you have any symptoms associated with COVID-19, even if you are not feeling awful, you will need to remain home. If anyone in your family is symptomatic, even if you feel fine, we ask that you stay home until everyone in your home is well.
- We will practice social distancing in the sanctuary and in the building. We are requiring masks for everyone 10 years old and up. While wearing masks is probably not the preference for anyone, we want to do so as an expression of love and concern for those around us. (Despite the masks last week, the singing still filled the sanctuary!) Additionally, seating is set up in clusters to enable social distancing. We ask that you find a “cluster” that best matches the number of people in your family. Each cluster is 6-feet from the next closest cluster.
- There is no nursery, nor children’s activities during the service. Children are welcome to participate in the service. We do not expect children to remain perfectly still, or totally silent. (Most adults don’t even do that!) While we understand that some families will opt to remain home until children’s activities resume, please also consider that this can be a great opportunity to acclimate children to worship. (Again, this is a matter of conscience. It is not necessarily an indication of commitment or of faithfulness to bring your children to worship at this time.) Each family should decide what is best for their own children. My primary point is that the children are welcome, and a little squirming or talking does not change that welcome.
- Restrooms will be available, but we are encouraging use of them only if necessary. We are keeping them clean and sanitized, so if you need use of the restroom please do not hesitate. However, we have shortened the service somewhat in hopes that restrooms will be less needed. The less used, the more sanitized they remain.
- Greeters will greet you when entering the building. All greeters will be wearing masks and gloves. There will be no handshakes or hugs. Just know that they are smiling at you as you arrive, even if you cannot see it beneath the mask. Greeters will open the doors and welcome you. If you have questions, they can direct you. But for safety and comfort for all, there will be no contact; nor will there be handing out of any bulletins.
- No bulletins will be printed out. The worship outline is available digitally, and in .pdf format. We will project the words to songs, as we have always done, and in time we hope to project more of the service, but for now we are asking you to either print out the .pdf to bring with you, or pull up the digital (or .pdf) on your tablet or phone. June 14 Digital Worship Outline; June 14 Worship Outline (.pdf)
- When exiting the sanctuary after the service, we ask that you leave through the doors that lead directly outside, to the back of the church building, rather than through the doors to the Commons. This is to minimize cross-traffic.
- No offering will be taken during the service. We do not want to pass a plate between 100+ people. But, as giving is an act of worship, we have set out baskets next to each exit door, for those who prefer to bring their gifts & offerings, rather than to give online or through the mail. That said, with great thankfulness we do again thank you for your faithfulness and generosity to date, and we encourage continued use of online giving and/or mailing your gifts to the church. Giving is an act of worship whether given during the service or during the week.
For those who will be worshiping with us from home, let me also touch on a few important things that wight effect your worship experience.
- First, we have upgraded our camera and our LiveStream capabilities. Our first run last week went well overall. We thank those of you who shared your experiences and observations. Tim Nargi and Jeff Field are working on the glitches. You should see an improvement this week, but it is also a process. As this is somewhat new for us, it will take a few weeks to more fully iron out the wrinkles. But our aim and our expectation is to provide a much better at-home experience that we were able to provide before the pandemic.
- There will be two services tomorrow, and in following weeks, at 8:30 and 11am, as has been our norm. For the next few weeks, the 8:30 service will be streamed live and recorded. The recorded service will be available for viewing at 11am. The reason for this is to allow for training on the new camera and the graphics that will be streamed during the service. There are a lot of new things for our Sound/Tech team to learn and do. However, since both services are the same, even those watching the recorded service should notice little to no difference. Hopefully, within a couple weeks, both services will be streamed live. To access the link to the LiveStream, or the recorded service at 11am, go to the GCPC Web Page, and scroll down a little on the home page, and you will find the link.
- We also encourage you to print out the worship outline, or pull it up digitally, during the service.
- You are free to use the restroom whenever and as often as you like. 😉
We all anxiously await the day when the danger is past, and we can all come together again. But until that time, I thank you for your patience and your graciousness.
On another note, this week we begin the Baby Bottle Drive, in support of CareNet Peninsula, and their important ministry to expectant mothers & pre-born children. Normally we do this from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day, but for understandable reasons it was postponed this year. We ask for families and/or individuals to take a baby bottle that we provide, and fill it with your change over the next few weeks. Change is a loose term meaning coins, bills, or even checks. In a few weeks, or when filled, return the bottles to Grace Covenant, and we will get the gifts to CareNet Peninsula. There are 3 ways to participate this year:
- For those who will be coming to the church building for worship, the bottles are on a table easily accessed on your way to the sanctuary. We ask that you pick the bottles up on the way into the sanctuary, rather than coming back out, to minimize cross-traffic. Pick the bottle up, and take it home with you.
- For those who would like a bottle, but who will not be joining us in-person for worship just yet, we be happy to have a bottle delivered to you. Just contact Donna Davis or Kathy Buhl in the church office. (My thanks to Donna for coordinating this ministry for us!)
- Give directly to CareNet. Just write a check, or use their online giving link: CareNet Peninsula.
If you have any questions about the Baby Bottle Drive, or about CareNet, please contact Donna Davis.
Finally, my thanks to all who signed in and joined us for A Conversation About Race, Justice & Injustice. Special thanks to Ben Robertson for co-leading the discussion with me, and to David Lunt for setting up and managing the Zoom details. My hope is that this was not just a one-time thing, but that this would prove to be the first of a number of conversations on this important matter. While thankful for the discussion, we barely scratched the surface of the issue, and spoke little to nothing about the challenges associated with this issue. We will be providing a variety of resources over the next several weeks. I also plan to begin writing some about this issue on my blog, and will notify you if I post anything pertinent. In the mean time, I want to provide a few resources now.
First a couple of prayer resources:
Second, two other resources:
- PCA Report on Racial & Ethnic Reconciliation – This is a long document, but worthwhile laying a sound biblical framework for this issue.
- Race & the Church RVA – this is a series of videos from 6 one-day gatherings that took place in Richmond back in 2016. Ben Robertson and I had the privilege to attend several of these gatherings. I know a few others from Grace Covenant were able to attend one or two sessions as well. Watching these you may find that you do not agree with everything you hear. I didn’t. But what you will hear are perspectives that warrant consideration. (See also: Race & the Church RVA for bio and backgrounds of the speakers.)
I know that this is an uncomfortable issue for some – for many. Many questions may come to mind. I would be happy to talk about any questions or concerns you may have about Grace Covenant engaging this issue. But for now I hope we can all embrace a perspective I learned from a friend:
“Racial Reconciliation is not the primary goal of a gospel-centered church and life, but it is clear from Scripture that it is a beautiful fruit of it.”
I look forward to seeing many of you on Sunday. I look forward to seeing many more of you sometime soon.
Have a wonderful week!
Grace & Peace,
Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor