Monthly Archives: March 2021

A Pastor’s Note to Grace Covenant – March 26, 2021

This coming Sunday marks the beginning of Passion Week or Holy Week, the time on the ecclesiastical calendar when the world remembers the final days before Jesus went to the Cross. This Sunday, the first day of Holy Week is called either Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday. Those who call it Palm Sunday tend to focus on the entry of Christ into Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark 11.9). Those who refer to the day as Passion Sunday tend to focus on Jesus’ suffering – the word “passion” coming from the Latin word for suffering. If there is a “high time” of the Christian year this would be it. (Although many would also argue that there is no “high time” that every day is a good day when God is present.)

As is our tradition at Grace Covenant, we will be holding our annual Maundy Thursday service, next Thursday night, April 1, at 7pm. Maundy Thursday is a service of sober reflection, remembering Jesus initiating the practice of regularly and frequently observing the Lord’s Supper through his partaking of the Last Supper with his closest disciples. While we give thanks for the gift of the Lord’s Supper, Maundy Thursday is sober and reflective, rather than celebratory, because we are reminded that the elements of the table point to Jesus’ death – and because it was our sin that necessitated his self sacrifice. (The sober tone is intended to be lifted as we look forward to the news of Resurrection on Sunday.) This service also reminds us of the instruction Jesus gave to his disciples that evening, as he was washing their feet: “A new mandate I give to you: That you love one another. Jus as I have loved you, so you are to love one another”. (John 13.34) The word “maundy” comes from the Latin, meaning “mandate”. Jesus “mandated” that those who belong to him must love others. For this reason, on Maundy Thursday each year we take up a special offering for our Mercy Fund, which our Deacons use to help both church members and neighbors in need. While we will not pass a plate, we do ask that you prayerfully consider supporting this offering, either with a gift that can be offered by placing it in the baskets at the exits of the sanctuary, or by making a special offering online. Either way, please indicate that your gift is intended for the Mercy Fund so that it does not mistakenly get put with the general offerings.

Because we are continuing to practice social distancing, which limits our seating capacity at any single service, and because our Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday services are among the most attended each year, we have had to implement a reservation system for these services. (No reservation is required for Palm Sunday.) If you would like to attend in-person for Maundy Thursday and/or either of our Easter Sunday services, please click this link: GCPC Passion Week Reservations. Seats will be assigned on a first come first served basis. Please note, for Easter Sunday we will also be setting up speakers on the lawn in front of the church for those who might like to gather to worship with others in person, but for any number of reasons would enjoy the less formality of being outdoors. We had discussed also putting up a screen, but there was no screen available that would be bright enough to see. However, for those who would like to worship outdoors, we invite you to bring your lawn chairs and/or picnic blankets, claim your spot, and worship together with others, both those on the lawn and those indoors. (Song sheets will be provided for those worshipping on the lawn.)

Now, unfortunately, I need to communicate some bad news. A technical issue totally outside of our control will prevent us from LiveStreaming our services this Sunday, and possibly for Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday. Again, this is not an issue with any of our equipment nor of our tech teams, but entirely because of Cox Communications. For the past few weeks we have had technical difficulties streaming our 11am service. After exploring the root of the problem this past week, Tim Nargi spoke with Cox and found out that Cox has been having service problems in the area around the church. In short, because of an equipment problem, when online traffic gets to a certain level, Cox is unable to serve the homes in our area, nor our church. In hours when traffic is lighter there does not seem to be a problem. This is why we have been able to stream at 8:30. But as morning advances, and more people awake and get online on Sunday mornings, the 11am traffic is too heavy for Cox. (They had apparently started working on the problem, but had not notified us of the problem. Nor will they give us a timeline to expect the issue to be resolved – other than it will not be fixed before this weekend.) Because we were not given advanced notice, we were not given opportunity to find an alternate solution. So here is the plan for Palm Sunday, and perhaps for Maundy Thursday and Easter. There will be NO LiveStream at 8:30. Our equipment does not allow us to both LiveStream and record the service at the same time. Because there is no guarantee that we can LiveStream at 8:30 (if online traffic gets heavier) we have decided to record the 8:30 service, and post it online by 11am. So, you will be able to watch online. Around 11am on Sunday morning (or anytime Sunday after 11am), go to the homepage of the Grace Covenant web page, and there you will be able to find the link to the worship service. Because of the inconvenience, we will leave the services up for all of Sunday, rather than taking them down at the time the services end. We are very sorry about this. It could not come at a worse time for us. But there is no way for us to fix the problem until Cox Communications fixes their issues. We hope, and pray it will be resolved before Easter. If you would like to “encourage” Cox to get it fixed, we would wouldn’t mind if a few of you contact Cox Customer Service at 757-369-6208. Not sure it will help. But it sure can’t hurt.

As you prepare for this upcoming Passion Week, let me offer a brief video from The Gospel Coalition, and a few other resources you may find of spiritual benefit:

I will end with this provocative thought from Dutch theologian Henri Nouwen:

“Jesus went to Jerusalem to announce the Good News to the people of that city. And Jesus knew that he was going to put a choice before them: Will you be my disciple, or will you be my executioner? There is no middle ground here. Jesus went to Jerusalem to put people in a situation where they had to say yes or no. That is the great drama of Jesus’ passion…”

~ from A Spirituality of Waiting

And that is the great drama we remember during this next week.

Grace & Peace,

W. Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor

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A Pastor’s Note to Grace Covenant – March 20, 2021

This past week we passed the one year mark since the inauguration of the Shelter in Place Order that initially led to suspension of in-person worship, the shut-down of much of our economy, and which is still at least partially shaping our day-to-day individual, family, and congregational lives. As I reflect back on this past year, Grace Covenant as a faith community has had both our share of tragedy and a generous share of God’s blessing.

During this time we have experienced loss – several deaths, at least two of which were directly caused by the coronavirus. Compounding this hardship, restrictions on gatherings for funerals and memorial services prevented us from coming together as we would have liked, to mourn with and to support those who suffered the loss of their spouses. For this we grieve, for while we can continue to remember those who have passed, and we can reach out to those who are still with us, we will never regain those specific opportunities to share the sorrows, tears, and hugs.

At the same time, the Lord has blessed us with new life, through several covenant children born into our congregation (and a few more on the way!); with new friends, as some of those who now call Grace Covenant home have come during this time of pandemic. And the Lord has preserved, even blessed the church tangibly, through your generosity. As it has been previously noted, 2020 was a banner year, at least budget-wise (although in many other ways, as well). On top of the healthy tithes and offerings you gave, we remember with thanks the incredibly generous additional gift that paid off our mortgage debt. The wonderful irony, as I see it, is the building which we have not been able to use in full, is now fully paid off. But that irony serves to point our attention forward, and as I look forward I see much reason for optimism.

Part of the reason for optimism is your continued graciousness and generosity. I am more thankful than I have words to express how you have all responded during this past year. You have been gracious, understanding the limitations that have been placed upon most of our ministries, and the handicaps which those ministries that have continued have labored under. Please join me in giving thanks to God for our staff and ministry leaders, for the way they have served during this time. And please accept my thanks (and I am confident, the thanks of all the Elders, though I did not survey them before writing this note) to all of you for you understanding, and for your many words of encouragement to our staff this past year. Further, as we approach the end of this first quarter of the 2021 calendar year, indications are that your generosity has continued as well. While experts (whatever that means) have predicted that even the minority of churches, like ours, that did not experience financial hardship in 2020, those same churches ought to expect as much as a 20% decline in giving in 2021; to date, our church finances remain strong. So, again, I thank you all for your generosity.

Grace Covenant Children’s Ministry

Perhaps the hardest hit of our ministries was our Children’s Ministry. While other ministries found ways to adapt, Children’s Ministry is largely hands-on, with most of our service being offered during times when we gather, or that require gathering, such as VBS – which had to be cancelled for 2020. As time has gone on we have been hearing, especially recently, how much so many of our young families miss our fully functioning Children’s Ministry. So I want to take a moment to report on what we expect to see in the coming weeks and months.

First, please know that Starr VanWingerden, our Children’s Ministry Director, is working with our Deacons trying to discern when it is feasible – and safe – to re-open the nursery and at least some of the classrooms for things like Children’s Church and Kid’s Quest (formerly called Catechism Club). For families with infants and very small children, please know that our Deacons have allowed for moms to take their nursing babies, or young children, to the nursery during services, even if only for a brief respite. We do not yet provide full nursery, with volunteers, for you to drop your child off, but for those who are joining us in-person on Sunday mornings, there is a place for you to retreat to. The nurseries are sanitized after each service, so it is also safe. While not yet ready to resume our regular nursery schedule or other Sunday morning programming, it is in the works, and we are hopeful it will be safe to do so before too long.

Second, we do plan to have VBS this year! While such gatherings are not quite yet permitted, the decrease in the virus along with the increase in vaccinations gives us reason for hope. Lauren Malone and Jeni Mortier are working on plans for our VBS, as well as some possible alternative plans should they be necessary. Lauren & Jeni will, no doubt, provide more information in the coming weeks, but I mention it now just to put it on your radar. In addition to VBS, Lauren and Jeni are planning for an Easter Egg hunt for the children, the first weekend of April.

So we look ahead to resuming, or to at least incrementally resuming our programming for Children – hopefully sometime soon. In the mean time I think this time, when we are unable to offer all the activities we would like, is also a good time to reiterate some very important points pertaining of ministry to children and youth. Chiefly I have in mind this: while Grace Covenant has long been blessed with a tremendous ministry to children, almost all research confirms that the number one factor determining whether a child will continue in the Faith is not the programming of the church but the involvement and investment of the parents (and other adults of significance in the child’s life.) This should not be a surprise to any of us. It is exactly what the Bible teaches! To that end, resourcing and encouraging parents in discipling of their own children, in the coming weeks we will be offering suggested resources for parents, such as those below:

  • Knowing God’s Word – a very simple outline of things suggested to teach your child at various ages. This is a resource we will continue to develop. But it is included here in it’s most basic format for your consideration and use.

For those who are curious about the data regarding the influence of parents, I encourage you to check out a resource from Fuller Youth Institute, called Sticky Faith. Additionally, while aimed more for parents of pre-teens and teens, I also commend Center for Parent / Youth Understanding. There are also a wealth of worthwhile articles to encourage parents at The Gospel Coalition, including 6 Ways to Lead Your Family in Isolation.

Most of these resources probably should have been sent out much earlier. For that neglect I apologize. This is one area where I suspect I have been operating with a naively erroneous mindset that “things will soon return to normal”. Clearly they have not. For that, again, I am sorry.

One final note about Children’s Ministry – Starr has been sending out weekly links to short videos for kids to watch and discussion questions for parents to engage their children. If you are not presently receiving these links, but you would like to, please email Starr to be added to her e-mailing list.

Maundy Thursday & Easter

I will wrap up this note looking ahead. Easter will soon be here! As is our tradition at Grace Covenant, we will hold both Maundy Thursday and Easter services.

  • Maundy Thursday is a solemn time of reflection upon the sacrifice Jesus has made for us. The word “maundy” comes from the Latin for “mandate”, which is a reminder of the mandate Jesus gave to his disciples the night he was betrayed: “A new commandment I give to you, as I have loved you so you must love one another.” As a reflection of this mandate, Grace Covenant traditionally takes up an offering for our Deacon Fund, used to extend and support mercy ministry in our community. A celebration of the Last Supper is the highlight of this service.
  • Easter Services (8:30 & 11:00) are a celebration of the Resurrection, and a reminder of all the promises that the resurrection makes to those who love Jesus.

Due to our on-going commitment to the health and safety of those who worship with us, we will continue to practice social distancing for these services. This means, much to our regret, that we will have limited seating available for the services. This necessitates we require Reservations for seats for these services. An announcement will be sent out in a few days, with a link to sign up. Seats will be reserved on a first-come basis. However, two things to note. First, we will LiveStream all services as we have been doing. So we hope some will worship with us, as you have been doing, from home. Second, for our two Easter morning services, we will be setting up high quality speakers in front of the church, so that those who might enjoy sitting and worshipping outside, weather permitting, can join together and worship with us on-site. We suggest families or individuals who want to participate this way bring your lawn chairs or picnic blankets, and find your place on the lawn. Listen to the testimonies to the Risen Christ. Everyone joining together when we sing. No reservations are required for those who plan to worship on the Lawn.

One final note for Easter Sunday. We are discussing the possibility of offering a short Easter Sunrise service at 6:45am Easter Sunday. It would be a simple service, a couple hymns and a brief devotional message, as we celebrate while the begins. (Sunrise that day is 6:48.) To hold this short service we would need a capable guitar player to lead a hymn or two. I have told Isaiah I did not want him to lead because he had enough to do for the other services, and even more I want him to be able to be home with his kids and wife Easter morning. (For that same reason, wanting him to be able to be home with his children and wife, I have not asked Nathan Mortier, who is an excellent guitar player.) So, if you are a capable guitar player, and you would be interested in playing early on Easter morning, please let me know, or contact Isaiah.

That’s all for this week. Lot’s of good things to look forward to!

Grace & Peace,

W. Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor

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A Pastor’s Note to Grace Covenant – March 5, 2021

The renowned Canadian Anglican Theologian, J.I. Packer, in his classic book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, noted:

“It is God’s way regularly to withhold His blessings until His people start to pray.”

Likewise, The Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, in a paper titled Prayer Strategies for the Evangelization of Cities and Nations, declares:

If the church is to be effective in evangelizing the community it serves it must first commit to a strategy of prayer that will prepare the individual hearts of people to receive and positively respond to the gospel message, as well as impact the spiritual soil of a whole city, thus creating an environment of openness to the gospel in the hearts of the unsaved.

I want to thank everyone who participated in our online prayer gathering on Thursday evening. And, I want to again thank David Lunt for running Zoom for us. We had a good turnout, and committed ourselves to praying for our community – Williamsburg and the Historic Triangle. In addition to praying that God would be at work in and through our church, shaping Grace Covenant to be a blessing to our community, in accord with such passages as Jeremiah 29.4-7 and Proverbs 11.10, we prayed for God to be at work in and through other area churches; we prayed for the flourishing and prosperity of the Greater Williamsburg area, and for our local leaders, first responders, schools, families, etc. We prayed for College of William & Mary, faculty and staff, students, and campus ministries. And we prayed for our Neighbors in Need – the marginalized, homeless, and neglected – as well as for the ministries and agencies that aim to assist those who most need help. All of this was our privilege, as children of God and citizens of the Kingdom of Christ. We pray, not just for ourselves, but for those around us as well. This is not just “the least we can do”. Prayer is an important way we can love our Neighbors. Prayer is also a powerful act of mission to our community. For in prayer we bring the power and grace of God upon our community.

While the quarterly prayer gathering is now past, our opportunity to pray is ongoing. We can, and should, pray for our neighbors any time – and regularly. And we have another opportunity to pray together as a church family this weekend.

On Saturday morning, March 6, Mark Mortier will be leading in a Prayer Walk in and around Colonial Williamsburg and the town around it. This is open to any who have interest in participating. Mark & Ramona Mortier will be our front of the W&M Bookstore on DOG Street from 8-9am. Those who come during that time will be given some simple instructions, and a map with some simple prayer prompts. After that you can begin your prayer walk journey, as couples; or in pairs or groups of friends; or if you come alone, and want to be paired up, you’ll have that opportunity as well. The point is, we get out, walk, and pray for our neighbors. If you have never participated in a prayer walk, it is really that simple. There is no expectation that you should confront any strangers. There is no drawing attention to yourself. It’s just walking (getting some exercise) and praying. Sometimes prayer walking is described as “praying on site with insight” because what you see, as you walk, is the prompt for prayer. Just walking and praying. That’s it. So I hope you will join us.

Secondly, I want to remind everyone that on Sunday, March 7, we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper at Grace Covenant. We offer this notice because, in our tradition, we believe it is important and beneficial to prepare ourselves before we gather and partake of the elements of the Table. Advanced preparation of ourselves minimizes the potential of coming to the Table in an “unworthy manner”, as the Apostle Paul warns about in 1 Corinthians 11. We ought to pay particular attention to matters of the heart – anger, bitterness, thanklessness, or unforgiveness. But we also all benefit by meditating on the promises of grace, which partaking of the Table offers as we come faithfully and “in faith”. Some may benefit by reading more about the Lord’s Supper. There are many good resources that can help increase our understanding and appreciation, which in turn can aid our experience in partaking of the Table. Here are a couple short articles, as suggestions:

Just a reminder, during this time of pandemic, the Session of Grace Covenant invites all Believers in Jesus Christ, who have been baptized, and who are members in good standing with any Bible believing church, who are worshipping with us, whether in-person or at home, to join us in partaking of the Table. For those who are worshipping with us via LiveStream, it requires a little extra preparation. We urge that you prepare, in advance of the service, by setting aside a bread or matzah and cups of wine or grape juice. At the time during the service when those who are in the sanctuary come to receive the elements you should distribute the elements to those who are worshipping with you. (Please note, we discourage giving elements to children who have yet to be admitted to the Table. If you have questions about why we discourage this, any of our Pastors or Elders will be more than willing to discuss our reservations. But we do encourage explaining to inquiring children what the Table represents and promises.) When the people are invited to “eat” and “drink”, we also invite you who join us online to partake at that time. [This is just a temporary accommodation, while so many are unable to be present because of the potential health risks. When the pandemic has passed, we will only encourage participation of those who are present in the sanctuary. But for now, we invite all who worship with us to prepare themselves for the table.]

Wrapping up this note, I just want to offer a quick note as a reminder, Easter is fast approaching. Only a few weeks away. Though there are many indicators suggesting that, with vaccinations, some of the present social distancing restrictions are likely to soon be lightened or even removed, we still expect there will be need for reservations for our Maundy Thursday and Easter morning services. Instructions and links for registration will be sent out in a couple weeks, but we do want to put this on your radar. We are exploring some additional options, including a possible Sunrise service, but these are still in the early stages of consideration. So keep your eyes and ears open for more details in the coming weeks.

That’s it for this week. I look forward to seeing you Sunday, or at least sometime soon.

Grace & Peace,

W. Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor

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