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:
- Who Will Your Child Worship? – a very short brochure/article
- 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