It’s Memorial Day Weekend, a time that for many marks the unofficial start of Summer. Of course Memorial Day itself is a day established to remember those who gave their lives in service of protecting American freedoms – which is something we ought not forget nor neglect. But it has also become a day, a weekend, of family reunions and festivities with friends – also worthwhile endeavors.
Fortunately for most of us, we will have more opportunity this year to fully enjoy this holiday weekend than we had last year. Last year we were still in the early stages of COVID-19 restrictions; this year many of those restrictions have been relaxed. While we all ought always to be wise, and ever vigilant, a sense of “normalcy” seems to have begun blossoming again. For that I am thankful.
With that said, I want to take the moment to remind everyone of the changes that are taking place regarding the COVID guidelines at Grace Covenant. In short, many of the more restrictive protocols are being relaxed. Our Deacons have drafted new guidelines which, effective this weekend, are as follows:
- In accordance with the CDC recommendations and our Governor’s Executive Order 79, masks are no longer required to be worn by people who are fully vaccinated.
- In accordance with the Governor’s order, any persons aged 5 or older, who are not vaccinated, should wear a mask and social distance to minimize potential exposure.
- Seating in our sanctuary will be adjusted to for additional capacity, as needed.
- There are be no other facility limitations. Cleaning will be done on an as necessary basis to ensure surfaces are disinfected in high demand areas.
So, again, the short of this is that masks are no longer required for those who have been fully vaccinated. All those who have not been fully vaccinated should wear masks over their nose and mouth whenever they are in the building. Beginning this weekend, mandatory physical distancing and room max capacities will be suspended.
All that said, as good a news as this is for many, some of this would not have mattered as much for us at Grace Covenant this weekend anyway. That’s because this Sunday at Grace Covenant we have been planning to worship outdoors; and outdoors many of the required protocols were already more relaxed.
The plan for this Sunday, weather permitting, is for us to hold our 8:30am service on the church lawn. Over the past year, as many churches were forced to move to outdoor services, we have been fortunate enough to have a sanctuary with enough space, and seating that is flexible, to enable us to worship pretty much as usual. (I give much thanks to our Deacons for enabling us to worship unimpeded over the course of this season.) But, though we have been able to worship in our sanctuary, some have asked if we might consider an outdoor service at some time. After the positive response we had to our Easter-on-the-Lawn opportunity, I thought holding an entire service outdoors might be something we ought to try. So, for those who would like to gather for worship on the lawn, we invite you to come on Sunday with your lawn chairs, picnic blankets, your lean-to tents and canopies, etc. We will sing, pray, and wrap up our survey of the Book of Romans (looking at Romans 16.25-27). For those who without lawn chairs or beach chairs, we expect to set up a limited number of seats, and other folding chairs can be made available as necessary. Song sheets will be provided.
While looking forward to our outdoor worship, the weather forecast is making our outdoor service plans look a bit iffy. A decision will be made on Sunday morning if we need to move inside. No notice will go out. If it’s raining as 8:30 approaches, obviously we will move the service indoors. If it is not raining, we will have an eye on the forecast and the radar. If a front appears to be headed toward us and the expectation of precipitation during our service time is high, we will pre-emptively move inside, so as not to risk having to do so during the middle of the service.
Some may wonder, Why are we planning for 8:30am outside but 11am inside? (I’m glad you asked!) The reason for two plans is simple and pragmatic. Some of our Elders were concerned, that due to allergies, high sensitivity to sunlight exposure, etc., that some of our church family might feel less welcome if both services were held outside. Not wanting anyone to feel that they should stay home, it was decided that the best approach was to have one service outside and the other inside. So, that’s why one indoor and one outdoor on the same day. (The structure and the substance of both services will be the same.)
Before moving to the next topic, I want to take a moment to express my thanks to Isaiah Day, Jeff Field, and Tim Nargi. What seemed like a simple idea to me, when I suggested it, actually carries quite a few logistical challenges. Tim, Jeff, and Isaiah have carried the brunt of figuring out how we should do this, and also of setting things up to enable us to do this. So, if we are able to hold our service outdoors, please thank them. (And if weather forces us indoor, pleas thank them all the more. That would mean that they did a month of work for no reward at the end of their labors.)
As I mentioned above, this Sunday we will complete our survey of Paul’s letter to the Romans. We have been in this series for the better part of two years, taking breaks only during the early part of the pandemic, and during Advent. I have been blessed by my study of this letter, as I have prepared for each message. I am thankful for the many stories I have heard from you about how this study, or how particular portions of this study, have impacted you. I sincerely hope – and truly pray – that this series has been of benefit to many. I am reminded of what John Wycliffe, the man who translated the Bible into English, said of Romans:
“the more it is chewed the pleasanter it is…”
I certainly hope you have found this to be true.
When we began this series, in September 2019, we issued a little challenge: We encouraged everyone to read through the Book of Romans one-per-month during the months we are studying this book. I suspect those of you who accepted this challenge, at least partially, and “chewed” on this letter, have most likely been the most enriched. However, just because this series is coming to a close does not mean that our challenge needs to end. I’d like to offer a new challenge – or a new edition of this old challenge: Make a commitment to reading through the Book or Romans at least once per year, if not more! I have no doubt that the more you dig into this letter the more treasure you will mine from it. And, if you have not already, I would also encourage you to read Martin Luther’s Preface to Romans – the preface to his commentary on this book. Whether you read it alone, or make it part of a small group discussion, Luther’s preface itself has a history of bearing tremendous spiritual fruit. It was through hearing Luther’s Preface being read aloud that John Wesley was became a Christian – though Wesley was already an Anglican minister and a missionary (albeit a failure as a missionary) before his spiritual conversion. But after his conversion his life was changed; and through Wesley’s ministry and legacy countless other lives have also been changed.
And for those who are in any way saddened that we have come to the end of our survey, take heart! We may be at the end of our survey, but not necessarily at the end of our series. In June, Camper plans to draw two messages from Romans. Perhaps we can consider his messages something of an encore – like the songs that come after the initial conclusion of a music concert.
Finally, as we move back (hopefully) toward normalcy, we plan to resume both our nursery and ministries for younger children during our worship services, beginning Sunday June 6. While children are always welcome to remain in our worship services, we realize that our inability during the pandemic to provide nursery or children’s church has been difficult for many young families. But with restrictions now being lifted, we feel it is time to resume these vital children’s activities.
Starr VanWingerden, our Children’s Ministry Coordinator, and Mary Slade, our Nursery Coordinator, have sent out emails to those who have previously served our Children’s Ministry. If they have not already gone out, another email will be sent out in the coming days to nearly everyone in the church, inviting you to consider serving our children (and their families) in some way. Children are a very important part of our church family; and ministering to our children is our Mission to the Next Generation. We will need your help. This includes a number of you who have come to Grace Covenant during these months in the midst of the pandemic. It is quite possible that you have an interest in serving the children but have not had opportunity to do so since much of our children’s ministry has been on hiatus. If this is you, and you would enjoy serving and teaching our children, please let us know. Click on Starr’s name above, and shoot her an email to let her know of your interest. She’ll be happy to get back with you, and outline what is involved, including the prerequisite training we require in order to ensure a safe environment for children at Grace Covenant .
I look forward ts seeing you all on Sunday. That said, no doubt many will be traveling over this holiday weekend. stay safe. Enjoy. And I look forward to seeing you soon.
Grace & Peace,
W. Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor