A Pastor’s Note to Grace Covenant – February 2, 2023

It is an exciting time at Grace Covenant.

We are about to embark on another week of hosting our neighbors-in-need, through our partnership with Community of Faith Mission (COFM). COFM will arrive following our morning worship service on Sunday, February 5, and set up will take place upon their arrival (or after the service). Guests will arrive in the evening. Each day, between Sunday February 5 and Saturday February 11, guests will check in at church at dinnertime, share a meal, and settle in for the evening. Each morning our guests will be helped to their destinations for that day. Volunteers are essential, not only to serve, but to connect with these neighbors in a personal way. If you have not yet signed up, and you are willing, please contact Peter McHenry, who is coordinating Shelter Week for Grace Covenant. Regardless of your skill level, or lack of skills, your presence is powerful and important.

As I write, several men from our church are participating in a statewide Men’s Retreat at Rockbridge… In coming weeks we will be providing info about some fun opportiunities for children and families, as well as activities for our middle school and high school students…

But today I want to take a moment to touch on two particular items:

Worship @ Grace Covenant

First, having been monitoring attendance at our weekly worship services, both throughout the Fall and now into the New Year, the Elders have made the decison that it is time for the church to resume our regualr 2-service weekly schedule. We will not jump right into it, but we are preparing to return to our regular 2-service schedule the first Sunday in March, or Sunday March 5. Beginning that Sunday, worship will again be offered at 8:30 and 11am, with Education Hour in-between, at 10am.

No doubt, some may wonder: “Why this change?” We know that many have enjoyed the energy of the single-service, as well as the opportunity to see some folks that you may not see as often when we are in 2-services. Most of our Elders have enjoyed those aspects of the single service as well. But there are practical reasons why we feel it is time to return to two services.

First, the singe-service schedule has always been intended to be a temporary thing. Coming out of COVID, and church attendance down (not just at Grace Covenant, but all across the country) we were able to fit into one service; and with all of the families that are new to Grace Covenant, we wanted to provide an opportunity for people to connect. As Fall progressed, into Advent, and now into the New Year, our Sunday attendance continues to grow – both with long-time members returning more frequently and new families looking to become part of Grace Covenant.

As attendance has increased, finding seats has been a bit more challenging at times. Are there still seats available in our sanctuary each week? Most Sundays, yes. But as attendance began to rise, I started to stand in the back of the sanctuary as the services were beginning. What I noticed was that many families, if they are of more than 2 or 3, are often forced to split up to find seats. From a church growth standpoint, this is a good problem. But it is not ideal for families. Related to that, I have done some research about church health trends in a Post-COVID world. I won’t go into all the (boring) details, but for the sake of understanding I will share one point. Church health experts, pre-COVID, found as a general rule that when a church reached 80% of seating capacity, it eventually had a negative effect on guests, including those looking for a church. The more rural an area, the lower the percentage for comfortable seating. It is widely called the 80% Rule (though it is more of a principle than a rule). Studies are showing that Post-COVID, what was once the 80% Rule, is now more like the 60% Rule (or 65% among certain demographics). People have become more conscious about space. We see it all around – people still stand several feet apart in grocery store lines, when just a few years ago people stood much closer together. While we have not consistently surpasseed 80% capacity, we are almost always well above the 60% capacity.

Now, if this was only anecdotal sociological mumbo-jumbo, we likely would not have made the change at this time. Not on that basis alone. But it is not just about data. We have been made aware of a number of long-time, and much-loved, church members who are uncomfortable in the more crowded space. Though some of them are attending in-person, at times, their presence is not without some personal angst about potential health risks. We are also aware of others who just don’t feel it is wise, for them personally, to return to in-person services until we resume offering 2-services. It is, in no small part, out of love for them, as well as our desire to make room for others the Lord is bringing to Grace Covenant, that we have made the decision to return to the regular 2-service schedule.

In coming weeks we will be offering more details, but we plan to ease into the 2-service schedule. One thing of note is that, for the month of March, we will plan for Children’s Church, Kid’s Quest (Catechism), and likely even nursery, to be offered during the 8:30 service only. Churches around the country have been slow to recoup volunteers for ministry. Though thankful for the many of you who do volunteer, Grace Covenant has not been imune to this challenge. We see it most evident in our need for nursery and children’s ministry volunteers. Our hope – and even expectation – is that we will see the growth in the number of volunteers steadily increase to enable us to provide the full range of children’s minstries equally at both services.

NOTE: If you would be interested in helping with the nursery from time to time, or working with the children in some capacity, please contact Mary Slade, Nursery Coordinator, or Nathan Luzwick, Children’s Ministry Director. Nathan and Mary would be delighted to hear from you, and they will happily help you get plugged in to serve our Mission to the Next Generation. And if you have questions about resuming our 2-service schedule, please speak with any of our Elders.

New Sermon Series

Ths second thing I want to touch on is our upcoming sermon series. We have now come to the end of our study of the Book of Hebrews. This coming Sunday we will focus on preparing ourselves to come to the table. But beginning Sunday February 12, we will begin a study of the Book of Jonah. The series will be titled In the Wake of Relentless Grace. As always, we will dig into the bible text each week. In this series, however, we will camp in some of the same verses for multiple weeks, looking at the passages from different angles, which will reveal to us that there is much more to Jonah than just the familiar Fish Story. As one commentator notes:

“The moralistic way this story is often told, emphasizing Jonah’s disobedience and God’s surreal punishment, can mask some of the other important dimensions of the story.”

My goal will be to uncover at least some of those oft neglected dimensions. As we do, we will learn not only more about this runaway Prophet, we will also learn more about God and his grace – AND, we will discover some important things about ourselves in the process.

As we have done in the past, we will provide some resources that can help deepen our understanding and appreciation of God’s Word. Let me start today by sharing a video overview of Jonah produced by the Bible Project:

This video does a good job of providing an in-depth overview, and it touches upon some of the themes in the Book of Jonah. That said, the themes in Jonah – including some we will explore – are far from being exhausted in this video. As we study this book together, throughout the Winter and Spring, I hope we will all be reminded that “Jonah is NOT just for kids!” (To borrow a phrase from an old cereal commercial.)

That’s all for now. I look forward to seeing you all on Sunday. And just as the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, so I say to you: “I do not cease to give thanks to God for you, remembering you always in my prayers…” (Ephesians 1.16)

Grace & Peace,

Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor

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