As we look forward to our services of worship this week, both tonight as we observe Maundy Thursday, and Sunday morning as we celebrate the Resurrection, we thought a short note would be helpful – not only as a reminder, but also to alleviate possible confusion, given we have two parallel challenges to plan around. The first challenge is the continuing protocols necessary due to the still-present COVID-19 virus. The second challenge, an inconvenient glitch really, is the disruption of our internet and LiveStream capabilities due to Cox Communication’s malfunctioning equipment in the area around the church.
Due to COVID -19, we are limited in our seating capacity. Registration for seats is required for those who plan to join us in-person. The issues with Cox are hindering our ability to LiveStream, for those who plan to join us online. That said, below is what we are planning:
Our Maundy Thursday service will be held this evening (Thursday April 1) at 7pm. This service usually runs about 45 minutes. We will attempt to LiveStream the service, if we are able. However, because of the issues with Cox we cannot promise that it will be available. Check the Grace Covenant web page for the link.
Our Easter Sunday services are at 8:30am and 11am. Again, because of social distancing protocols, the number of those who can participate in-person in the sanctuary is limited. Reservations are required. That said, for Easter Sunday we also plan to offer an opportunity to worship in-person, outside on the lawn. The weather is supposed to be glorious. So if you are interested in gathering with others, we invited you to bring your lawn chairs and/or picnic blankets, and find a place on the lawn for each of the services. We will have high quality speakers so you can worship with those inside; and we will have worship bulletins and song sheets so you can follow along. We also plan to LiveStream the 8:30 service, and leave it up for those who want to join us later. While the Cox issues have not been resolved, to date there has been little to no technical problems during our 8:30 services. We are hoping – and praying – that will continue to be the case for Easter Sunday. So, if you would like to join us Sunday morning online for our Easter services, go to the Grace Covenant web page, and click the link for the services.
We are excited about celebrating the Resurrection together! We apologize for the inconveniences (- though they are not our fault). We look forward, Lord willing, to days ahead when we worship, and gather, with no interference at all. Whether that will be in weeks ahead and next Easter, or after the Lord returns, we don’t know. We only know that that day is coming.
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.
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.
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!
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.
I hope that you are enjoying our study of the Book of Romans as much as I have been. Perhaps “enjoy” is not the best word to use. Maybe “benefitting” or “appreciating” would be better. Nevertheless, “enjoy” is not a wrong word to use. I am enjoying it. And I have been very thankful for the way you, as a congregation, have responded. It has been wonderful to be hearing from some of you how this series has been of benefit to you. I can say, as a pastor, there are few things as encouraging as hearing how God is at work in your lives, through his Word! In these past few weeks we have dealt with potentially touchy subjects, as we explored Romans 12, about how we ought to live our lives in response to “God’s mercies”; and into Romans 13 this past week, considering what God says about our relationship with the civil government. At a time in culture when people are so divided, and many conversations with even a hint of political implications have the potential to explode like a powder keg that has been ignited, you have been incredibly gracious in response to the messages I have had the privilege to share, as well as to the thoughtfully challenging message Camper delivered to us a few weeks back. For that I thank you.
One thing I have found particularly interesting is the response a number of you have shared to my recent references to the writings of Francis Schaeffer, a theologian and culturist in the late 20th Century. Many of you were already familiar with his work. Several people, some who have read Schaeffer in the past, others who had only been familiar with his name, asked if there is any Schaeffer work that I would consider a “must read”. While I have shared my response to that inquiry with those who have asked, I thought it might be worthwhile to share a link to the writing I have commended. I have long thought Schaeffer’s The Mark of the Christian to be a treasure, outlining what it means to live our lives in line with our calling in Christ. It is not a long essay, only 16 pages; and while spiritually challenging, the language Schaeffer uses is not at all technical. I commend it everyone. And I would welcome hearing your thoughts, from those who choose to read it.
Shifting gears, I want to congratulate David Hoffman! David was recently appointed by his fellow Deacons to serve as Chairman of Deacons at Grace Covenant. I am thankful for David’s willingness to serve, and I ask you to join me in praying for David as he serves this role. With Hebrews 13.17 in mind, I am praying that David will experience joy through his service and leadership. At the same time, I want to thank Peter McHenry for the tremendous job he has done these past few years as Chairman of our Deacons. Peter will continue to serve as a Deacons, but he thought it time to pass the gavel to another. Thank you, Peter!
While it is our practice to not engage in politics, several people have asked that I touch on a piece of legislation that will be presented to the US Senate next week. It is officially Bill H.R. 5 – more commonly called “The Equality Act”. I am going to maintain my commitment to eschew partisan commentary, but I am convinced that this is an issue that warrants attention. While the stated objective of supporters of this piece of legislation is to ensure the rights of all, something which I believe as followers of Jesus we are to promote, there are many who have great concerns about potential unintended consequences of this Bill, specifically this Bill as written could promote the rights of some at the future or subsequent expense of others. Again, I will not offer any commentary here; and I do not want to make practice of addressing specific legislation; but I do think it appropriate to encourage you to become familiar with this proposal, and then to share your thoughts with our elected Representatives.
Finally, I want to invite you to join us for an important event this week. On Thursday evening, March 4, from 6:30 to 7:30, we will be gathering online to pray for our community. Ordinarily we would be gathering for one our quarterly prayer dinners, but the pandemic having not yet subsided enough for us to gather in-person, over dinner, we have moved our time of prayer to Zoom. Our focus comes from Jeremiah 29.7, where the Lord instructs his people, living in exile, to “seek the welfare of the city..” As God has placed each of us here for his purposes, part of tht purpose is for us – and for all the Christians in town – to be a blessing to this city where we live. God’s instruction through Jeremiah specifically tells us to pray for our city, so that is what we will be doing. Through a series of breakout rooms, we will pray together for different aspects of our community, and for God to be at work in this place we call home. To participate, simply click the Zoom link: GCPC Prayer Gathering.
The snow caught me off guard last week. Kathy Buhl texted in the afternoon inquiring if I wanted to send a communication to the congregation about “predicted snow”. My reply: “What snow?” I had heard something early in the week, but near the end of the week I saw no snow in the forecast. I guess things change – sometimes quickly. Fortunately we were able to get a handle on things, to assess both the forecast on Saturday, and assess the road conditions on Sunday morning. My thanks to Peter McHenry for scouting out the roads on Sunday morning, and offering his wisdom. In addition to Peter, my thanks to Camper and to the Elders for offering their wisdom on Saturday evening, leading to the pre-emptive cancellation of the 8:30 service, to give time to make an informed decision about the 11am service – which was also ultimately cancelled out of caution. My apologies, however, that we had not communicated our procedures for such events as snow on Sunday mornings. While our practice is the same as it has been for a number of years, with so many being new to the church, as well as the pandemic causing adjustments to most of our practices, no doubt many of you may have been left to wonder until you finally received word.
Just so we are clear, here is our procedure for Sunday morning snow days: First, I consult with the chairman of our Deacons (which is presently Peter McHenry). If the forecast is ominous enough, we will likely cancel the 8:30 service to allow for a more informed decision about the 11am service. On Sunday morning, one of the Deacons, sometimes more, and I will each drive the roads around the church and around town. We then check the church parking lot to see if it is clear and safe. If there is enough concern about the roads and/or parking lot, we will cancel the 11am service as well. Second, notice of cancellations will be posted on the Grace Covenant web page and the Grace Covenant Facebook page. Additionally, a special Grace Note will be sent to everyone on the church contact list. Further, still, Camper will notify all small group leaders, who will in turn contact those in their small groups to notify of the cancellations. Finally, if you are still unsure, or if you have any questions, feel free to contact any of our Elders or Deacons. Their phone numbers are in the church directory. When in doubt, we urge you to err on the side of caution. While we believe gathering together for church is vitally important, we’d much rather have you join us for weeks and years to come than to risk making it on a snowy day.
Finally, concerning snow days, if we have a service, we will LiveStream the service. If there is no service, there is no LiveStream. While caught off guard this past week, we will develop alternate worship service plans, similar to what we offered in the early days of the pandemic, that each household can use for family or personal worship, should you choose. Those alternate services will be sent out on Sunday morning, or whenever the decision to cancel the service is made.
While the snow prevented us from gathering for worship, it did not prevent many of you from serving. I want to thank everyone who signed up and served last week at the Community Shelter. While the number of guests was down this year, in part due to many of our homeless neighbors being able to be temporarily housed in hotels due to federal COVID-19 grants, our church’s participation – your participation – was invaluable. I pray that it was an enriching experience for all of you. I want to offer special thanks, again to Peter McHenry and, to Fran Geissler for coordinating the details of our participation. If you see either Fran or Peter, please express your thanks to them as well.
Serving Our Community
In Jeremiah 29.4-7 the Lord says, through the Prophet:
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
This is a foundational expression of God’s expectation for His people, to live our day to day lives in the communities where he has sovereignly assigned us. It is amazingly practical, and it is summed up quite simply in the last sentence: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
James City County, where many Grace Covenant members live, is inviting residents to participate in their community planning for the future, Engage 2045:
The Community Participation Team has created three online questionnaires to give input on future County actions. These questionnaires are your opportunity to provide opinions on policies and actions the County should take in the future to implement planning priorities. Topics include: Nature, Economic Development, Quality of Life, Affordable/Workforce Housing, Character Design Guidelines and the Future Land Use Map. To give input on future County actions click: Complete Questionnaires
Your participation, while in no way mandated, is an opportunity to “seek the welfare of the city” where God has placed you. Final word from James City County:
The Community Participation Team and Planning Division would like to promote and encourage all individuals who live, work, and play in James City County to participate the upcoming Community Chats and Questionnaires. We aim to have the diversity of our community reflected in our public engagement and responses. Your input, opinions, and contributions are requested, needed, wanted and valued.
With no snow in our forecast, there are two things we want to invite your attention for this coming Sunday.
First, this being the first Sunday of the month, we will be observing the Lord’s Supper in both our 8:30am and 11am worship services. We urge all who will be worshipping with us to prepare yourself for participating at the Table, by giving attention to your present spiritual vitality, being mindful of whatever sin you may be struggling with, being prepared to confess it and lay it aside; as well as reminding yourself of the promises of the gospel, the truths that flow from Jesus’ sacrifice of himself on the Cross. Along with preparing our hearts, we invite those of the Grace Covenant community who are trusting in Christ for salvation, and member of a Bible-believing church, and who are participating in our worship via LiveStream, to also prepare elements for use while we celebrate communion. We encourage you to set aside a bread or crackers and wine or grape juice, having them ready to eat and drink when we come to the Table during the service. This invitation to those worshipping at home is outside our normal practice, but our Elders feel it is an important temporary adjustment during this time when wisdom dictates social distancing for many.
Second, during our 8:30 service we will be ordaining new Deacons: Jim Becraft, David Hoffman, and Daniel Malone. All three men have been working alongside our Deacons for some time; all three have gone through a rigorous time of training; all three have been tested on their knowledge and understanding of God’s Word, sound doctrine, and their responsibilities as Deacons; and all three were overwhelmingly elected by vote of the congregation during our Annual Congregational Meeting a couple weeks ago. All three men will be asked to answer the following questions and, in answering, make a vow to God:
1) Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as originally given, to be the inerrant Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?
2) Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will, on your own initiative, make known to your Session the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?
3) Do you approve of the form of government and discipline of the Presbyterian Church in America, in conformity with the general principles of biblical polity?
4) Do you accept the office of deacon in this church, and promise faithfully to perform all the duties thereof, and to endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your life, and to set a worthy example before the Church of which God has made you an officer?
5) Do you promise to strive for the purity, peace, unity and edification of the Church?
6) Do you promise subjection to your brethren in the Lord?
After those who are being ordained affirm their answers, the congregation will be asked to respond to this simple but important question:
Do you, the members of Grace Covenant, acknowledge and receive these brothers as deacon, and do you promise to yield them all that honor, encouragement and obedience in the Lord to which this office, according to the Word of God and the Constitution of this Church, entitles them?
Upon the affirmations of the respective vows, each Deacon being ordained will be appropriately spaced from the others, each with one Elders standing behind to lay hands upon the newly ordained Deacons – with the Elders all gloved and masked – while we pray for God’s blessing upon them, and through them. This may seem ordinary, but this is an important action in the life of our church, and an awesome privilege and responsibility for each of these men. Please pray for them. There role is to lead our church in compassion, and mercy to one another and to our neighbors.
Finally, next Sunday, February 14, we will resume our study of the Letter to the Romans. We will pick up where we left off, with Romans 12.9-21. We will look at Romans 13.1-7 & Romans 13.8-14 in the weeks following in February (- snow permitting!)
Have a great weekend! I look forward to seeing you all Sunday – whether in person, or online.
Due to snow forecasted to arrive in our area in the morning, Grace Covenant is cancelling our 8:30am service for January 31, 2021. Our present plan is to hold our 11am service, along with the Livestream, unless the expected snow makes it wiser for us to cancel 11am as well.
The cancellation of the earlier service will allow our Deacons to offer a more informed recommendation about our 11am service, including road conditions and the condition of the church parking lot. Since predictions are presently for snow to increase between 8am-11am, it is quite possible that both services will be cancelled for this week. Whether we are able to hold our 11am service or not, we advise caution when deciding if you should attend.
On Sunday afternoon/evening, January 24, we will be holding our annual congregational meeting. This is an important gathering for the life of the church. Not only will we present the budget for the coming year, this year we will also be electing new Deacons to serve and lead our church in ministry of mercy and stewardship of the church’s resources.
Three candidates have completed the Officer Training, and successfully completed both written an oral examinations about their understanding of the Faith and the responsibilities of Deacons. All three candidates – Daniel Malone, David Hoffman, and Jim Becraft – have been members of Grace Covenant for some time. While the Session is commending these men for your consideration, it is only the affirmation of the congregation that decides whether any, or all, of these men will be ordained to the office of Deacon. So we ask that you prayerfully consider each candidate, and vote as your conscience leads. The candidates are not running against one another. You are free to vote for all, some, or none, as you feel led. Election to become a Deacon requires a majority of church members voting at this congregational meeting.
Our meeting this year will be held online, via Zoom, from 5pm to 6pm on Sunday evening, A link to join in the meeting can be found in this weeks Grace Notes. While for many of us the thought of yet another online meeting may not sound particularly exciting, I want to re-emphasize the importance of this meeting, and the importance of your participation, especially for the voting for the new Deacons. We will need a quorum – a minimum of about 45 church members for an official vote. We will launch a digital poll near the beginning of the meeting, and it will be closed around 5:30. Members can cast their votes at anytime during the time the poll is up. For couples who are sharing a screen, at least one of you will also need to sign-in to the meeting on your phone or tablet, or some other computer, to vote, as Zoom will only allow one vote per device. We’ll explain all of this again on Sunday evening. Chief thing now is that you pray about who you will want to serve the church as Deacons, and that you join us for at least part of the time on Sunday evening.
Second, I want to extend an invitation to anyone who would like to join us for our upcoming Discovery Class. While Discovery Class is designed to introduce the beliefs, values, and history of Grace Covenant to those who are new to the church, it is also open to anyone, even long-time church members, who want to connect with others, and who would enjoy a refresher discussion about our Faith and values. For those who are not yet members of Grace Covenant, but who feel that this is where you want to make your church home, the Discovery Class is a pre-requisite to becoming a member; however, participation in Discovery Class does not require a commitment to join the church. For some, it is through participation in the Discovery Class that will help determine if Grace Covenant is the church you want to call home. Our next Discovery Class begins next Sunday, January 31, and will be held over the next 6 week, via Zoom. To sign up, or if you have questions about Discovery Class, we invite you to email Kathy Buhl, at the church office.
I want to express my thanks to everyone who has signed up to serve our neighbors-in-need, through the Community of Faith Shelter. Grace Covenant’s week to serve is now upon us – beginning early next week, on January 26. Special thanks to Fran Geissler, Steve Geissler, and Peter McHenry, for taking the lead and coordinating our participation this year. But I am thankful for all of you, and the great response you have demonstrated to this ministry. And if you have yet to sign up, it’s not too late. The response has been great, but we still have a few service times yet to be claimed. The link to sign up can be found in Grace Notes.
Another area of service to our community is through participation in the Baby Bottle Drive we do each year in support of, and partnership with, CareNet Peninsula. As followers of Christ we recognize the sanctity of life. The staff and volunteers at CareNet are on the front lines, loving and ministering to young women and teenage girls who sometimes have nowhere else to turn. The Baby Bottle Drive is just a simple way to support this ministry financially, and to prompt us to pray. As with other items I touched upon in this note, details can be found in the Grace Notes. But I wanted to take the time to highlight it, just to reinforce how important your participation is, and to say thank you for caring.
Finally, I’ll wrap up this note with a reminder that we are resuming our study of the Book of Romans on Sunday mornings. This Sunday we pick up with Romans 12.3-8. I have enjoyed our study of this magnificent letter, and I have been gratified by the many expressions of enjoyment you have shared. For those interested, I have written up a brief intro and overview of the study series we will engage these next few months, When In Rome: Living Out What We Really Believe, including a few recommended resources and the renewed challenge to read through the Letter to the Romans as we study it this Winter and Spring.
On Sunday January 10 we resumed our study of the Book of Romans. We took a brief detour this past week, on Sanctity of Life Sunday. But coming this Sunday, January 24, we will plunge into this marvelous Epistle of the Apostle Paul for the better part of the Winter and Spring; only exceptions being the first Sunday of each month, when we have a Table-centered service and participate in communion, and a few other Sundays, such as Palm Sunday, Easter, etc.
While we are resuming our study of Romans, in a sense we are also beginning a new series. We have now come to the final portion of this magisterial letter, chapters 12-16. Beginning in Romans 12 there is a shift from a primarily theological focus to a more practical application emphasis, rooted in the theological foundation of the earlier chapters. As a recap and preview, a short outline of Romans looks like this:
Romans 1-8 is the best theological explanation of Salvation ever written.
Romans 9-11 explains why we can trust God to keep his promises, while answering questions that arise about God’s relationship with Israel, God’s Covenant People.
Romans 12-16 instructs us how we ought to live in light of God’s grace.
Because we have come to this new section of Romans, we have shifted from our previous series titled Adventures in Romans: Making Sense of What Matters Most to our current series titled When In Rome: Living Out What We Really Believe. While our goal has been to help bring understanding of the faith, our aim now is to encourage one another to live our lives together in light of the faith.
As before, to help you to engage with this series, we want to provide some resources we hope will prove beneficial.
1) First is an excellent video from the Bible Project, that introduces the Letter to the Romans. This is the second of two videos, covering Romans 5 through Romans 16, and offers an overview of these final chapters of this book that we will explore this Winter & Spring. (For those who want to review the first video, click: Romans 1-4 Introduction.)
2) Second, for those who have interest,, here is a link to a .pdf of Martin Luther’s Preface to Romans, which is itself a tremendous devotional and theological resource that God has used in the lives of many. (This would be an excellent resource for small group discussions.)
3) Third, we still have several of the Romans ESV Scripture Journal available for those who want to take notes during the messages, or in your study, etc. We ask for a voluntary $2 contribution to defray costs. (But this is voluntary. We don’t want anyone who would benefit from the journal to not have one because of the requested contribution.)
Finally, when we began our study of Romans we issued a challenge that we believe will be beneficial for anyone willing to take it up. We want to renew this challenge as we resume our study. We encourage everyone to read through the Book of Romans once-per-month during the months we are studying this book. That would be just four chapters per week. John Wycliffe said of the Book of Romans: “the more it is chewed the pleasanter it is.” We believe anyone who takes up this challenge will find that Wycliffe was right – and be the better for having “chewed” on it.
Today is a day for prayer. Of course every day is a day for prayer, but perhaps especially today is a day for prayer because today is Inauguration Day AND because our God has instructed those who are his people to pray for those who govern:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2.1-4)
This means, whether you are optimistic about the Biden administration or otherwise, if you are a Christian, living in the United States, to be faithful to God, we are to pray for whoever is President.
Why? Though there are many, let me give just two compelling reasons:
The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.
This is a reminder that, whoever is governing, God is sovereign. God is working his purposes out. God shapes the heart of those who rule. Therefore, it is preferable for those who belong to God to make their appeal to God rather than to make their appeal to other people through social media posts and letters to the editor. At least, it is preferable that we appeal to God first, before we make our appeals to others.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
While many rightly recognize from this passage that we do not need any human entity to stand between God and ourselves to communicate with God, because we already have Jesus as our mediator, what is often overlooked is the responsibility and the privilege this verse conveys to those who, by God’s mercy, are now God’s people.
The role of the priest was essentially to stand before God on behalf of the people, as well as stand before the people on behalf of God. When the priests stood before God on behalf of the people, they interceded for the people, asking for God’s mercy, offering the sacrifice required for reconciliation. We who have received God’s mercy, who recognize Christ as the requisite sacrifice, by whom we are now God’s people, and therefore now a royal priesthood, are responsible not only to represent God to people, but we are responsible to stand before God interceding for people. One way we do this is by praying for those who govern and lead.
So in faithfulness to Christ, our King, and for the benefit of our neighbors and fellow citizens, I urge us all to pray today, and to pray every day, for the President, and for all who govern.
For those who might benefit from a tool to help you in your praying, I commend to you The Presidential Prayer Team, and in particular their 100 Days of Prayer initiative for the first 100 days of the Biden administration. Their prayer for this Inauguration Day is:
Heavenly Father, on this important day in the workings of our nation, we come to You with complete confidence, knowing that You are the magnificent and benevolent Controller of All Things. You have repeatedly assured us of the righteousness of Your plans, and we stand in wonder as we watch You working them out through people and events. We praise You, O Most High God. Amen.