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A Pastor’s Note to Grace Covenant – June 18, 2021

Summer is officially arriving this weekend! The Summer solstice – the longest day of the year – will be at 11:31pm on Sunday June 20. Not sure I’ll stay up to watch, but it’s good to know that it is Summer.

Though not tied to the solstice, one of the great harbingers of Summer at Grace Covenant return next week, after a hiatus last year. VBS – or Vacation Bible School – will run Monday thru Friday mornings here at the church – mostly outside this year. Our VBS is one of our most important ministry activities of the year. Countless hours of preparation are given so that we can share the Good News of Jesus with the children God entrusts to us. This is a vital part of our Mission to the Next Generation. Whether you are a parent, a volunteer, of just a lover of Jesus, please join us in praying that, by God’s grace through the power of the Holy Spirit, the seeds sown next week will take root and bear fruit in the hearts and lives of those who participate.

As Summer unfolds, we look forward to seeing more and more old friends return to join us in worship on Sunday mornings. We have already enjoyed seeing many who have been away for the duration of the pandemic. We have also enjoyed a number of new friends who have joined us over the past several months. As both old friends and new friends come together, we thought it might be a good idea to try connect as many as we can. So, for these next couple weeks, we are planning to offer refreshments on the front porch between services, and we are inviting everyone to mingle. Regardless of whether you are an 8:30 or an 11am attender, we hope you will join us on the porch and on the lawn, connect, re-connect, and catch-up with one another.

Finally, (this is a short note this week,) I want to take this opportunity to note a newly minted federal holiday that will be observed this weekend on Saturday, Juneteenth. While I confess my awareness of this holiday goes back only a few years, Juneteenth is actually the oldest nationally recognized commemoration of the ending of slavery in the U.S. Now, some may wonder why I would highlight this holiday. It’s not a date on the ecclesiastical calendar. I don’t make a point of necessarily acknowledging every other national holiday. Why highlight Juneteenth? The short answer is this: With racial tensions and racial divisions still plaguing both our culture and the Church across our country, I thought it appropriate to use this date as an opportunity to revisit these issues. I have drafted short post in which I have provided a number of links to a variety of resources that look at some of issues related to racial division from a gospel perspective. I have no desire to create debate. Instead, I hope some of these resources might help promote greater understanding – and maybe some healthy discussion. So I hope you will check out: Resources for Racial Understanding & Reconciliation.

That’s all for now. I hope everyone has an enjoyable weekend. As always, I look forward to seeing you on Sunday!

Grace & Peace,

W. Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor

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Resources for Racial Understanding & Reconciliation

This weekend marks the newly minted federal holiday, Juneteenth – which is short for June 19th. I confess my awareness of this day goes back only a few years, but Juneteenth is actually the oldest nationally recognized commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. It is commemoration of emancipation in Texas, on June 19, 1865 – more than two years after President Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Why do I highlight this holiday? I hope you will understand as you read on.

WHY DOES IT MATTER?

Racial tension and racial division are are major issues in our culture – and in the Church. This is not a new problem. It was also a problem in the Early Church. But because it is still an issue, Paul’s words to the early church in Ephesus are still relevant for us today:

“Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:12-14)

Whether one see racial division as a “gospel issue” or not, racism and racial division are inarguably Kingdom issues. And these are issues that the Gospel – and only the Gospel – can resolve. Only the Gospel has the power to make us one in Christ, regardless of race or culture. 

Therefore, as tensions linger, and even intensify, the Church has the ability – and therefore the responsibility – to show that only Jesus has the power to break down the dividing walls of hostility and bring Shalom – true and lasting peace. In a culture that often, and increasingly, views faith in Jesus to be irrelevant and unhelpful, we have an opportunity to be “Salt & Light” by actively pursuing peace and friendship between all races and cultures in our community. (Matthew 5.9; Matthew 5.13-16)

Racial reconciliation is not the goal of a gospel-centered church and life, but it is clear from Scripture that it is a beautiful fruit of it.

A Biblical worldview responds to every circumstance with love, empathy, and understanding even of those different from us, instead of letting popular culture and news soundbites define our attitudes and beliefs. And as we listen to more voices, even some that sound different from our own, God often reveals to us some of the blind spots in our own hearts.

At Grace Covenant we are committed to mercy and justice. (Micah 6.8) As a church, we believe grace changes everything! The gospel frees us, compels us, and empowers us to seek justice and reconciliation in the midst of brokenness. This is gospel work – work that we’re committed to doing together as we learn, lament, repent, and – by faith – move forward. But “to do justice” and “to do mercy” requires both humility and understanding.

So, using Juneteenth as an occasion to help us move forward toward better understanding, I have compiled a list of resources. This is in no way an exhaustive list, but these resources are among those I have found helpful. Some are from our own denomination, others from the broader Evangelical church. Some of these resources may resonate more than others; and some express viewpoints I cannot entirely endorse. Nevertheless, there is benefit from listening to a broad range of voices and seeing from a variety of perspectives.

Grace & Peace,

W. Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor

Resources

Listen & Watch

Articles

Books

Voices

NOTE: Over time I will add to these lists. So I hope you will bookmark this page, and make use of it both now and in the future.

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A Pastor’s Note to Grace Covenant – May 28, 2021

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.

New Guidelines

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.

Outdoor Service

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.)

Romans Series

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.

Children’s Ministry

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

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A Pastor’s Note to Grace Covenant – May 21, 2021

The day that many have been looking forward to has finally arrived. At least the day has come when we begin to see the first steps back toward pre-COVID measures. As most are no doubt aware, late last week the Governor of Virginia, in accord with recent recommendation from the CDC, issued a revision to previous executive orders and issued a new executive order, Executive Order 79. In line with these new directives, Grace Covenant’s Deacons have drafted new guidelines for our church. Grace Covenant Elders have approved the recommendation from our Deacons.

Beginning this Sunday morning, May 23, the COVID-19 safety protocols that we have been exercising will be relaxed, in two phases, as follows:

Phase 1 – Starting with the first worship service on May 23rd, 2021:

  • In accordance with the Virginia Governor’s Executive Order 72 (as amended on May 14th) and the CDC guidelines, masks will no longer be required to be worn for 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 exposure.
  • All seating arrangements will remain in a social distanced set up to comply with Executive Order 72’s requirements for religious activities.

Phase 2 – Starting with the first worship service on May 30th, 2021:

  • In accordance with the Virginia Governor’s Executive Order 79 (effective May 28th) and CDC guidelines, masks will no longer be required to be worn for 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 exposure.
  • Seating will be adjusted to more generous levels to allow for additional capacity in the service as needed.
  • There will be no other facility limitations. Cleaning will be done on an as necessary basis to ensure surfaces are disinfected in high demand areas.

So the short of it is this: Beginning this Sunday morning, May 23, masks will no longer be 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 next Sunday, May 30, the other regular COVID-19 safety protocols that we have been exercising, such as physical distancing and room max capacities, will be suspended. However, the cleaning of chairs between services will continue; and we continue to ask people who are not feeling well to worship with us at home via LiveStream.

We understand that comfort levels are going to vary from person to person. It is likely that there will be a mixture of people wearing masks and not wearing masks at our worship services for a while. Please strive to respect the decisions of others and to not make assumptions regarding the circumstances or motives of other people. We have been tremendously blessed by the attitudes and responses of our Grace Covenant family throughout this unpleasant season. For that we are thankful. Now, we thank you in advance, as we continue to work together, and as we do our best to cultivate ministry that honors God, offers due respect to our governing authorities (Romans 13.1-5), and blesses both our church family and our neighbors.

Outdoor Service

On Sunday May 30 we are going to do something a little different – at lease in our first service. On that morning, we will hold our 8:30 service outside, on the front lawn of the church property. There have been some who have requested that we hold outdoor services, and after the great response to our Easter on the Lawn option, it seemed like a good time to try it. Recognizing that there may be some who, due to allergies or other health concerns, would not feel comfortable worshipping in the outdoors, we are only holding the early service outside. Our 11am service will be indoors, as usual. For those joining us at 8:30, we invite you to bring your lawn chairs, and/or picnic blankets, your canopies – maybe even your beach tent – and find a comfortable space on the lawn. We expect to provide some seats, though probably a limited number, for those who might find the camp-style seating a difficulty. It would be helpful to us if you would let us know in advance if you would like for us to set up a folding chair. Advanced notice will give us a better idea of how many we will need. I will provide more details in a note next week. In the meantime, if you have any questions, feel free to contact the church office.

There is a lot going on, but I think these two items are sufficient for today. I look forward to seeing everyone on Sunday – to seeing whole faces on some of you, and not just from the nose up. Have a wonderful weekend!

Grace & Peace,

W. Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor

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Revised COVID-19 Guidelines @ GCPC

On Tuesday May 18, the Session of Grace Covenant adopted a revised set of guidelines, drafted and recommended by our Board of Deacons, pertaining to masking and social distancing due to COVID-19. These new guidelines were prompted by and in line with the Governor’s most recent executive orders.

The new guidelines will be implemented in two phases:

Phase 1 – Starting with the first worship service on May 23rd, 2021, Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church employ the following protocols:

  • In accordance with the Virginia Governor’s Executive Order 72 (as amended on May 14th) and the CDC guidelines, masks will no longer be required to be worn for 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 exposure.
  • All seating arrangements will remain in a social distanced set up to comply with Executive Order 72’s requirements for religious activities.

Phase 2 – Starting with the first worship service on May 30th, 2021, Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church will employ the following protocols:

  • In accordance with the Virginia Governor’s Executive Order 79 (effective May 28th) and CDC guidelines, masks will no longer be required to be worn for 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 exposure.
  • Seating will be adjusted to more generous levels to allow for additional capacity in the service as needed.
  • There will be no other facility limitations. Cleaning will be done on an as necessary basis to ensure surfaces are disinfected in high demand areas.

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GCPC Recommended Podcasts

Bible/Theology:

Women’s Focus

Church History Podcasts:

Other Suggestions:

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A Pastor’s Note to Grace Covenant – May 1, 2021

It will be a busy day at Grace Covenant this coming Sunday. In fact, it will be busy around our church for the next few weeks. In addition to our regular Sunday services, in the coming week we will meet (via Zoom) for our Spring quarterly prayer gathering, this time focusing on prayer for our country; the following week Grace Covenant serves as host to the Tidewater Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America. But first things first.

Reception of New Communicant Members

This Sunday, May 2, we again have the joy of receiving new members. These new members, those to be received on Sunday, are our new communicant members – children of church members who are making their own professions of faith, joining the church, and partaking of Communion (ostensibly) for the first time. Most of those who are joining the church have already been baptized, in accord with our Covenant tradition; and two who will be baptized as part of their profession of faith before joining with the others – one this week; the other, who cannot be with us this weekend, in a few weeks down the road. This weekend provides us with a beautiful picture of God’s grace, and in particular the grace of God’s Covenant promises extended to the children of Believers. Secondary to the splendor of God’s grace, we will also see a vivid demonstration of what I consider a wonderful aspect of the Grace Covenant family: While we are boldly faithful to the Biblical practices of our Covenant tradition, we humbly recognize that godly people differ on a number of secondary issues (the mode of Baptism, being among the most common), and we passionately encourage everyone to be conformed to God’s Word, not merely to our traditions. At Grace Covenant, there are no second-class citizens/members. While we corporately hold to the Faith, as expressed in the traditional Reformed confessions and creeds, some of the most godly among us may hold some differing – yet still orthodox – views. As Ephesians 4 declares:

There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 

Celebration of Communion

After the baptism, and after all the new communicant members are received – and after the message, which will be aimed at turning our attention to the Lord’s Supper – we will all come and partake of God’s grace at the Table. I hope you will notice a beautiful symbolism of receiving new members and then, in the same service, all communing together. To me, this is perhaps especially precious when we are communing with those who are participating at the Table for the first time.

As has been our practice for the past several months, we invite those who are worshipping with us via LiveStream to also commune with us. We do ask that you make preparation in advance, setting aside the bread and the wine or grape juice, before the service, so you are able to “eat and drink” the elements of the table at the same time as those who are communing in the sanctuary. We also encourage you, both those who worship in-person and those who worship with us virtually, to prepare yourself in advance. As I have done from time to time in the past, I want to commend to you this short article, What Should I Think About During the Lord’s Supper? as a resource to aid in your participation. I pray that we all “taste and see that God is good” (Psalm 34.8)

Prayer Gathering

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, on Thursday May 6 we will be gathering together for a time of concerted prayer. It is the Grace Covenant practice to gather quarterly for such prayer, each time with a different focus. While ordinarily these times of prayer are coupled with a congregational dinner, during this season of social distancing we have had to switch to coming together via Zoom. While there is no substitute for gathering in person, we have found that our Zoom gatherings have offered an enjoyable new dynamic, as we shift from the gathering of the whole to our “Breakout Rooms” we get to pray for different aspects of our prayer focus with different groupings of people.

Our focus will be praying for our Nation, for those who govern, and for specific important aspects of our American culture. We will be praying through lamentations, confessions, as well as thankfulness and intercession. We will also not be alone, as our prayer gathering is intentionally set to allow us to participate with others throughout the USA for the National Day of Prayer. The theme for National Day of Prayer this year is Love, Life, and Liberty. Just to be clear, we choose to participate in National Day of Prayer not out of a sense of nationalistic pride, (not that there is anything inherently wrong with someone being proud of one’s country,) but in accord with God’s instructions throughout the Bible, but in particular such as his instruction to His people living in exile:

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.

Jeremiah 29.7

We hope you will join us. It’ll be just one hour – 6:30-7:30. Here’s the link to participate: Grace Covenant National Day of Prayer. (If asked, Meeting ID is: 853 5798 2221 and Passcode is: 311731.)

Church Officer Nominations

Finally, as we give thanks to God for the many ways he has blessed our church, through the years, and during these months of pandemic, the Session (Council of Elders) has turned our attention – some of it, anyway – toward the future.

One of the essential aspects of a healthy church is qualified, godly, Biblical team leadership. One of the means God has appointed for the cultivation of healthy churches is for the members of each congregation to nominate and (eventually) elect those who are to serve as Elders and Deacons. The Session, looking optimistically to the future of Grace Covenant, is requesting the members to prayerfully submit names of those who meet the biblical qualifications for Elder and for Deacon to be vetted, trained, and examined, and upon satisfactorily meeting all qualifications, to be presented for election to respective offices. Nominations will be received from May 1 through May 31, 2021.

As you will hear repeated many times, officer nominations for the church is not something to be taken lightly. God has outlined specific character qualifications for those who are to hold office, in 1 Timothy 3Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5. Additionally, God has gifted people differently to serve in different ways. Elders and Deacons have different responsibilities, and often exercise different sets of gifts. To aid in your consideration, we have published an overview of the officer nomination process: Grace Covenant Officer Nominations. We encourage all members of Grace Covenant to review this overview, which includes a helpful short video, as you prayerfully consider who you will nominate to the two respective offices.

Here is a short checklist of important points to consider:

  • Only those who are members of Grace Covenant are eligible to nominate candidates for office. ALL Grace Covenant members, after prayer and careful consideration, are encouraged to submit nominations. This privilege is not just for a select few.
  • To be eligible for nomination, a candidate must be a member of Grace Covenant for at least one year prior to nomination.
  • While we assume some relationship should exist between the candidate and the one submitting the nomination, we ask that candidates not be nominated by immediate family members. (There are practical reasons for this request, which I am willing to discuss if anyone has concerns, but I will not attempt to delve into in this note.)
  • We ask that you do NOT speak with the candidate you nominate about being nominated, neither before or after you submit the candidate for nomination. Session will speak with the nominees about their willingness to serve. And on some rare occasions there are issues that might disqualify a candidate from being considered, though the issue is not widely known. In such cases, it saves everyone from a measure of awkwardness if the Session is allowed to notify candidates of having been nominated.
  • Church members are permitted to submit more than one nomination for each office.
  • For the first time, this year all nominations should be submitted digitally. The link to the nomination form can be found at the bottom of the overview page: Grace Covenant Officer Nominations. Click on that link, fill in the respective blanks, then click “Submit”. It is very simple.

If anyone has any questions, please do not hesitate to ask us. We want to make this as simple as possible, but it is quite possible that we have failed to anticipate some very good questions.

I continue to be thankful for you all! I look forward to seeing many of you on Sunday – and the rest of you one day soon!

Grace & Peace,

W. Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor

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Grace Covenant Officer Nominations

Nominations for the offices of Elder and Deacon are now open and will be received throughout the month of May. This year, for the first time, all nominations will be received digitally. A link at the bottom of this page will take you to the nomination form. Simply use the drop box to select the office for which you would like to nominate a candidate, fill the designated blanks with the name of the candidate you want to nominate, provide your name and email, and click submit.

We invite all members of Grace Covenant to submit nominations for offices of Elder and Deacon. But before making any nominations, we ask that please read through the information on this page.

Importance of Electing Qualified Men

The Apostle Paul teaches us that the desire to serve as an officer in the church is a worthy ambition. He heartily endorses it. He then goes on in 1 Timothy 3 to explain the demanding requirements needed to be an Elder or Deacon in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s sort of a good news-bad news approach. The good news is that the ambition to spiritual leadership is a worthy one. The bad news (which, of course is not really bad, only demanding) is that it is not for everyone who desires it. Those who aspire to office in the church must meet the highest standards, and must be examined and tested.

The reason for such high standards for Elders and Deacons, Paul says, is that the church is the very “household of God…the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15) Paul had – and so should we have – an exalted view, and a vision for the church as the people of God (1 Peter 2:10), the new Israel of God (Galatians 6:16, 1 Peter 2:9), the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16), and the pillar and foundation of the great truths of the gospel, (1 Timothy 3:15) Therefore, it’s imperative that those who lead the people of God have the high qualifications listed by Paul in 1 Timothy and Titus.

Finally, Jesus entrusted the church with the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19), meaning that by the preaching of the word and the exercise of church discipline, the church leadership has the authority to receive people into the visible kingdom of God, as well as put people outside the visible kingdom, if necessary. Hence, spiritually wise, discerning men are needed for this important responsibility.

Officer election is not to be taken lightly.

Qualifications for Officers in the Church

Sometimes there is confusion about what qualities and qualifications are required of those who will serve in the offices of Elder and Deacon. What is the difference between Elders and Deacons? And, though there are many qualities that are shared by both Deacons and Elders, there are some qualifications unique to each office. The video below offers an excellent brief explanation of the differences:

The qualifications for Elder and Deacon are listed by the Apostles Paul & Peter in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5. Please read through these passages prayerfully and carefully before submitting your nominations. Generally, and briefly, they are as follows:

The Qualifications for Elder are:

*Above Reproach. Is the candidate living in such a way that no one can point a finger at him for ungodly habits or actions? This is first and foremost, and the following characteristics simply amplify this quality.

*Husband of One Wife. Literally, this means a “one-womaned man.” Is the candidate, if married, a loving and faithful husband; or, if single, is he above reproach in his relationships with women? The main issue here is one of purity in thought, word, and deed, toward women, and faithfulness to one’s wife.

*Temperate & Self Controlled. Is the candidate self-control-led in all areas of his life? Does he over-indulge himself in any areas?

*Prudent. Is the candidate a good thinker, reasonable, wise?

*Respectable. Is the candidate respected by his peers, and is he a good model of Christianity for others?

*Hospitable. Literally means “loving strangers.” Does he meet people well, and is his home open to minister to Christians, as well as non-Christians?

*Able to Teach. This is not the gift of teaching, per se, but an ability to communicate Biblical truth and counsel to groups or individuals.

*Not Addicted to Alcohol. Does he have any habits he cannot control, particularly in the area of food or drink?

*Not Quarelsome. Is he prone to arguments with family or friends?

*Gentle & Uncontentious. The antithesis of quarrelsome, having an evenness of temper, and a reasonable, teachable spirit.

*Free from the Love of money. Is the accumulation of material wealth a primary motivation and object of concern for this candidate?

*Manage Household Well. Much could be said here, but basically this deals with the man’s ability to lead his family, to teach his children the truths of Scripture, and to have the respect of both wife and children.

*Not a New Convert. Paul says new believers in leadership are especially prone to attacks and resultant harm or scandal.

*Good Reputation Outside the Church. Does the candidate have a good reputation at his place of employment, in his neighborhood, and at his place of recreation?

The Qualifications for Deacon are:

(Some are the same for Elder. This list includes those qualities not listed under qualifications for elder.)

*Dignity & Worthy of Respect. Closely related to the characteristic of being “above reproach,” and of a “good reputation.” Is the candidate a man who is respected for his devotion to the Lord?

*Sincere. Is the candidate honest, or does he tend to say one thing and mean another? Is he given to over exaggeration in order to impress others?

*Love What is Good. Does the candidate look for, and expect, the best in other people? Are his values consistent with Biblical values?

*Hold to the Deep Truths of the Faith with Clear Conscience. While Deacons are not required to be “able to teach”, they must know what they believe, and hold firmly to it.  Much of their ministry will be effected by their beliefs.

Note: The major difference in qualifications for elder and deacon is NOT of character or of spiritual maturity, but essentially only in gifting and calling. BOTH Elders & must demonstrate consistently high standards of character and godliness. While both Deacons & Elders must “hold to the truths of the faith with a clear conscience”, Elders must also demonstrate a clear understanding of the doctrines of our faith with an ability to teach.

Procedure for Electing Officers

Preparation: Church members should prayerfully read through the following passages: 1 Timothy 3.1-13, Titus 1.5-9, and 1 Peter 5.1-5 before submitting a nomination.

Nomination. An officer must be nominated by those who are members in good standing of Grace Covenant. These people should have some relationship with the candidate, having been ministered to by the candidate in some way, e.g., through friendship, small group involvement, committee work,  etc…

Initial Screening. The Elders of the church have the responsibility of evaluating all nominees initially, for their fitness for service.

Interview. Each nominee is interviewed by the Session (Elders) of in the areas of Biblical qualifications and call to the office.

Training. Nominees have the right to refuse the nomination, but should they accept it, they will begin an officer training program led by the Pastor(s). This program involves training the nominees in the areas of personal piety (spiritual formation), sound theology, church government, philosophy of gospel-centered ministry, and practical ministry (respective to each office).

Examination. After the officer training has been completed, the nominee still has the right to refuse the nomination. Should he wish to proceed, he is then tested by written and oral examination conducted by the Pastor and Session.

Election. If the nominees are approved, their names go the congregation for election. A simple majority vote of a quorum of members present at a congregational meeting is needed to elect the nominees.

Installation. New officers are then duly installed and ordained according to the procedures in the Presbyterian Church in America (P.C.A.) Book of Church Order, Chapter 24.

Officer Nomination Form

The nomination and election of qualified church officers is vital to the health of any church. It is not a matter to be taken lightly. But it is the privilege given to church members to select and to elect those who will guide and serve their church.

A couple Notes:

  • ALL candidates for church offices must be active members of Grace Covenant for at least one year prior being nominated.
  • Please DO NOT speak with the candidate about your nomination. Even if there is a question regarding length of time of church membership. We request that you leave that to the Session as part of their responsibility of initial screening of candidates in this nomination process.
  • Grace Covenant Church members may submit more than one candidate for nomination to each office.

To submit a nomination for Elder or Deacon, please click:

Grace Covenant Digital Officer Nomination Form

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Passion Week at Grace Covenant

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.

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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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