The holiday season is upon us. Thanksgiving gatherings on Thursday. Advent begins on Sunday. Christmas just around the corner. For many this is “the most wonderful time of the year”! But the holiday season also begins the twilight of the calendar year. So I want to take a moment to touch on a a few communication points and then highlight some of the upcoming Grace Covenant holiday traditions.
First, as the years end is drawing near, I want to again thank the Grace Covenant family for your generosity to our ministries and mission in 2022. Your gifts to our Missions and Mercy funds have been extraordinary throughout the year, allowing both our Missions Committee and our Deacons to be able to bless and support both our ministry partners and our neighbors in need. While we are thankful that those essential ministries have been well fortified throughout the year, at this point it does project that our general fund will likely end 2022 with a deficit. Even if this projection should prove to become the reality, it does not diminish our thankfulness for your generosities, nor doubting God’s providence. Our Elders simply wanted me to make you aware to invite you to join us in prayer and as information to be considered as you make any year end giving decisions.
Second, the Session (i.e. Council of Elders) has asked me to make you aware of a change that has taken place in our leadership. Ruling Elder Mark Begly, who has been on an extended sabbatical from the Session, has informed us that he and Connie feel they are being led in a new direction, which includes sensing a call to begin worshipping with a different church. We continue to love the Beglys, and we continue to pray for them in this period of transition. Mark and Connie have expressed their continued love for their many friends at Grace Covenant, and we expect that many of those friendships will continue. If you have any questions, feel free to speak with any Elder active on Session.
And finally, we have a number of exciting opportunities and events coming up during this holiday season:
On Sunday we begin recognizing the Season of Advent with the lighting of the Advent Wreath. Also during this Advent season, our choirs – Adult and Children’s – will sing in our services.
Decorating for the season will take place on Monday November 28 at 6:30pm. You are invited to help set up the Christmas trees, poinsettias, etc. The more hands the more fun! Not only do the decorations serve as a visible sign of the season, participating in the decorating is a great way to connect with others and make some new friends. Children are welcome to help. If you have questions, please contact Diane Britton.
On Saturday evening, December 10, Jack & Susan Tuttle are opening their home for Grand Illumination. For those who are newer to Grace Covenant, the Tuttles have been hosting a Grace Covenant Grand Illumination event for a number of years. Put on hiatus for a few years, due to COVID, we are excited that we can again gather this year. Everyone – singles, families, friends, etc. – are invited to enjoy the Tuttles’ hospitality, and partake of wonderful assortment of pot-luck finger-food dishes, and then walk together to a prime spot in Colonial Williamsburg to view the fireworks. So mark your calendars and join us for Grand Illumination.
Our annual Candlelight Christmas Eve service will be held on December 24. And this year Christmas Day is on a Sunday. For those who may wonder, Yes, we will hold service as usual on Christmas morning!
For details and more events, please check out Grace Notes.
Reformed theology gets its name from the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation, with its distinct theological emphases, but it is theology solidly based on the Bible itself. Believers in the reformed tradition regard highly the specific contributions of such people as Martin Luther, John Knox, and particularly John Calvin, but they also find their strong distinctives in the giants of the faith before them, such as Anselm and Augustine, and ultimately in the letters of Paul and the teachings of Jesus Christ. Reformed Christians hold to the doctrines characteristic of all Christians, including the Trinity, the true deity and true humanity of Jesus Christ, the necessity of Jesus’ atonement for sin, the church as a divinely ordained institution, the inspiration of the Bible, the requirement that Christians live moral lives, and the resurrection of the body. They hold other doctrines in common with evangelical Christians, such as justification by faith alone, the need for the new birth, the personal and visible return of Jesus Christ, and the Great Commission. What, then, is distinctive about reformed theology
1. The Doctrine of Scripture.
The reformed commitment to Scripture stresses the Bible’s inspiration, authority, and sufficiency. Since the Bible is the Word of God and so has the authority of God Himself, reformed people affirm that this authority is superior to that of all governments and all church hierarchies. This conviction has given reformed believers the courage to stand against tyranny and has made reformed theology a revolutionary force in society. The sufficiency of Scripture means that it does not need to be supplemented by new or ongoing special revelation. The Bible is the entirely sufficient guide for what we are to believe and how we are to live as Christians.
The Reformers, and particularly John Calvin, stressed the way the objective, written Word and the inner, supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit work together, the Holy Spirit illuminating the Word to God’s people. The Word without the illumination of the Holy Spirit remains a closed book. The supposed leading of the Spirit without the Word leads to errors and excess. The Reformers also insisted upon the believers’ right to study the Scripture for themselves. Though not denying the value of trained teachers, they understood that the clarity of Scripture on matters essential for salvation makes the Bible the property of every believer. With this right of access always comes the responsibility of careful and accurate interpretation
2. The Sovereignty of God.
For most reformed people the chief and most distinctive article of the creed is God’s sovereignty. Sovereignty means rule, and the sovereignty of God means that God rules over His creation with absolute power and authority. He determines what is going to happen, and it does happen. God is not alarmed, frustrated, or defeated by circumstances, by sin, or by the rebellion of His creatures.
3. The Doctrines of Grace.
Reformed theology emphasizes the doctrines of grace, best known by the acronym TULIP, though this does not correspond to the best possible names for the five doctrines.
Tstands for total depravity.
This does not mean that all persons are as bad as they could possibly be. It means rather that all human beings are affected by sin in every area of thought and conduct so that nothing that comes out of anyone apart from the regenerating grace of God can please God. As far as our relationships to God are concerned, we are all so ruined by sin that no one can properly understand either God or God’s ways. Nor do we seek God, unless He is first at work within us to lead us to do so
Ustands for unconditional election.
An emphasis on election bothers many people, but the problem they feel is not actually with election; it is with depravity. If sinners are as helpless in their depravity as the Bible says they are, unable to know and unwilling to seek God, then the only way they could possibly be saved is for God to take the initiative to change and save them. This is what election means. It is God choosing to save those who, apart from His sovereign choice and subsequent action, certainly would perish.
Lstands for limited atonement.
The name is potentially misleading, for it seems to suggest that reformed people want somehow to restrict the value of Christ’s death. This is not the case. The value of Jesus’ death is infinite. The question rather is what is the purpose of Christ’s death, and what He accomplished in it. Did Christ intend to make salvation no more than possible? Or did He actually save those for whom He died? Reformed theology stresses that Jesus actually atoned for the sins of those the Father had chosen. He actually propitiated the wrath of God toward His people by taking their judgment upon Himself, actually redeemed them, and actually reconciled those specific persons to God. A better name for “limited” atonement would be “particular” or “specific” redemption.
Istands for irresistible grace.
Left to ourselves we resist the grace of God. But when God works in our hearts, regenerating us and creating a renewed will within, then what was undesirable before becomes highly desirable, and we run to Jesus just as previously we ran away from Him. Fallen sinners do resist God’s grace, but His regenerating grace is effectual. It overcomes sin and accomplishes God’s purpose.
Pstands for perseverance of the saints.
A better name might be “the perseverance of God with the saints,” but both ideas are actually involved. God perseveres with us, keeping us from falling away, as we would certainly do if He were not with us. But because He perseveres we also persevere. In fact, perseverance is the ultimate proof of election. We persevere because God preserves us from full and final falling away from Him.
4. The Cultural Mandate.
Reformed theology also emphasizes the cultural mandate, or the obligation of Christians to live actively in society and work for the transformation of the world and its cultures. Reformed people have had various views in this area, depending on the extent to which they believe such a transformation possible But on the whole they agree on two things. First we are called to be in the world and not to withdraw from it. This sets reformed believers apart from monasticism. Second, we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner. But the chief needs of people are still spiritual, and social work is no adequate substitute for evangelism. In fact, efforts to help people will only be truly effective as their hearts and minds are changed by the gospel. This sets reformed believers apart from, mere humanitarianism. It has been objected to reformed theology that t anyone who believes along reformed lines will lose · all motivation for evangelism. “If God is going to do the work, why should I bother?” But it does not work that way. It is because God does the work that we can be bold to join Him in it, as He commands us to do. We do it joyfully, knowing that our efforts will never be in vain.
[excerpted from The Presbyterian Journal, 18.39 (27 January 1960): 5-7.]
It is frequently pointed out that the word “Presbyterian” refers to the Eldership and that Presbyterianism, as such, is a form of church government. But Presbyterianism is not only a form of government in the Church. It is also a well defined system of beliefs or of doctrine. In the exaltation and interpretation of the Bible the Reformation reached its zenith in the teachings and writings of John Calvin. Thus Presbyterianism, following his interpretation of the Bible, is known as Calvinism. More specifically, the Calvinism of Presbyterians is based on the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, documents which were written nearly a hundred years after Calvin died.
Presbyterians share with other evangelical churches many basic beliefs. Presbyterians also recognize that earnest Christians may follow other interpretations of the Bible in non-essential matters. But Presbyterians believe that in the Reformed system (another word for Calvinism) the teachings of the Bible are most fully and most accurately set forth. Every Presbyterian officer and minister takes a vow that he believes the Reformed faith to be that system of doctrine which the Bible teaches. Every Presbyterian officer and minister in the more conservative Presbyterian churches, moreover, also vows that he will take steps to remove himself from his position should he ever find that his beliefs have taken another direction.
Now the strength of Presbyterianism lies in its central loyalty to the Scriptures. These churches have always insisted that only in the Bible may we find what we must believe about God, His works and His ways. Only the Bible is a rule of faith and life free from error–“our infallible rule of faith and practice.” We believe that Presbyterianism agrees with what the Scriptures teach and that it contains nothing contrary to what the Scriptures teach.
As a system of doctrine, all Presbyterian beliefs are determined by a basic thought about God: that He is sovereign in all things. The doctrine of the sovereignty of God teaches that God governs His creation, His creatures and all their actions. If loyalty to the Bible is the great strength of Presbyterianism, its belief in the sovereignty of God is its very life.
By this doctrine, Presbyterians mean to say that who God is provides the key to human experience, not what man does. And what God works provides the key to salvation, not what man works. When we think of faith, we think first of God.
When we think of the effects of faith we think first of God. Even when we think of the ordinary events in the lives of every man we think first of God.
Presbyterians believe that everything which happens takes place according to the will of God and can be fully understood only in the will of God. Nothing can come to any man that He does not allow for His own purposes and glory. He overrules the actions of evil men and brings their evil to naught. He works all things after the counsel of His own will and turns all thing–even apparent evil–to ultimate good in the lives of those who love Him, who are the called according to His purpose.
Man’s reason for living is to glorify God by doing His will and to enjoy Him forever in the practice of life’s highest privilege which is to serve the sovereign God who created him and gives him breath.
Presbyterians believe that as the result of Adam’s sin all men are sinners; that sin is a stain upon us from our birth so that if left to the natural inclinations of our wills our lives would inevitably turn to evil.
In the view of Presbyterians human nature is not neutral: it is not free to move upward or downward depending on circumstance, environment or education. Neither is human nature good–capable of infinite development in goodness, needing only to be left alone or “brought out” to achieve perfection. Human nature is rather sinful and “inclined to evil as the sparks fly upward.”
We see undesirable behavior and sinful tendencies in the smallest infant and we observe that without discipline and restraint human beings inevitably live selfishly. This view of human nature Presbyterians describe by the term “original sin” because human imperfection seems to be both innate and instinctive. This imperfection (sin) taints every facet of our personalities. Consequently the description of original sin to which Presbyterians subscribe is summarized in the doctrine of “Total Depravity.” Mankind, we say, is inevitably (originally) and altogether (totally) marked by sin on account of the Fall.
The doctrine of “Total Depravity” also suggests man’s helplessness. Human beings are not only sinful, they are also helplessly sinful. We are spiritually dead in our sins, bound under the guilt and penalty of sin and unable to do anything to please God. None of our works are pure and therefore pleasing to God. All our righteousness is as filthy rags. We do not even have it in us to turn to Him that we may be cleansed and healed.
Presbyterians believe that God so loved us–while we were dead in trespasses and sins–that He sent forth His only begotten Son to redeem us.
The Lord Jesus Christ, pre-existent with the Father, by Whom He created the worlds, came to earth by being born of the virgin Mary. He, the Eternal Son, took upon Himself our nature, lived a sinless life as a man and died on the cross in a sacrifice which somehow paid the price of our redemption from sin–we know not how but we believe it. In a victory over death and the grave our Lord rose from the dead and returned to the Father from Whom He sent the Holy Spirit to apply to those who would believe the effects of His work.
In the gift of the Holy Spirit–by grace through faith–the originally sinful nature of man is transfigured to become godly and possessed of the capacity to be God-like. This “new life” begins now in the hearts of those who have been justified by grace through faith and received the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. It continues into and through eternity.
In keeping with the doctrine of sovereignty, under which God is seen to determine all things, Presbyterians believe that the knowledge of Christ and the acceptance of Christ which belong to salvation also come from God. We are saved by faith alone and this faith itself is a gift of God.
Our personal redemption is not due to any goodness of our own for we have none; neither is it earned by our good works, for sinners cannot accumulate “credit” leading to redemption. We find Christ because He finds us. We love Him because He first loved us. We become His because He chooses us, calling us and sanctifying us after He justifies us.
Presbyterians do not pretend to understand the great truth underlying the election of God. They simply know that they did not seek God until He enlightened their hearts; they did not believe until He gave them faith; they did not come until they felt themselves moved. The mysteries of His will we cannot fathom, but we know that had it not been for Him we would not be where we are.
Because salvation is clearly not given to every man (although we know not why) Presbyterians therefore believe in reprobation, or the eternally lost condition of those not elect.
The doctrine of election is dear to Presbyterians because, on the one hand, it pays homage to the sovereignty of God in all human affairs and, on the other, because it gives a certainty and an assurance to those whose trust in the Lord Jesus Christ that no dependence on themselves can give. The effect of such a faith is the assurance that all things work together for good to them who “…are the called according to His purpose,” that nothing in this life or in the life to come can separate them from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.
This assurance means, to the believer, that he can go forward boldly into whatever path he feels led because he knows that it is God who goes before. It further means that he is eternally secure in the love of God because he has been sealed–not of himself–by the Holy Spirit until the final day of fulfillment.
Presbyterians believe that as the election of God calIs men to redemption in Jesus Christ so it calls them to newness of life in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit not only makes a child of sin to become a child of God, He also leads the new believer into a new way of life which is in conformity to the will of God; into holiness of life in sanctification.
We believe that every Christian will show forth in his life the fruits of a living faith; that he will grow in spiritual maturity and in patterns of living which will increasingly conform to the will of God for him. We believe that love, joy, peace and all the other characteristics of godliness will necessarily become evident in this life as the Holy Spirit increasingly takes charge; that he will more and more “live unto righteousness” as he moves towards the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” As love of God increases within him, love for his Christian brothers and for his human neighbors everywhere will correspondingly increase.
To this end, Presbyterians believe in the necessity for utilizing the “means of grace,” prayer, worship and, most especially, the study of God’s Word.
Presbyterians believe in the holy, catholic Church; that is, in the universal unity of Christ’s body in time and eternity. As a vine and its branches comprise a single whole, so Christ and all those in whatever place or age derive their life from Him comprise a single body, the Church universal. This Church is not to be identified with any denomination or body on earth for it exists wherever a true child of God may be found. We believe that there are Presbyterians who belong to this Church and there are Presbyterians who do not; there are Baptist, Methodists and Roman Catholics who belong to this Church and there are Baptists Methodists and Roman Catholics who do not.
Because Presbyterians believe in the holy, catholic Church, they also believe in the Communion of Saints: the corporate practices of the Christian life. Christian living is not a solitary thing. We believe it to be the Lord’s will that Christians congregate in churches for worship, for service, for growth in grace and mutual edification.
The Church universal is related in those corporate manifestations of Christ’s body in which the ministry of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, the exercise of government and discipline according to the New Testament pattern establish and enlarge the household of faith.
Presbyterians believe in two sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We believe that they are genuine sacraments, that is instituted by Christ Himself; visible signs which actually confer the blessing or grace of God when appropriated in faith. We do not believe that the blessing is inherently present in the sacraments, but that they are rather the signs and seals of the blessings they represent. As the Holy Spirit does not dwell in the pages of a Book, and yet He warms our hearts by means of the message of that Book, so grace does not reside intrinsically in the sacraments, but comes to the believer who receives them in faith.
He also leads thace does not reside intrinsically in the sacraments, but comes to the believer who receives them in faith.
Baptism is a sacrament which signifies and seals God’s covenant promise to be a Father to His own and to their children. It visibly represents the way this promise is carried out in the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the life of those in whom the promise is fulfilled.
It is a sacrament which belongs to any in whom there is reason to assume that the promise is being fulfilled, that is, on any professing their faith or setting up a household of faith. We believe that baptism belongs to the children of believers when a household of faith is set up and the conditions of prayer and worship are met. These bring evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the hearts of the children as well as in the hearts of their believing parents. Because we have visible as well as historical evidence that in a Christian home children may grow in the true nurture and admonition of the Lord, we believe that the covenant sign and seal of the Lord’s presence (baptism) belongs to such children.
The Lord’s Supper not only shows forth the Lord’s death until He shall return, but is a sacrament in which He is truly though spiritually present and u:uly though spiritually received. Again, as the Word conveys grace by providing the occasion for the Holy Spirit to speak to the human heart, so the Lord’s Supper conveys the benefits of the death and resurrection of Christ to believers who approach the Table in faith.
Presbyterians believe that the Supper is not the possession of any person, congregation or church. It is the Lord’s Supper. It is not the table of any sect or denomination. It is the Lord’s table. We do not minister about the table as hosts, but as guests of Him who issues the invitation to come and who distributes His benefits severally as He will. Consequently we do not believe that we can dispense or withhold the gift of grace; that we can bar any believing Christian whom He would feed. For such reasons we practice “open” communion. At the same time we expect those who partake to be members in good standing in an evangelical church.
THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE EVERLASTING
Presbyterians believe in the return of Jesus Christ “to judge men and angels at the end of the world.” Until He comes, we believe that the souls of those who die in Him depart to be with Him “where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies.”
At the last day, we believe that the dead shall be resurrected and the living shall be changed. Christ’s elect “unto honor…and everlasting life,” but the reprobates “unto dishonor.., and punishment with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”
It is with great excitement that I announce that Grace Covenant’s Session (“Council of Elders” for those who don’t speak fluent presbyterian-ese) is appointing Nathan Luzwick to serve as our new Children’s Ministry Director!
Actively involved at Grace Covenant since early in 2021, including leading in worship on several occasions, Nathan brings a wealth of pastoral and ministry experience, having previously served on church staff as both a Director of Worship and a Youth Director. Nathan is a graduate of the University of Illinois (B.A.-Fine Arts), has a Masters in Teaching from Trinity International University, and he is only a few credit hours shy of completing his seminary degree from Westminster Seminary. On top of his credentials, Nathan comes with enthusiastic endorsement from those who know him best. I have great hope that Nathan will not only meet the high expectations we have for Children’s Ministry at Grace Covenant, but that he will flourish in this position, and even add a new dimension to our ministry team.
Nathan is married to Allison, who is an attorney for the U.S. Navy. Together Nathan and Allison have four children – sons John, Elijah, and Calvin, and daughter Grace – who was born early this past Summer.
We are excited about welcoming Nathan to our pastoral team! Official start date has not yet been finalized, but it is expected to be within the next couple weeks. Officially Nathan will begin as “Interim Children’s Ministry Director”, until he completes the current Discovery Class, and becomes a member of Grace Covenant later this Fall. (At that time the “Interim” tag will be dropped, and Nathan will assume the title of Director of Children’s Ministry.)
Finally, on behalf of the Elders of this church, I also want to take this opportunity to thank Rachel Bartelmay for her faithfulness and diligence while serving as our Interim Children’s Ministry Director since Easter of this year. Rachel has done a tremendous job spearheading this vital ministry through the Summer, and leading us into the new school year. As you have opportunity, please thank Rachel, as well.
Noted novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald mused: “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the Fall.” Well, while we still have more than a week before Fall officially arrives, and more than that before the air feels crisp, and the leaves reach peak colors, a new school year has begun and Labor Day is behind us, so for many of us our thoughts turn toward Fall. And at Grace Covenant, many things do “start all over again” in the Fall.
First, we resume our study of the Book of Hebrews. We began our study of this significantly rich (though too often neglected) letter last year at the beginning of Fall. We worked our way through the first 9 chapters, taking a hiatus for the Summer. We will pick up again on Sunday with the beginning of Hebrews 10, looking this week at verses 1-18; next week verses 19-25; and finish out September looking at verses 26-39. We will have opportunity to work through Hebrews 11 and Hebrews 12 during this Fall, before taking a break for Advent, after Thanksgiving. I expect we will finish up the final chapter, Hebrews 13, in January. For those who want to make the most of this study, I recommend checking out the brief overview and a few suggested resources. Check out Stay the Course: A Study of the Book of Hebrews.
Second, our Fall Discovery Class is scheduled to begin on Sunday September 18, running for 6 weeks. Discovery Class is designed to introduce the DNA of Grace Covenant – our beliefs, our values, and pathways to connecting – to those who are interested in learning more about the church. So, whether you are interested in becoming a member of Grace Covenant, or if you are just curious and maybe trying to decide if Grace Covenant is the church you would like to call you home, we hope you will participate in this class. If you have questions, or if you would like to sign up, we invite you to contact the church office – email: email@example.com, or call 757-220-0147.
Other things of Note:
We invite you to pray for our middle school students, as this weekend they travel to Rockbridge (near Lexington, VA) for the annual MODGNIK retreat. Middle School and Junior High students from throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia for a time of worship, learning, and fun. For those who may be wondering, MODGNIK is the word “Kingdom” spelled backwards. It is a not-so-subtle reminder that to much of the world the Kingdom of Christ seems backwards. (Check out this decade-old article from ByFaith magazine that still paints a vivid picture of what this retreat is like: MODGNIK.)
On Saturday morning men of Grace Covenant will gather for our monthly Men’s Breakfast. The breakfast begins at 8am. Jon us if you are able. It is open to guys of all ages, meaning we’d be delighted to have guys bring their sons, whether they are teens or infants. If you are not able to make it this time, this is a monthly fellowship gathering, usually held on the second Saturday of each month.
This Sunday we will be hosting our annual College Student Lunch after the worship service. All area college students are invited to join us for a free lunch. No strings attached. Our purpose is just to get to know the students, and to let them know we are here for them, whether they are Williamsburg area natives or have come here only for school. While we wish we could invite the entire church, space requires that we limit the “non-students” to church staff, ministry leaders, church officers, and those who are part of the Grace Covenant community who teach or work at the college. But we do value prayer that Grace Covenant will be a welcoming and nurturing church home for the students during this pivotal years.
Finally, I’d like to invite anyone who is interested in working with children and/or teens at Grace Covenant to attend our next CARE Training workshop on Sunday afternoon, September 25. CARE Training is required of any and all who work with children and teens. It is designed to train all volunteers (and staff) to be aware of signs of potential abuse, and to protect the children we have as part of our church community. The children entrusted to our ministry are of utmost importance. Protecting these children is a major priority for us; it is something we take seriously. If you are interested in signing up, or if you have questions, please contact our Interim Children’s Ministry Director, Rachel Bartelmay.
That’s all for now. I look forward to seeing everyone on Sunday!
Beginning Sunday September 11 we resume our sermon series “Stay the Course: A Survey of the Book of Hebrews”. During these autumn months we anticipate digging into Hebrews 10-12 together.
Hebrews is different from other New Testament letters that we call “the epistles”. Unlike all the other letters, the author of Hebrews never identifies himself (though many theories abound), nor are we specifically told to whom the letter is written (though almost universally it is understood to be written to Jewish Believers living, most likely, in 1st Century Rome). But it is not just the absence of those common elements of a letter that makes Hebrews unusual. Even more unique is the way the letter flows. As at least one commentator notes, Hebrews is “a sermonic letter”. In other words, it reads more like a sermon than like a letter. But, through it all, there are some common threads, most notably the frequent encouragements for the readers to endure, to “run the race” of life; and to keep our eyes on Jesus “the author and perfecter of our faith”. A repeated theme throughout the letter is “Jesus is Better”. “Better than what?” one might ask. Better than everything, seems to be the answer. And my hope for us, as we continue in this series, is that we will indeed see and be reminded of how true that is. Jesus is Better – by far.
As we study the Book of Hebrews together, we want to provide some resources that should prove helpful and beneficial.
First, I want to commend to you a short video from Bible Project. This video is an 8-minute digitally animated introduction and overview of the Book of Hebrews.
Second, we have Hebrews Scripture Journals available for all who want them. These scripture journals are helpful for keeping notes, whether during the messages or from your own study throughout the week. The Hebrews Scripture Journals will be available, beginning this weekend, in the Commons. We ask a recommended donation of $3 per copy. The donations are requested only. We do not want anyone who wants a journal, but who may be short on funds, to go without one. The reason for this requested donation is simply to defray our expenses for this resource. (Scripture Journals retail for $7; we get them for just under $4/copy.)
Finally, we want to re-issue a challenge to everyone: Read through the Book of Hebrews at least once per month during the months we are studying this letter together. In other words, at least once each during September, October, and November. Take a break, if you wish, during December, when we take a break from Hebrews and shift our attention to Advent and Christmas. We’ll invite everyone to pick up the challenge again in January, when we are looking at the final verses of this important (although too often overlooked) letter. It is amazing how the Word speaks to us when we read it again and again, especially as we are gaining new insights though our times of study together.
With most of Summer now in the rearview mirror, we are getting ready to roll into the Fall. For many, myself included, Fall or Autumn is a favorite season of the year. Anticipation of the beauty of the changing leaves, cooler temperatures (eventually), are only a few of the reasons many look forward to the coming season. But it is not only the leaves and the temperatures that change. Our church also shifts out of Summer mode into our more “regular” rhythm.
Before highlighting some important things for this Fall at Grace Covenant, let me first offer a reminder that our final Summer Family Picnic will be held next Sunday afternoon/evening, August 28, from 4-6pm, at First Colony Pool & Clubhouse. These picnics, held the last Sunday afternoon of each Summer month, are a great way to connect with old friends and meet new ones. So, if you have not already, mark your calendar and plan to join us.
Fall Worship Schedule
Most significant of the things I need to communicate is a temporary change to our weekly worship schedule. While our usual pattern is to return to two weekly worship services, 8:30 and 11am, as we approach Labor Day, Session has made a decision to remain in a single 10am service through the Fall (and Advent, which is our normal pattern).
With the present patterns that churches all across the country are seeing as we continue to emerge from the wake of COVID, we believe we can fit into a single service for a little while longer, though some weeks may get a bit snug. So after considering input from our Deacons, ministry leaders, and Ben Robertson of RUF, Session has decided that, rather than just maintaining the status quo, returning to our planned two services, we would try to seize this as a season of opportunity. We want to remain in one service, and use it as an opportunity to welcome those who are new to Grace Covenant and connect people to one another – people who, in different services, may have little opportunity to meet. We expect to resume our two service schedule in January.
To maximize this opportunity, I do want to make a request of everyone for whom Grace Covenant is home. This is a personal request, meaning it is coming from me and not from the Session (though I have no reason to believe any of our Elders would object). I invite all – all who are willing – to adopt what is sometimes called The 5-Minute Rule. The 5-Minute rule is this: For the first 5-minutes after any worship service, find someone you do not know, or that you do not know well, and talk with them before they head for the doors. Talking with those you do not know before you catch up with old friends is a simple way for newcomers to be made to feel welcome, and for relational connections to be strengthened throughout the church. (John 17.20-21)
For those who are wondering, we will have our full range of ministries on Sunday morning. Children’s Sunday School and Adult Ed will meet at 9am; Worship at 10am; with Children’s Church, Kid’s Quest (Beginner Catechism), and Advanced Catechism offered as usual. Nursery will be offered for both Education Hour and during Worship – though children of any age are welcome to remain for worship if that is the parents’ preference.
With Fall will come another change. Starr VanWingerden has been serving as our Children’s Ministry Director for the past few years. Starr has been on sabbatical from this position since Easter, but has decided that she would step down to give attention to other important things. I would personally like to extend my thanks to Starr for her labors on behalf of our children, especially as she was at the helm during a very difficult time when COVID caused shut-downs, isolation, and social distancing. When you see Starr, please join me in expressing appreciation for her.
For the past few months, Rachel Bartelmay has served as the Interim Children’s Ministry Director. Rachel has done a great job preparing us for Fall, and she will continue to guide the Children’s Ministry as we enter the new school year. But Rachel has chosen to not pursue the job on a permanent basis, and so will rather help to transition the next Children’s Ministry Director into the position. So, as with Starr, I want to express my appreciation for Rachel and the work she has done; and I invite you to thank Rachel for her work, as you have opportunity.
We have not yet appointed the next person for this role, but a recommendation has been made which the Session is considering. We’ll provide more details once a decision is finalized. But we do ask your prayers both for wisdom as the Elders make this decision and for the one the Lord is raising up to assume leadership of this vital ministry.
Finally, our next Discovery Class will begin on Sunday September 18, and will run for six consecutive weeks. The class is designed to introduce the beliefs, history, and values of Grace Covenant to those who are interested in learning more, and for those who have interest in becoming a member of the church. That said, commitment to joining the church is not a pre-requisite for participation in the class. The class will meet in the church library at 9am each week. For more information, or if you would like to sign up, please email Kathy Buhl. If you are new or newish to Grace Covenant, and you are not yet a member, I hope you will join us for Discovery Class. It would be our pleasure to get to know you more personally.
This coming Sunday is the beginning of what many Christians, of many traditions, call “Holy Week” or “Passion Week”. The first day of this week, regardless of whether one thinks of it as Holy Week or Passion Week, is commonly called Palm Sunday” – a day on which Christians often focus on the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark 11.1-11; Matthew 21.1-11; Luke 19.28-40; John 12.12-15). Those who refer to this week as “Passion Week” rather than “Holy Week” tend to focus on Jesus’ suffering, culminating in his crucifixion and death on Good Friday. Our observance of Maundy Thursday is intended to focus our attention Jesus’ suffering, as a way of preparing us for the celebration of the resurrection on Easter Sunday. While Christmas season seems to get all the fanfare, it is the passion (i.e. the death of Christ) and the Resurrection that is the heart and soul of Christianity.
At Grace Covenant we will observe Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and, of course, Easter Sunday. As part of our Palm Sunday celebration this year, we have the joy of welcoming new members into our church family: Sharen Auger-Rizy, Alli Nuckols, Nancy Welsh Schulman, and Andrew Rogers. On Thursday of Passion Week we will be holding our annual Maundy Thursday service. This is a solemn, contemplative service, in which we remember the initiation of the Lord’s Supper by partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Maundy Thursday is one of two times each year we take up an offering for our Mercy Ministry, as a way of reflecting the mandate Jesus gave to his disciples to “love one another” as he has loved us. (The word “maundy” comes from Latin, meaning “Mandate”.) Our service will begin a 7:30, and usually lasts about 40-45 minutes. And our Easter service is a special time of celebration and testimony of God’s grace. Every year I hear people say how precious our Easter service is. Additionally, we will have choral offerings for all three services, as our Children’s Choir will sing on Palm Sunday, and our Grace Covenant Choir will sing both Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday. I hope you will be able to join us. And consider inviting an un-churched neighbor or friend.
The Sunday after Easter, April 24, we have called for a Congregational Meeting to be held during the Education Hour (10am – 10:45am) for the purpose of electing new church officers. Those who have participated in extensive study and training, and who are being commended by the Session (i.e. Council of Elders) after having been thoroughly examined, are Elder candidates Aaron Kota and Tim Nargi; and Deacon candidates Daniel Proctor and Justin Stevens. While the idea of meeting to vote on church officers may seem mundane to some, it is an incredibly important part of the life of any church. It is not too much to say that as the leadership goes, so goes the health of a church. And this is the opportunity, as well as the responsibility, of every member of the church to participate in building a strong future for our church. We invite everyone to pray, and we invite all members of Grace Covenant to come and participate in this important endeavor. While the Elders are commending these candidates for your consideration, each member must vote his/her own conscience. The election of church officers is one primary ways that the members of the congregation direct the ministry of a Presbyterian Church. Those whom the congregation elect to the respective offices will be ordained and installed during our Sunday May 1 services.
With Easter also begins a countdown ’til Summer. It does for me anyway, especially when Easter comes later in April. It’s hard to believe, but after Easter we are only a handful of weeks away from Memorial Day – which for many is like the un-official start of Summer. Just as a heads up, after a few years in which COVID was prohibitive, we will be returning to our traditional single service Sundays this Summer, beginning with Sunday May 29. While our sanctuary can get quite packed in a single weekly service, it allows us to minimize our need for as many volunteers as we do during the school year. This is important, as our volunteers deserve a break, and with Summer vacations and travel plans, it can be a challenge on some Sundays in the Summer to maintain the full roster. Additionally, as we had done for the few Summers prior to COVID, we will be suspending Education Hour for the Summer. Instead, we will have weekly times for informal fellowship from 9:30am to 10am in our Commons area, followed by our worship service at 10am each week. While I personal enjoy our services during any season, there is one thing I especially look forward to when we are in a single weekly service: our congregational singing when we are all together is … simply majestic!
This Summer will also have a few temporary adjustments. Both Camper (Associate Pastor) and Starr (Children’s Ministry Director) will be taking sabbaticals. Our Elders will step up to help with some of Camper’s responsibilities. While Starr is away her responsibilities will be divided – and ably covered. Jamie Field will be spearheading VBS this year; and Rachel Bartelmay will serve as Interim Children’s Ministry Coordinator until the middle of August, when Starr resumes her post. Jamie has already begun working on VBS, and we have every confidence that VBS will again be a fantastic week- as it always is. Rachel will coordinate the Children’s Church, Kid’s Quest (i.e. Catechism), and other day to day duties related to children’s ministry (other than VBS). Please pray for Jamie and Rachel, as they assume these roles for the Summer; and for Starr, that this time would be refreshing for her.
As we move toward Summer you receive more info about our regular Summer activities, beginning with our National Day of Prayer Congregational Prayer Dinner the first Thursday in May, and our monthly Congregational Picnics the last Sunday evenings of June, July, and August.
The Lord continues to bless us as a church. And I am personally thankful for you all!
GUYS! It’s March Madness time! The brackets for the 2022 NCAA Basketball Tournament are set. Grace Covenant Men’s Ministry is coordinating a March Madness Bracket Challenge, through ESPN.com. This group is open to any man/boy connected with Grace Covenant, no matter what age.
March Madness Bracket Challenges are fun for almost anyone – whether you are a basketball guru or you can barely bounce a ball. Upsets happen so frequently every year that even those who randomly guess can do as well as those who have been watching games all season. So we invite you to join in the fun.
While a couple preliminary play-in games tip-off on Tuesday & Wednesday, you will have ’til Noon on Thursday to complete your bracket. Once you are signed in, you can check the group leaderboard after each round to see where you stand. And, ESPN usually allows participants to re-do their brackets in the week leading up to the Sweet 16 – so even if you start out slow, you still have a shot.
Just to make it a little more fun, the winner of the Grace Covenant Bracket Challenge will receive a gift card to Lowe’s.
Proverbs 27.17 says: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
In January, the leadership team of Grace Covenant’s Men’s Ministry Team launched a new initiative, SIP Groups, as a way to connect men to one another, who then encourage and sharpen one another through a rotation of daily texts. These texts contain a simple scripture verse, and a simple prayer. (The acronym SIP stands for: Scripture – Invitation – Prayer.)
The first round of SIP Groups has gone wonderfully well. We have had multiple reports of how these simple daily texts have brought encouragement, and of cases where guys who had previously been strangers have connected because of sharing in a SIP group. With the first round coming to a close, we are now having sign ups for the next round, which will run for 40 days this time, and which will begin on Tuesday March 1.
As a reminder, SIP Groups are simple. Each group will consists of 5 – 7 men. Each participant in the group will commit take one day each week, for the period of 40 days. (Groups of 5 are Monday – Friday; Groups of 7 are Sunday – Saturday.) On your assigned day you are responsible to send a simple group text, with a verse or short Bible passage, and a brief prayer related to the passage. (For examples click: SIP Examples; then scroll down to see a few examples of SIP Group texts.)
Sign up requires only two things:
We need your name
We need your cell phone number for the group texts.
To sign up for the next round of SIP Groups, which begin on March 1, please click: GCPC Men’s March SIPSign Up. (NOTE: Please sign up by Saturday February 27. the earlier we receive sign ups, the easier it is to put groups together. Thanks.)