Updates Updates Updates!
The session of our church met on Wednesday of this week (as of April 25th, when I am writing this update). I felt like for the May newsletter it would be prudent for me to update you on our church. This will seem a little scattershot, but there is much to say.
First, and perhaps most important, we are praising God that so far most of the immediate effects of COVID-19 seem to have avoided our congregation. As far as we know, nobody in our church has the virus, and it appears that while some members have been furloughed with pay from their jobs nobody has become unemployed during this season. This is wonderful news, and we praise God for his mercy. In that regard, we can also say that giving has remained steady at our church. Some churches had a dramatic drop-off in their giving during the months of March and April (some even having taken government assistance), but that has not been the case at Pearl, for which we give God glory.
Second, we do mourn with the family of Billy Jones. Billy Jones passed away this past week from various medical complications, and I had the honor of speaking at a small family memorial and graveside service. I think it goes without saying that Billy deserved a more joyful and well-attended send-off than he received, however, I am overjoyed to think that what we could have done still pales in comparison to the joyful reception he must have received from his Savior! Please be in prayer for Billy’s family.
Third, some of you may have noticed that the storm in early April tore down the large tree in front of the church on the west side of our church sign. Brian Bourgeois and his friend Wesley came and took away a great deal of the wood away, for which we are very grateful. The deacons did hire a tree service that has helped us for free in the past to remove and grind down the remains. They also removed the unhealthy bushes that were growing alongside the sidewalk to the sanctuary. For those who fear that the front or the side of the church look empty without these items, the church officers agree. Never fear; God-willing, the lost vegetation will be replaced in time!
Fourth, the session has considered the situation of the virus, we have reflected upon President Trump’s plan he presented last week as to how to re-open the U.S economy in stages, and we have reflected upon what we have heard from our own governor, Tate Reeves. Governor Reeves, on April 27th is instituting a “safer at home” order that is intended to move our state closer to normalcy. Most businesses, it now seems, will be allowed to re-open if they follow specific guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, most relevant for us as a church, the ban on gatherings of 10 or more remains in place. We do not know when it will be lifted.
At this point we have decided that we will comply with this ban until the Governor announces that churches may resume meeting. We believe it would be unwise for us to meet against the advisement and direction of the state and federal government. We also are not prepared to deploy the sort of resources and effort it would take to have some sort of “drive in” church service. We believe it is the best option for families to continue practicing family worship using the resources we are currently producing, which includes not only family worship guides, but also morning and evening sermons, Wednesday night Bible studies, and Sunday School classes.
Fifth, the session wants to let the congregation know that we do have concrete plans in place for when physical services resume, whenever that may be, so that we will be able to hit the ground running the moment we are able to do so. We want you to expect that church will be very different in many respects than it was before. We expect the authorities to place extreme conditions upon our services when it comes to social distancing. We have already considered what it might look like for us to meet while practicing such social distancing.
Please be prepared for changes in seating, changes in how we take up the offering, changes in how we observe the Lord’s Supper, and perhaps most painfully, changes in who we also ask to remain at home (if you are in the “high risk” group we will be strongly imploring you to stay away from the physical services out of a love for you and for your own good). We are making plans to stream the entire service live in real time (bloopers and all) for those who cannot be here, as well. Please be prepared for a radical reduction in the activities of our church as well, even after we physically resume. We anticipate eventually resuming morning services but it may be a long time before we see fellowship meals, Sunday School, or Wednesday night activities return. Even after physically resuming morning worship we also anticipate still having an evening sermon online rather than physically here, as we currently do. All of this is to say, we don’t anticipate being able to be “back to normal” for quite a long time, and it is necessary for us to make that very clear. As the State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said last week, “Normal gatherings throughout the summer are extremely unlikely to be safe.” That causes me to think that we should also expect that we will not be quickly snapping back to normalcy, though we should continue to pray that this changes.
This season has, for me, reminded and revealed. It has reminded me:
- I don’t get to plan my life, or even the life of our church. Nothing about this year so far has felt like something I intended or planned for. I am sure all of you resonate with that. All things are in the hands of God. At times we may acknowledge this, but how very different to really experience our powerlessness under the hand of almighty God and his mastery of all things.
- The core competency of the church is, and must be, in Gospel proclamation in the gathered church. Each week as my family gathers around the TV to watch my sermon for the week I’m reminded of just how inadequate it is just to hear the preaching of the Word in isolation. The ministry of the Word simply is not the same apart from the gathered church. I hope this season convinces people that it is totally inadequate to settle for a lifestyle of watching sermons from home.
This season has also revealed some things about my own heart:
- I may talk about the providence of God, but that does not mean that I always enjoy the experience of the providence of God. Isn’t it the case that God’s providence does not always mean enjoyment, happiness, or satisfaction? Yet there is also a reminder that God’s providential work does mean that all things work out for the good of God’s people as he shapes us more and more into his own likeness.
- This is the way sanctification works; God’s hammer strikes and shapes us, and we go from being a misshapen piece of steel into, perhaps, a tool or a sharpened weapon (that’s the “good” that he has planned for us). The entire time being under the hammer is deeply unpleasant, but there is a beautiful end result that each strike is working toward.
The reality is, I need all of you, and I know that we all need each other. I believe God is using this season, in part, to protect us from taking for granted the gathered worship of God’s people ever again. Let’s revel in God’s goodness, trust in his wisdom, and surround ourselves with the reminders that in all of his, he loves us absolutely, and is at work as much in this moment as he was before it.