Dear Evergreen Family,
In light of the situation around us, we are called upon to make wise decisions which honor all of the priorities revealed in God’s Word. God’s Word tells us to love our neighbors, care for the weak, give no offense (actual harm), obey rulers and not neglect assembling together. Usually those priorities do not conflict, but in the current environment we find it difficult to keep them in balance. The occasion is the rise and spread of COVID 19, also known as the Coronavirus.
Our governor and others responsible for looking out for public health and safety have called on us to avoid large group meetings in order to limit virus transmission. The guidelines set a threshold of 250 people which does not present a problem for us (unfortunately!). The intent, however, is to protect lives, especially those most susceptible to the damaging impact of the virus. That should be part of our compassion as servants of God as well. With schools, businesses, and others altering their practices, we should be good members of the society and exercise wisdom to help deal with the issue.
On that basis, then, having consulted with our Deacons, we are taking the following actions:
- We are cancelling all public gatherings other than Sunday morning worship until further notice, probably until mid-April. This means Sunday School, Awana, Evening Worship, Prayer Meeting, carry-in dinners, etc. will not be taking place.
- When we do gather, we will not pass an offering plate or even a communion tray. We will make available a means for giving which will not pass contact among us all. We encourage use of electronic giving provisions. We will wait to celebrate the Lord’s Table until later (and find it more precious, I expect).
- The sermon each week will be available on YouTube video, possibly the same day. We’re working on the timing and will communicate more when we see how fast we can get it done. There are copyright issues which lead to You Tube censoring music and we are working on solving that issue going forward. We are also looking at using Facebook Live for a live stream, probably with a cell phone, not super polished!
I am sorry that we will disagree on details of the disease and what is required, but I hope we can be wise and a blessing to all! Here are some guidelines (normal to all concerns about any viral infection) I am quoting from Pastor Lance Augsberger’s letter to his congregation:
- “Wash hands regularly. This is actually even more effective than hand sanitizers. Get your hands fully wet and fully lathered. Here’s a tip – sing the “happy birthday” song to yourself as you wash to make sure you are washing long enough. Your hands will be clean, and you’ll feel like it’s your birthday.
- “Use hand sanitizers. In between washings, this can be a good way to keep your hands disinfected – but it’s not a replacement to hand-washing. Sanitizers do not clean your hands.
- “Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing. It doesn’t mean you have the flu, but it’s a polite way to keep your germs to yourself. The most effective method is to duck your head into the pit of your elbow. If that is too hard, at least cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or handkerchief.
- “Avoid touching your face. Simply getting germs on your hands doesn’t result in illness. The virus must have some means of entering your system. That can be through an open wound, but the most common way that happens is through the “openings” on your face. When people touch their eyes, nose, or mouth with germ-infested hands they allow the germs into their system. So, get in the habit of not touching your face, or at least washing your hands before doing so.
- “Stay home when sick. It’s hard to stay home, especially if you have responsibilities. But if you are sick, staying home is the best way to ensure you don’t spread your germs to others. We are thankful for those who video our messages so that you can watch them on YouTube if you miss a service.
- “Give a warm greeting, without shaking hands. If you are concerned about contracting or spreading a virus, you can still give others a warm greeting with a fist bump, and elbow bump, or an “air five.” While they feel a bit silly, they do help in avoiding the spread of germs.”
I would add that if you are compromised in any way – stay home out of compassion for others! As far as greeting, I would add that bowing is a nice cultural contribution from our Far East friends and seems a bit gracious in this environment! We should not fear but manifest the qualities which contrast with fear.
2 Timothy 1:7 “… for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
- “Power” – you have the ability to function and do right. Don’t get cowed, be wise and act!
- “Love” – our actions arise out of love for others, not fear for ourselves.
- “A sound mind” – keep reading and thinking. There is a lot of hype, but there is also substance to the problem. Keep working to sort it all out and learn as you go and don’t assume anything is true just because it meshes with your presuppositions.
Can anything good come from this? Yes! Here are some possible results which will strengthen us and our ministry …
- Pray instead of worry. We are not presently what I would call a praying church. When we pause as we are doing, it may remind us where the real battles are won. As Pastor Terry Gibson wrote to his congregation: “Pray for our family and our friends and our neighbors. Pray for our leaders as they make decisions that impact everyone. Pray for gospel opportunities. Pray for God to be glorified.” I would add – pray for me as this is the most difficult decision I have ever made regarding response to a situation. Philippians 4:6-7
- Stop thinking that a building is a church. We are the church and the community around us needs us in these days. Look for ways to make a difference. Call the elderly, go to the store for them as a protective service. Find out if neighbors are in a bind because schools are closed and they have to work. You may not be able to take their kids all week, but do what you can!
- Call each other. Just because we need to limit large group gathering doesn’t mean we can’t use technology (phone, social media, etc.) to encourage and share God’s grace. For some, especially the most threatened by the current outbreak because of age, a call and personal conversation with you would bless more than a dozen sermons!
- Share your faith! Life, death and eternity are on people’s minds and therefore opportunities for deeper conversations. Not the false message that “No virus will ever come near you” (one pastor’s perversion of Psalm 91) but the truth that no issue in life separates you from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:37-39) and that in Christ, our actions flow out of true security that is not dependent on physical comfort or safety (2 Corinthians 4:7-18).
- I look forward to God impressing us with the fact that “church” as a virtual experience alone (via media) is not good enough. I expect that when things “normalize” we will have a greater appreciation of how important it is to gather together face to face. God can use absence to make our heart grow fonder of one another.
Please be patient and let us work together to glorify God! I know this is not what every individual would choose, but it is the course on which we are leading the congregation.
With joy in Christ (even today!),
fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Responses of other churches:
Bethel Church, Crown Point: https://bethelweb.org/updates/
College Park Church, Indianapolis: https://www.yourchurch.com/covid-19-guidance/
Centers for Disease Control: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
World Magazine (a Christian news weekly I highly recommend you subscribe to): https://world.wng.org/2020/03/inside_the_outbreak_church_in_a_time_of_coronavirus
Timeless wisdom from Martin Luther who ministered during the bubonic (Black Death) plague: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/evangelical-history/when-the-deadly-outbreak-comes-counsel-from-martin-luther/