Greetings, Siblings in Christ,
As I write this letter to you, I am thinking of each of you and the vast array of emotions we are feeling as we continue to navigate this pandemic. Honestly, it feels harder than ever as we approach the holidays. You may be feeling sadness and grief as plans for family gatherings seem impossible. After nine months of living in this pandemic, the loneliness that it brings feels palpable for some. Sadly, with the possibility of our long-standing Christmas traditions looking different this year, it is easy to view this as one more thing that COVID has changed or taken from us. However, I wish to share with you words of hope and encouragement as we enter this season that celebrates peace and joy.
Jesus tells us in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (NRSV). While things may not be going the way that we had hoped, and things are changing constantly, we can take comfort knowing that God is still in control and that his love for us never changes. He provides for us and helps us through all situations. Please take comfort in his love, and in knowing that we as church love you very much and are doing all that we can to keep you safe and supported during these trying times. Please continue reading for updates on what we are doing.
In October, we began in-person worship at 8:30am. We have created a system in which worship participants may be more active in worship, but still remain socially distanced. Temperatures are checked at the door, hand sanitizer is provided, and all seating is spaced out at a distance greater than 6 feet between households. The way that the seating is arranged, we can actually fit more in the sanctuary with larger household groups. So, families are more than welcome to come and participate at in-person worship. After much research and discussion, we have found that corporate responses and singing are permissible as long as masks are worn and our voice volume remains low.
It may seem that under these guidelines, the church is not as hospitable or welcoming, but we believe that through these measures we are truly able to love our neighbors. We are doing all that we can to help lessen any risk of COVID-19 transmission while still providing space for worship. We take the safety of all who enter our doors very seriously and we are trying to lead by example as we navigate these uncharted waters together. Admittedly, we have set the bar high with some of our policies and expectations, but we value you and will do all that we can to keep you safe. Keep in mind, throughout the pandemic, we have continued to support our local missions, reach out to the community, and provide essential assistance to families in need. All the while, the pastors, staff and volunteers are doing their best to provide a meaningful online worship experience that reaches people far beyond our immediate geographical location.
Recently, the Montgomery County Health Department has once again asked that we actively and proactively work together to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. With that being said, we are taking things one week at a time as we consider the functionality of the ministries currently using the church building. We have encouraged small group meetings to return to a virtual platform and we have modified rehearsal schedules in order to prevent additional risk. We want to encourage you to stay connected virtually with our small groups and other ministries. If you do not have one and wish to participate, please call the church office for further details. We need to maintain our support of one another now more than ever. Please be patient with us as this is a very fluid situation, changing from day to day, and we are doing all that we can to make the best decisions to keep you safe.
Christmas Eve will look different this year. As COVID cases continue to rise, and we receive new guidance from the CDC and our county officials, we are unsure if we will be able to offer in-person worship. Although we are currently planning in-person options, these plans may change at the last moment. We are also working on providing outdoor worship options as well, but remember to dress warmly, grab a blanket, and bring a chair. Please know that regardless of what happens, we will still have multiple streaming services available and we will be able to worship together, even if it is virtual.
As many officials are asking the community to help stop the spread of this virus, may our church family strive to do the same. If you are feeling ill or under the weather, please stay home and take the necessary precautions. Please wash your hands, wear a mask, and keep a safe distance from those not in your household. If there is even the slightest question of what you should do, please err on the side of caution as we are seeing numbers higher than we’ve ever seen. I promise you that my family is taking these precautions very seriously in an effort to keep our church family safe and I ask you to do the same. Please know that I love you, and that I thank you for your support during these difficult times. We will get through this as long as we stick together. Love God; Love others.
Rev. Zachary Hopple