March 17, 2020

Dear First Presbyterian Church Family:

On Monday afternoon, 3/16, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services issued a recommendation: “Avoid gatherings in groups of more than 10 people.”

Per this recommendation, your Session has voted to suspend “in-person worship” and promote “stay at home” worship. As of today, we are doing that through Monday, April 6. That means there will be no “in-person” worship for the next three Sundays, including Palm Sunday on April 5. We will reconvene on or before the week of April 6 to decide how much longer we might need to suspend “in-person worship.” In the meantime, you are invited to tune into KICS 1550 AM or watch us on the internet at 10:25am every Sunday. We will also be exploring some additional creative worship options, so stay tuned!

We have also voted to suspend:

  • All children and youth activities including Wednesday Night Live, Sunday School, Youth Group, and Youth and Children’s Choir practices
  • Chancel Choir and Chancel Bell practices
  • Sunday Morning Adult Christian Education classes (Forum and Heirs Apparent)
  • All other adult education and fellowship groups and events including: Retreat in the Real World, Knit Wits, Pickleball, Tuesday noon bible study, Wednesday morning Bible at Breakfast, Mahjong, etc.
  • All events in the PEACE Center (except United Harvest if we can figure out a way to still do it, stay tuned!)

All of this is effective today through Monday, April 6. Session will reconvene on or before the week of April 6 to make further plans.

Any church related committee meetings of less than 10 people may choose to continue meeting (Session, Trustees, Deacons, Committees). We have set up the Fellowship Hall to seat up to 10 people with proper “social distancing” for meetings. There will also be a telephone set up in the fellowship hall so that people who do not feel comfortable coming in can call into meetings.

There is one really important point that I want to make: This does not mean that the church is closing.

At the end of our Annual Congregational Meeting for the last 3 years, Pastor Damen has offered the closing prayer. He invites the congregation to sing a Sunday School song with him:

The church is not a building; the church is not a steeple;

The church is not a resting place; the church is a people.

I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together!

All who follow Jesus, all around the world! Yes, we’re the church together!

 In the Prayers of the People that I offered at the close of worship Sunday, I said, “…Let’s pray for the church—that we will rise up and be what the Lord calls us to be: an entity that cares in practical and sacrificial ways for the least of these; that we will be a light upon a hill in these uncertain times… May we shine Christ’s love and light in tangible ways in the days and weeks to come.”

As I write this letter to you, our Session, our Mission committee, our Congregational Life committee, and our Deacons are all exchanging messages as we think and dream about the ways that we can “be the church” in this time and place. We got a head start on this work a few months ago when our Presbyterian Women started the “Food from the Heart” casserole ministry. We have a freezer here at the church that is filled with casseroles that are ready to be delivered. Last week, I suggested that anyone who is healthy should double the recipe of whatever you are cooking. Enjoy your meal and put the other half into the freezer. When you hear of someone who is sick, quarantined, or isolated, deliver the meal to them with a note and a prayer. That suggestion traveled around the United States via social media and was adopted by congregations as far away as New York! These are ways that we can continue to “be the church together.”

Many of the events we are cancelling, like choir practice, also serve as “small group ministries” to bring people together during the week to care and pray for one another. We need to be keenly aware of that and take intentional steps to reach out to our friends, neighbors, and fellow church members who will feel isolated during this time. That is one way that we can continue to “be the church together” in this time and place.

The Deacons will meet tonight (Tuesday 3/17). Coming out of that meeting, we hope to have a plan in place that addresses social isolation through a phone tree ministry as well as tangible needs like food, grocery and pharmacy runs, and anything else that we might be called upon to do. We will share that plan with the church and invite you to sign up for various opportunities to “be the church together.”

As always, your church staff is here to help. Pastor Greg and Pastor Damen can do pastoral care calls via phone or in person if appropriate. Steph is working hard to provide resources to families in this time. Tony is keeping the building safe to use for the groups that are still using it. Jean is managing our office operations, publishing bulletins and Home Page newsletters, and watching the phones.

My dear church family, I find myself more emotional than I would have anticipated as I write you this letter. A big part of our life together involves gathering as a community to praise God, make music, learn together, serve our community, and pray for one another. While we cannot gather in-person to do this, I know that we will rise to the occasion and “be the church” in ways that will be desperately needed in the days and weeks to come. I couldn’t be more proud and grateful to be your pastor at this time and I know Damen and the rest of our church staff feels the same way.

Will you pray with me?

Dear God: As people who crave certainty and stability, we are reeling as more news breaks each day. May your presence of peace wash over us and wrap us in a comforting embrace. Please provide protection to all of the doctors, nurses, technicians, healthcare and nursing home workers, janitors and custodians, as they all work to fight this virus. Please be with those who have been afflicted by the virus, bring your healing and comfort to them. Be with all the families and friends who are watching their loved ones suffer, may they know peace. Be with those who will be out of work as the necessary precautions are taken, provide them provision to get through. God, support and uphold the church in this time that we may be your hands and feet in a world that so desperately needs your presence. Help us to be your agents of healing, comfort, peace, and provision. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Your Servant in Christ,

Pastor Greg