Dear First Presbyterian Church Family:
I miss you. I miss seeing you on Sunday mornings. I miss hearing you sing hymns and pray responsive prayers. I miss our kiddos running down to the front of the church for the Time with Children. I miss sharing communion with you. I miss our fellowship in the Memorial Room after worship. I could go on and on with all the aspects of our shared life together that I miss; the grief is real.
Your Session, the leadership council of the church, met on Thursday 5/21 to pray, discuss, and discern when it might be safe and prudent for us to begin gathering together as a family faith again. This was not a decision that we took lightly. In the week leading up to our meeting, we studied, read, talked to others, and prayed.
We read about churches in Georgia and Texas that reopened earlier this month. Both churches closely followed social distancing guidelines when they reopened. Now both churches are closed again, this time indefinitely, because their leaders and members became sick from COVID-19. At the church in Texas, their pastor died. We prayed for these two congregations. Here’s a link to the story: https://bit.ly/3cVvJNc
We read a scientific, peer-reviewed study published by the CDC about a “Super-Spreader” event at a choir practice in Washington State. The data concluded that gathering in an enclosed area and singing has the potential to infect vast numbers of people. The demographics and activities of the choir very closely resemble our own beloved church. We prayed for this choir and all who were impacted and died as a result of this event. Here is a link to that study: https://bit.ly/2A3hHdz
We also spent some time looking at how our church has been doing in the two months since we suspended in-person worship. We acknowledged the grief we are feeling from not meeting together. We recognized that for many of our members, participating in various church activities is their primary social activity. We also reflected on the demographic makeup of our church, knowing that nearly half of our members fall into an “at-risk category.” We studied our attendance numbers from the internet live-stream of our “Stay-at-Home” worship services and reflected with gratitude on our radio and television broadcast ministries that are available to those who don’t have internet access. We celebrated that we are actually reaching more people for our “Stay-at-Home” worship than we typically do for “In-Person” worship. We also studied the church budget and the ways that it has been impacted. Thankfully, our members have continued to be generous in their giving to the church over the last two months and our budget is strong. Here is a link to those numbers: https://bit.ly/2yohNvZ
After studying and praying over all of this and more, your Session voted unanimously to continue the suspension of in-person worship through June 28. This was not an easy decision; however for the health and safety of our church family, this was the decision we came to. We recognize the sadness and frustration that some will feel over this decision. We also recognize that many will feel relief over this decision. Please feel free to reach out to me, or any of your Session members, if you want to talk about this.
We also voted to appoint a task force made up of Session members and staff members to draft a plan for reopening. This includes steps for reopening our building for things like committee meetings and Bible Studies, hopefully in June, as well as a plan for reopening for worship as soon as we safely can. If you have any input you would like to provide to that task force, please email or call me and I will include it.
If you miss seeing your church family, we will continue to create opportunities to do that safely. Many of you participated in the Palm Sunday Parade on April 5 and Drive-In Communion worship on May 3. We will have a “Holy Spirit Parade” to celebrate Pentecost next Sunday, May 31; so stay tuned for details on that. We will also try to coordinate a “Worship in the Park” service in June.
If you miss fellowship and educational opportunities, we are working hard to provide those in a safe way. Each week, Pastor Damen and I do two broadcasts, the “Monday Check-In” and the “Friday Feature.” You can listen to those at this link: https://bit.ly/2LO8g4w We also still have our Tuesday noon Bible Study and Wednesday Book club you can join. Call or email me for details.
I know that it is hard to not gather in person; community and fellowship are vital parts of how we live out our Christian faith. And I miss all of you so much. However one wise member of our Session said it best, “I miss seeing the people who sit near me on Sunday mornings, but I don’t want to miss them forever.”
I will continue to pray for each of you and ask that you continue to pray for me, your church staff, your Session, and all of our beloved church family.
Your Servant in Christ,
Brian Johnson, Kay Georgiana, Mary Fisk, Pat Kern, Kris Horton, Bev Rader, Erik Nielsen,
Harold Korb, Joe Black, Neil Riley, Scott Shardelow, Cheryl Lockwood, Clerk, Mary Seiler