Dear Church Family,
Imagine trying to build a plane in midair… Sound impossible? Frustrating? An exercise in futility? I agree. Well, in some ways, that pictures how I feel as your pastor as I seek to shepherd us through this challenging time. I am trying to do the best I can in this “build the plane in midair” moment. At many times I think to myself, “I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on you, God.” As much as we would like for COVID-19 to go away, it isn’t. The question on my mind and heart is how can we move forward in beautiful unity (Psalm 133)? It isn’t easy. But by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit there is opportunity for us to be a countercultural model of unity in a divided world. As I have said several times over the past few weeks. A divided world needs a united church!
As you read our updated COVID-19 policy, I encourage you to follow the counsel of James to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (1:19) and react with Christlike humility (Philippians 2:3). No one of us should assume we’ve arrived at the definitive answer on how to do this well. Let’s model humility as we all try to do the best we can in this “build the plane in midair” moment. Let’s also practice patience. In the big scheme of eternity, this season of months (or years!) will be but a blip. If we are going to emerge from this with unity and fellowship, let’s all embrace Christlike humility and patience and love toward one another.
In light of the spike in COVID-19 cases, the flu season fast upon us, and the recent order from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, I have an important announcement to make about some changes in plans for gathered worship at OBC that will affect all of us. I know some of you will find these changes disappointing but others of you will be encouraged. It is my hope that these changes will help some of you who are ready to make your way back to gathered worship with us. I have categorized the announcements by way of questions. It is our plan for these policies to begin immediately and to keep these policies in place until the New Year at which time we will re-evaluate them. Remember, our goal is “cauti-dent” – both cautious and confident. In some areas, we are cautious; in others, we seek to be confident. In all of it, we are submitted to the providence of God, seeking to move forward with an “if the Lord wills…” mentality (James 4:13-17).
Please keep praying for wisdom for your church leaders. None of us have ever done this before and it is hard to think through all the angles involved. Keep praying for the virus to be eradicated. And most of all pray that the Lord’s will “be done on earth as it is in heaven!” (Matthew 6:10)
Last of all, as you read the following revisions, remember that the mission hasn’t changed. We are still and by God’s grace always will be ruggedly and doggedly committed to making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ to the glory of Jesus Christ. This is non-negotiable. COVID-19 has no doubt forced us to rethink some of our methods, but the message is unchanging. I count it a great joy to labor for this mission alongside each one of you. Let us walk side by side, arm in arm, patiently and humbly and earnestly focused on this grand mission. In this time of much political uncertainty, economic upheaval, and moral decay we can’t afford anything less. The time for a casual commitment to Christianity is gone. Let us follow hard after Jesus Christ.
- Will we continue to have services?
Yes! We don’t need the president of the United States to inform us that church is essential. We know this already because God has made it known to us in the pages of Scripture. When Christ called us into relationship with Himself, He also called us into community with others. A Christian not committed to the church is a contradiction. The church is absolutely essential for the follower of Jesus. In Hebrews 10:25 we see clearly that we are to gather together, avoiding the sinful pattern of neglecting the gathering of the church. We are to stir up one another to love and good works (see also Hebrews 3:13). All through the pages of Scripture we find similar references to fellowship, and this is not possible through a screen. Jesus did not come from cyberspace to save us; he took on flesh to dwell among us. And he gave us a mission to love and serve one another in the same way. Some may object, “I don’t need a church to worship God.” It is certainly true that in Christ you can worship God anywhere and at anytime! However, you can’t worship God in the fullness of what He has done without other people. If you are person who feels comfortable going to the grocery store and having public interactions at other contact points, then let me encourage you to join us for worship in an environment with the following social distancing policies in place (see below)!
Also, we are excited to say we have several individuals who are willing to come and fellowship with you at your home. We don’t want anyone falling through the cracks! If you haven’t been able to get out and worship with us in person but are hurting for Christian fellowship, please let us know. These individuals will take every precaution possible to make sure you are safe.
2. Will the church office and building be open?
The church office will be open during its regular hours Monday through Friday, 9am to Noon. The building will also be open for counseling, Bible studies, prayer meeting, growth groups, etc., throughout the week. We simply ask that you follow the policies outlined in this update. We also ask that you sanitize whatever area you use after you use it and put back anything you move.
3. What ministries have resumed and when will other one’s resume?
Currently, we have resumed the following activities:
- Sunday School – currently this is a “family style” setting.
- Growth Groups – some are meeting in homes while others are meeting at the church where there is enough space to spread out.
- Coffee and Connect – this is now “full service” and not “self-serve.” No one is to help themselves to the cookies and coffee. Instead, we ask that everyone wait patiently to be served. Those serving will be wearing gloves and a mask.
- Wednesday night prayer meeting – prayer meeting starts at 7pm in the church fellowship center.
- Counseling – this never stopped and we have seen a significant uptick in counseling cases since March for which we are thankful.
- Nursery and children’s church – Nursery is offered for the whole morning service; Children’s church is offered for part of the morning service. Children are dismissed just before pastor starts preaching.
- Youth Group – they meet at the church every Sunday night 6-8:30pm.
- Food Pantry – this has also been open during the entire season of COVID-19.
We plan on starting up the following ministries soon:
- Children’s Sunday School – December 6th
- Olympians (1st-6th) and Gophers (4yrs-K) – January 2nd
- Baby Pantry – January
4. Will I be required to wear a mask?
We recognize that the wearing of masks is a very controversial issue, which generates a lot of emotion. We have read many of the same articles you have about the effectiveness of masks. The reality is that the Center for Disease Control is recommending them, and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is mandating them in certain settings. We are not requiring masks to be worn, but we are strongly recommending and graciously pleading with you to wear a mask while you are on your way from the parking lot until you are seated in the church building and then again as you leave the worship center until you reach your car. We also ask that you wear one as you move around the building to use the restroom or move around the building during the service. This does not apply to young children (we’ll let you define that for your own family) or those who, for medical reasons, cannot wear a mask. We are asking this for three reasons: First, we ask for the sake of the testimony of Christ to those who may be driving by or watching from nearby houses. Wearing masks will communicate a love for our neighbors. Second, we ask for the sake of love and concern for your fellow believers who think that wearing masks is important. Romans 14-15 and 1 Corinthians 8:13 and Philippians 2:3-4 and Galatians 5:1 teach us it is good to lay down our rights and preferences for the sake of others. Third, we ask because of the safety of all who are attending. If masks have value, we want to take advantage of this. If they do not have value, then no one is harmed by wearing one for a couple of minutes. Again, if you have a medical condition that makes wearing one impossible or very difficult, we understand!
In short, please do not see wearing a mask as an act of fear or giving in to tyranny but as an act of sacrificial love for others and as an opportunity to use your freedom to serve others. And please do not grumble and complain in either vocally or internally for having to wear one for a few minutes. As Christians, we should count it a joy to gather and worship His name even if we are inconvenienced to wear a mask for a few minutes. I personally plead with you that even if you think these precautions are a needless overreaction or silly or cowardly to please use your freedom to serve one another in this way.
We are requiring that ushers and the welcome team wear masks.
Anyone serving in Coffee and Connect are also required to wear gloves and masks.
We ask this same “restaurant-style” mask policy to be followed for any groups, Bible studies, prayer meetings and events in the church building during the week.
Again, we know there are strong and differing opinions about wearing masks, and, though we are strongly urging that they be worn for the reasons stated above, we do not want this to be a divisive issue. Ultimately, as believer-priests (1 Peter 2:5) we are each accountable to God for where we build our “fences” on this issue and for how we minister grace and love to each other. Please do not judge the motives of those who do not or do not wear masks. Please do not accuse your brother and sisters of being “sheep” or being ruled by fear instead of trusting God or unloving because they do or do not wear a mask. Such heart attitudes are sinful and do not promote unity.
NOTE: We are considering turning the fellowship center into a “mask-only” section or even possibly offering two services where one is mask mandatory, especially if this will help those who as of yet have not returned to return. If you would like for us to do this, please let your pastors or deacons know!
5. What steps are being taken to limit the possibility of germs spread?
Doors will be propped open; offering plates will not be passed; the chairs are currently spread six feet apart; the water fountains are turned off; we are asking people to maintain a social distance of 6 feet and to wear masks as they move around the building; we have installed several hand sanitizer stations; we are using pre-packaged wafers and juice for the Lord’s Supper. Offerings can be placed in our new offering box in the fellowship center. Our janitor also thoroughly cleans the building each week.
However, no plan is perfect and our ultimate trust must be in God. Each person who attends must understand that they do so at their own risk.
6. Will we be doing any hugging or shaking of hands?
This is hard. Please use much love and wisdom here. Some are extremely uncomfortable doing this, while others have no problem with it at all. A good rule of thumb is don’t extend your hand for a handshake unless someone else does, and only shake their hand if you are comfortable doing so. It is not rude but perfectly acceptable to inform someone you don’t want to shake hands (or hug). It is rude to try to make someone shake your hand or hug. I know this is hard, but because we love one another, we must use our freedom to serve each other in this regard! Some individuals in our church are high risk and others have family members who are high risk. Use your freedom to serve them by joyfully and lovingly respecting their caution in this way. No one should be made to feel ashamed or embarrassed or out of place because they are more cautious or more confident than you might be. Remember the second “B” of our discipleship pathway is Belong!
7. I am at risk due to my health concerns.
Can I come? This is a very hard question. We know that many of you in this category long to come to worship services; but we also know that there is a great risk involved. With this in mind, we strongly encourage you to not attend our worship services if your health is at risk. Instead, stay home and watch us online, and participate in a growth group, as that involves less people and less exposure. However, we will not turn anyone away. We ask that you prayerfully consider what God wants you to do. Please do not attend if you have any symptoms of the COVID-19 virus:
- A fever – Cough (excluding chronic cough due to medical concerns other than COVID-19)
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Sore throat
- New loss of taste or smell
- If you or members of your household had close contact in the last 14 days with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 or who has experienced COVID-19 related symptoms.
If so, in love for your church family, please stay home and receive further direction from a medical professional.
Pastor Andrew, Josiah, and Deacons
Responding to Covid
Dear Church Family,
I thought it would be good to take a moment and say a few words about our church’s ongoing response to Covid and the path to moving forward. I know these are difficult days and many of us are tired of it all. It is my prayer that these words encourage us to walk worthy of the Lord Jesus Christ and not grow weary in doing good. I have categorized our response and the path forward under five Biblical words.
Humility: “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” – James 4:6. The virus should make all us much humbler for many reasons. For starters, it has reminded each one of us that we are not in control. What is more, there is still much we don’t know about the virus. Even experts can’t agree. There are some who say we must end the lockdown and others who say we must continue to apply restrictive measures. Sadly, Christians are quick to join the fray with each side posting articles and expert opinions that support their own view. The reality is we should all be willing to admit with all humility that we don’t know all the answers, that we might be wrong. Years from now we may realize we were much more restrictive than necessary. Or we may realize that we should have been more cautious. But what we do know is that we should be humble. We can’t be sure what the outcome of a given decision may be or what the future will hold. We should also be humble with each other. The brother or sister who takes a different view from yours sincerely believes that he or she is right – and you could be wrong. Please be humble with one another.
Love: “Love believes all things” – 1 Corinthians 13:7. Love believes the best about others. The virus and social distancing and wearing a mask has become a surprisingly divisive issue. Some suggest it is a political ploy designed to subjugate the masses, others believe it is a preventative measure designed to help stop the spread of a deadly disease. Whatever your convictions about it, you ought to believe the best of one another. Accusing your brother or sister of being “sheep” or supporting an anti-American campaign is not Biblical. Accusing them of being ruled by fear instead of trusting God, is not kind. Believing yourself to be smarter, more aware, and others as ill-informed or stupid is certainly not Biblical. As you wrestle with Covid-19 regulations, think about those who disagree with you graciously, believing the best about them. That is the loving thing to do.
Freedom: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” – Gal. 5:13. Everyone is at different levels of comfort with Covid. In fact, I recently came across the following Covid-19 profiles that I thought was helpful:
- Cautious: Those who primarily work from home, follow every aspect of CDC regulations, and prefer to stay conservative about their re-assimilation plan.
- Confident: Those who don’t wear a mask, spend greater amounts of time with people outside their home and don’t mind tight proximity, obey the law but don’t necessarily worry much about going the extra-mile with precautions, lean towards re-assimilation now regardless of the news, and some think the crisis may be blown way out of proportion.
- “Cauti-dent”: Those who find themselves doing and feeling a bit of everything in both the cautious and the confident profile.
Perhaps you can relate to one of them?
Looking at our church, I hope you would agree that we have been trying to be “cauti-dent.” Cautious in that we understand many are not comfortable about large gatherings. Thus, we continue to have the seats spaced apart, provide online streaming, offer masks available at the front door, aren’t using the hymnals or passing the offering plate to prevent the spread of germs, and have offered a few services outdoors. Confident in that we are singing, people are spending time talking with each other in close proximity, growth groups are running, Sunday school is starting soon, and some individuals are confidently shaking hands and giving hugs. In other words, we are doing a bit of everything in the spectrum of cautious and confident. We are being “cauti-dent.” It is my view that this is the best way forward of using our freedom in love to serve one another. If you are comfortable wearing a mask, wear one! If not, don’t wear one. If you are comfortable shaking hands and hugging, do so! If not, don’t do it! Graciously inform one another if you are comfortable or not comfortable doing so. It is okay and perfectly acceptable to inform someone you don’t want to be hugged or to shake hands. You are free to do so and you most certainly are not strange or weird to do so! Orangeville Baptist Church, because we love one another we must use our freedom to serve each other in this way! Some individuals in our church are high risk or have family members who are high risk. Use your freedom to serve them by joyfully and lovingly respecting their preferences in this regard. No one should be made to feel ashamed or embarrassed or out of place because they are more cautious than you might be. Remember the second “B” of our discipleship pathway is Belong!
Unity: “Eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” – Eph. 4:3. Like I said, the virus is a surprisingly divisive issue for many. Things can get ugly, very quickly. The potential for hurt feelings and division abound. I believe one of the ways that the enemy is trying to destroy the church is by tempting us to use our opinions against each other. If the Devil has his way, we’ll be throwing stones of accusation from all sides. So please hear this – people matter more than your opinion. Preserving relationships is more important than winning arguments or being right. As I recently heard someone say, “When this crisis begins to wind down, there will be plenty of people who got some things right, and plenty of people who got some things wrong. There will be those who blew things out of proportion, and those who didn’t take things as seriously as they should’ve. Some will take longer to come back to the office, others will rush in (or are already there). What will it matter if we re-assimilate only to end up “socially distant” again not because of a virus, but because of our inability to love others who approach COVID-19 differently than we do?”
Pray: ““This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” – 1 John 5:14. Above all, let’s pray for one another and for ourselves to be humble, loving, using our freedom to serve in love, and united. Thankfully, our church family has been united through this time and the only way for that to continue is if we all continue to practice these five qualities. Pray also for myself, Josiah and the deacons as we seek to navigate these murky waters to the glory of God. My prayer has also been that during this time God would do something surprising for His name’s sake through it, that OBC would grow greatly numerically and spiritually because of it. If anything is clear, it is that the great commission to make disciples hasn’t changed! Pray for us to stay on mission! Pray also for a cure for the virus and for our government leaders to lead wisely.
With Much Love,