“Rejoice in the Savior always! I say it again: Rejoice! Let everyone see your forbearing spirit. Our Savior is near. Dismiss all anxiety from your minds; instead, present your needs to God through prayer and petition, giving thanks for all circumstances. Then God’s own peace, which is beyond all understanding, will stand guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-9, The Inclusive Bible.)
It is not easy to rejoice when we are surrounded by war and rumors of war, of plague and pestilence, of hidden paths all around us. Yet Paul, no stranger to suffering, encourages us to not be anxious and instead pray and give thanks.
It is precisely in that point of tension where we your pastors write to you with a significant shift in our emergence plan.
We will still be gathering in the building for watch parties on 9/5, 9/12, and 9/19. We will still have an outdoor event for Hope-coming. We will still return to live in-person worship at 10:00 am on 9/26 and shift our digital worship to 5:00 pm that day. As planned, all these gatherings will be masked.
Where things look different is in who gathers and how we gather. We had hoped September would be a robust return to the building, a true homecoming for our congregation. With the Delta variant causing spikes in infection and becoming as contagious as chicken pox, we know many will make the faithful choice to connect digitally and not return to the building. We know that individuals and families will be looking at risk, exposure, and then make the choice that is best for those situations. We honor and bless that.
For those that choose to gather, it will be for a sense of connection and community, but it will not be a return to normalcy. Our new emergent strategy will not have congregational singing or the choir singing. Music support will be done by instruments and soloists. Pieces we know and love in our service will go away for a while. We know the moment the doxology begins, our muscle memory will have us singing Praise God the Source of Life and Birth. So, we will look for a different liturgical moment in the service to mark that moment.
While youth group will happen for middle and high school students, in September the opportunities on Sunday morning for preschoolers and elementary students will be the family-centered watch party in the lounge. We will spend the next few weeks evaluating and planning to see how those opportunities might shift in October.
This is different. For your pastors and staff this is another pivot in a season of so many shifts. Yet, there is a peace that passes all understanding that we find us and grounds us. We know it is seeking you out as well. It is only with that peace can we summon the strength to give thanks even in these circumstances. There but by the grace of God go I.
We know that this fall, God will remain faithful. The Word will go out and will not return unfulfilled. The congregation will continue to come together in prayer, mutual aid, love, and support. We will continue to heed the call for justice and engage in acts of mercy. We will bend but will not break. We shall persevere. For that we can truly rejoice.
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